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How To Rest And Recover After A Marathon?

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Rest And Recover After A Marathon

Road to complete recovery after a marathon is difficult but possible by following both short-term and long-term recovery methods. Do not stop running soon after the marathon, take an ice bath and get into some compression wear before you prepare for a long and sound sleep soon after the marathon. Replenish your body with antioxidant-rich food and enroll in an aerobics class till you recover completely.

When we think of recreational running, we think of all the benefits it can do for our health–the time spent outdoors, the fresh air, the calories burnt, a fit body, and so on. But running a marathon is a different ball game altogether. It takes months of preparation to do a marathon, even a half marathon or a 10k run. On the marathon day, your body is stretched to its limits; your endurance, strength, stamina, everything gets tested. With marathon getting popular, the yearly incidence rates for injuries from marathon running are reported to be over 90 percent.1 Yes, you heard it right: 90 percent! So, if you don’t train right or run right, you could be in that 90 percent.

Most running injuries are found to be lower extremity injuries, especially knees. Most of them are overuse injuries–50 to 75 percent, to be precise. The running injuries can recur if ignored with 20-70 percent of cases reporting recurrence.2

Role Of Rest And Recovery

This is where rest and recovery play a major role. Rest is important because it is the time the body takes to adapt to the stressors associated with running, replenish the energy stores called glycogen and allow the tissues to repair. Apart from how well you rest your body, your recovery depends largely on your genes (Yes, genetics play a huge role in your recovery phase), your age and your gender. The importance of sleep cannot be undermined. Not just the quantity but the quality of sleep is important to recover completely. If you’re over the age of 40, it is natural for your body to take longer to recover. Women are found to take more time recovering than men.3

Seasoned runners adopt short term (within hours of a marathon) and long term (recovery periods built into a training session) strategies to recover completely from the effects of marathon.4

What You Can Do Soon

The first 30 minutes to three hours is crucial for proper cool down which sets the pace for recovery. Here are a few things you can do at this period:

Shift To A Light Jog

The most important thing to do right after you have crossed the finish line is to keep moving. Don’t plonk down or take that much-needed rest just yet. Instead, walk some more. Or shift to a light jog. This will help minimize the chances of cardiac arrhythmias that can be dangerous. A light jog or walk would bring the heart rate and blood pressure down, reduce dizziness and dissipate lactic acid in the body.

Go collect your finisher’s medal first and head to food counter to fuel up. You might find those counters slightly away from the finish line, but that’s just the organizers steering you down the correct recovery path. As you walk or jog that small distance, you are ensuring that your body is moving and not stopping suddenly.5

Eat Well

Since glycogen depletion is a certainty after marathon, your recovery and long-term work capacity after that depends a lot on how well you replenish it. Your diet needs to have a good blend of carbohydrates and protein. A banana or a smoothie should work just fine. Protein bars and fruit juices are also good.ref]Bergström, Jonas, Lars Hermansen, Eric Hultman, and Bengt Saltin. “Diet, muscle glycogen and physical performance.” Acta Physiologica Scandinavica71, no. 2‐3 (1967): 140-150.[/ref]

Stretching Exercises

There’s a lot of debate around if stretching soon after the marathon is good or not with an overwhelming majority saying no to stretching. While no research proves it is helpful, there are evidences that show stretching can, in fact, be counterproductive. It can overstretch the muscles leading to muscle cramps, strains and sometimes even pulls. So, you would want to avoid that fully.6

Healing Massage

Most marathoners find it too painful to undergo a massage, however light it maybe, soon after a marathon. Additionally, research too has shown massages providing little or no relief at all to the sore muscles. Then, why try at all? But some relaxing massage a week or two after the big event is a good idea.7

No Jacuzzi But Ice Bath

Stay away from hot showers or jacuzzi though you could be craving for it after a tiresome run. You might hate us for saying this, but what you actually need is an ice bath. Simply because studies say it is good and experienced legs endorse it.8

Compression Gears

Getting into compression gear like tights or socks will help increase the blood flow to the muscles, albeit marginally. Even if it doesn’t completely cure your fatigue, you must try it, just because it is comfortable and there are no side effects.9

