A performance coach offers her best post-marathon recovery tips for first-timers and experienced pros alike.
Recover From Your Marathon Like A Pro
Congratulations—you just ran a marathon! The post-run glow is setting in, the medal is hanging around your neck, there’s a banana in your hand and maybe a celebratory beer in your future…oh, and your legs feel like they might be about to fall off.
Training for and running the race is only half the battle (okay, maybe three-fourths). If you want to keep running after, it’s important to place a premium on your post-race recovery. But a quick Google search will tell you that there are hundreds of different sites devoted to this topic, and countless pieces of advice. How do you sort through the noise and figure out what works best for you?
Mary Johnson is the founder, owner and a performance coach at Lift.Run.Perform. She advises that every post-race recovery plan should begin with an examination of the runner’s overall performance in the race, bearing in mind that each race performance is different for virtually every body.
“You have to consider how much of a toll the marathon took on your body, how your training was leading up to it and how you were feeling leading up to it and during it,” Johnson said. “Was the time you ended up running where your fitness level is? Or was it slower or faster?”
There’s also the mental aspect of finishing a race. Johnson says her coaches usually consider the mental stamina required for a long, grueling training process. Sometimes, in order to grant yourself a relief from that focus, time off can help rebuild your mental strength.
Generally speaking, Johnson advises a week of “unstructured” running—moving the amount that makes you feel good, adding in up to two weeks off if necessary. The unstructured relief should also apply to high-intensity cardio classes, which can take a similar toll on your body and muscles. It’s important to grant your muscles some relief in the days immediately following a marathon.
However, that doesn’t mean total rest and recovery. In order to keep the muscles stimulated, and help them heal faster, it’s actually vital to promote blood flow to the region. Those activities can range from tissue stimulation (think massage or foam rolling) to low-impact exercises that keep your muscles and joints in working range. Johnson advocates for functional range conditioning (also known as the FRC system) and incorporating controlled articulate rotations (CARs) into post-race routines.
“I’m a huge fan of CARs. It’s a fancy way of saying you’re moving your joints fluidly through their entire range,” Johnson said. “Moving is what you should be doing: gentle training with light weights, or even bodyweight. Going through and doing squats and planks, high knees and just moving. That is helpful to promote the blood flow.”
As with any point of your training cycle, it’s important to pay attention to the signals your body is sending you. Normal aches and pains after a marathon should subside after about 10 days—anything over that and it’s time to see a doctor, Johnson advises.
While rest, recovery and light workouts may not be something a dedicated runner can handle patiently, the “off” session is vital to ensure a successful future with many more finish lines in the distance.
“Many of us are training and we’re all trying to get faster,” Johnson said. “You have to let your body come down, adjust and adapt.”