Congratulations on preparing for your first marathon or half-marathon! You should be proud of yourself and the commitment you’ve made.
However, what happens after the marathon can be just as important as your pre-race training — your recovery. Proper recovery can reduce the likelihood of injury and make sure you’re able to run again at your peak level more quickly.
The Toll of a Marathon
Running a full or half-marathon is hard on anyone’s body regardless of whether you’re an Olympic star or if you’ve just competed for the first time.
Naturally, running 26.2 miles is tougher on your muscles, hormones, tendons, cells and other physiological systems than running a 13.1 mile race, but the recovery process is similar for both. Either race taxes your body to the limit, so you have to give it the necessary support to recover. And the time it takes to recover will depend on several factors, but especially the damage done to your body.
According to Runners Connect, the training and the race will cause muscle inflammation and muscle fiber necrosis that affects your muscle power and durability for two weeks.
You’ll have an increase in creatinine kinase for about seven days, which is the result of damage to the skeletal system and myocardial tissue. The studies cited in the Runners Connect article above suggest avoiding any sort of cross-training for at least three days after the race, and not pushing yourself too hard for a week to 10 days. Furthermore, running a marathon affects your immune system, so you may be more susceptible to colds or the flu for up to three days. Rest and eat nutrient-rich foods during your recovery time.
After the Race
Immediately after the race, bundle up, get warm, and eat something like a banana or energy bar. The same Runners Connect article suggests going back to your home or hotel room and taking an ice bath for 15 minutes followed by a warm shower for 15 minutes. Then, walk around and loosen up your legs.
Over the next couple of days, be sure to eat plenty of protein, carbs and fruit to repair your damaged muscles, boost your antioxidants and stoke your immune system.
One Week Later
After a week (or later if you’re not feeling ready), try some light running or swimming. But don’t go too hard — you just want to get your blood flowing in your legs.
Of course, keep eating foods rich in nutrients. Once you’re far enough into your recovery, you can begin to run harder and longer again. Eventually you’ll be able to get back to your regular training regimen.
Remember, recovery is as important as training. Take your time before you push yourself too hard. You’ll find a proper recovery will get you back at the starting line for your next marathon sooner.