Every year, over 40,000 people participate in the London marathon1, with a mixture of elite athletes and “first timers” taking part in the 26.2 mile race. Many runners spend months focusing on a training plan in the ‘run’ up to the big event, but it’s equally important to think about a recovery plan to help your body repair post-race.
Recovery time can vary for each person, depending on factors including the intensity of your run, the weather, your training programme and previous running experience. However, after the high of completing the race for the first time or recording a PB, it’s inevitable that your body will start to feel the strain. Ahead of this year’s Virgin Money London Marathon (28th April 2019), PT and Strength and Conditioning expert, James Harrison (james.harrison.pt) shares his 5 top tips on how to help the body recover post-race:
- Hydration: Drink it in…
Replacing fluids after a long and strenuous run is massively important! Everyone sweats during exercise – especially if it’s a warm day. Sweat is more than just water – it contains minerals including magnesium, potassium and sodium – so drinking water is not always the most effective hydration. Isotonic (sports) drinks can have a greater effectiveness in re-hydrating as they contain the minerals lost as well as water. You should aim to replace approximately 150% of the fluid lost 2-4 hours post race. The easiest way to work out how much fluid you’ve lost is: your weight pre-race minus you weight post-race. And, lastly, as tempting as it is to meet up with friends and family for a celebratory drink, avoid choosing an alcoholic beverage immediately after the race.
After hitting a massive fitness goal, it’s important to get energy back into your body pretty quickly after you finish. You want to look at getting simply carbohydrates (CHO) and proteins into your body within the first 20-30 minutes post-race. Simple CHO like fruit works well. Save the big meal for later in the day when your appetite returns, and you can enjoy that celebration. Try to have a good balance of carbohydrate and protein – aim for a ration of 4:1.
- Recovery: Pull into the slow lane
Straight after the race, keep on moving – don’t just collapse on the sofa, as tempting as it may be! You want to keep the blood flow going around your legs, so it’s important to keeping moving to help your circulation. Light stretching can help – make sure you focus on your calves, hamstrings, glutes and quadriceps, as these are likely to be very tight. When you do stop for a well earned “sit down”, it’s best to elevate the feet again to make sure the blood doesn’t pool in the lower half of your body. Contrasting hot and cold showers can be really effective in promoting recovery – and if you’re really brave you could try an ice-cold bath! Changing temperature in this way causes blood vessels to vasodilolate and vasocontstrict (open and close up), which can promote recovery, flush waste products from the legs and help reduce swelling. Some runners also invest in a post-race massage to help reduce inflammation and help reduce delayed onset muscle soreness over the next couple of days.
Sleep is the best form of recovery and the time when the body will do most of the repair work – so getting a good night’s sleep over the next few weeks should be a focus. The first night after a marathon could go either of two ways, either you’ll sleep like a log, or you struggle as your muscles are stiff and sore.
- Feet first
Your feet with take an absolute battering after 26.2 miles! It’s a good idea to take a spare pair of socks and a change of shoes (preferably loose fitting, comfortable ones!) on the day. In terms of injury, keep an eye out for any swelling around the foot – and if it doesn’t go down within a couple of days, visit your GP.
Pounding the pavement can really take it out on your feet. So, if you do experience bruised toe nails, heel blisters or hard, calloused skin on your feet post-race – your body will definitely need some post-race TLC. You could try an at-home treatment such as Footner Exfoliating Socks which makes use of the skin’s natural process to rid your feet from dead skin build-up and can leave you with baby-soft feet in just one quick and easy 60-minute application.2
- Training: Back in the saddle
Make sure you move around the next couple of days after the race. Being too sedentary will not help with muscle stiffness and soreness may be prolonged. The next day, try going for a walk to help the blood flow to the legs. Over the next couple of days, cross training like cycling or rowing can help. Swimming is especially good as there’s no impact on the body. Remember, you’re exercising for recovery not fit fitness! The biggest indication as to when it’s best to get back into training is listening to your body. It can take up to 4-6 weeks before you feel comfortable enough to run properly again. Essentially everyone is different and will recover at different rate. If you are in pain training then don’t push it – this is not the time to push on through!