What You Need To Do Later

Adequate Nutrition

The importance of nutrition before and for many weeks after the run cannot be emphasised enough. Marathon runners should understand that long bouts of strenuous exercise and training and the final run can reduce the body’s proper immune function. It is therefore essential that runners maintain their immune function by eating a well-balanced diet that will take care of all their energy demands. By well-balanced diet, we mean an adequate intake of iron, zinc and vitamins A, E, B6 and B12 is important. At the same time, stay away from fat because it can cause further depression in immune function.10

An antioxidant-rich diet is the best bet at this period of recovery. Though no research says it improves performance, antioxidants reduce lipid peroxidation or oxidative degradation of lipids after the performance.11

Recent studies have also shown that drinking tart cherry juice increases the total antioxidative capacity of the body, reduce inflammation, and lipid peroxidation and thus help in the recovery of muscle function. Runners must start off on drinking this juice a week before the race day and continue for a couple of days or so after the race.12

Do Aerobics

Studies have also shown that aerobic fitness can improve recovery after a high intensity exercise. It also helps in removing lactic acid build up in the muscles after an intense activity like marathon.13

How You Hydrate Is Important, Too

One of the most common myths associated with running is hydration. Runners are often told to keep drinking fluids as much as possible in order to keep the body hydrated. While it is essential that the body is well-hydrated, over hydration can cause more complicated problems than dehydration. When we drink too much fluids, we tend to dilute the sodium in our body. Sodium is an electrolyte that is essential in maintaining the optimum water levels within and around our cells. When the sodium levels become abnormally low, it results in hyponatremia. The effects of hyponatremia can range from mild to life-threatening.14

Beat Post-Marathon Blues

This is real. Most runners relate to feeling a sense of loss after a marathon. As the goal for the past 4 months of training does not exist anymore, one could even feel a bit let down. We suggest you keep yourself occupied with other activities till you get over this phase. This is perhaps a good time to be catching up on all the activities that were missed out in the training months. One could also use this time to set new goals for the future or plan something out, as this would present something to look forward to.

The road to a proper recovery from a marathon is a long one. And there are no shortcuts. Proper health education, a well-planned recovery schedule, a well-balanced and healthy diet, regular exercise and training, all go into both the preparation for and recovery from a marathon.

References   [ + ]

1.Fredericson, Michael, and Anuruddh K. Misra. “Epidemiology and aetiology of marathon running injuries.” Sports Medicine 37, no. 4-5 (2007): 437-439.
2.Running Injuries
3, 7.Your Complete Guide to Recovering From a Marathon
4.The Importance of Rest and Recovery for Athletes
5, 6, 8. Marathon Recovery: Twelve Do’s And Don’ts
9.Hill, Jessica A., Glyn Howatson, Ken A. Van Someren, Ian Walshe, and Charles R. Pedlar. “Influence of compression garments on recovery after marathon running.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 28, no. 8 (2014): 2228-2235.
10.Gleeson, Michael, David C. Nieman, and Bente K. Pedersen. “Exercise, nutrition and immune function.” Journal of sports sciences 22, no. 1 (2004): 115-125.
11.Clarkson, Priscilla M., and Heather S. Thompson. “Antioxidants: what role do they play in physical activity and health?.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 72, no. 2 (2000): 637s-646s.
12.Howatson, Glyn, M. P. McHugh, J. A. Hill, James Brouner, A. P. Jewell, Ken A. Van Someren, R. E. Shave, and S. A. Howatson. “Influence of tart cherry juice on indices of recovery following marathon running.” Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports 20, no. 6 (2010): 843-852.
13.Tomlin, Dona L., and Howard A. Wenger. “The relationship between aerobic fitness and recovery from high intensity intermittent exercise.” Sports Medicine 31, no. 1 (2001): 1-11.
14.Whitfield, Angus HN. “Too much of a good thing?.” Br J Gen Pract 56, no. 528 (2006): 542-545.
CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.

CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.