Post-Marathon: A Voyage of Recovery (Preview)

Start your marathon recovery on the right foot


Posted: 23 April 2012

Congratulations: you've run your marathon! Now, unless you wish to spend the next few weeks plagued with soreness, sniffles and a soul-sapping sense of apathy, read on.

What you do in the days following a marathon is just as important as what you did before. Running 26.2 miles places high demands on the body and you’re likely to end up with depleted fuel stores, accumulated fluid in the muscles, dehydration and perhaps some damaged muscle tissue. So, not surprisingly, you will be susceptible to injury and infection after the race. You may also be feeling disorientated – or even depressed – in the come-down after achieving such a significant running goal.

Unfortunately, there’s no formula for calculating how long your body will take to recover – this will vary from runner to runner. A seasoned marathon runner – or someone whose training plan included a high mileage base – can expect to bounce back quicker than a marathon novice for example.

What you can do though, is make sure you know exactly what your body needs. Here’s how to deal with the most common post-marathon ailments, how to combat the blues and, of course, top advice on when and how to resume running.

Health and Nutrition

Muscle Soreness
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) can begin eight or more hours after the race and may linger for up to a week after the marathon. For the first 24 hours after the race, apply ice (wrapped in a cloth) frequently to any painful parts of your legs, keeping it on for about 12 minutes at a time. Elevate your feet and legs for at least an hour after the marathon and for 30 minutes a day for the following week.

In the days following the race, take ibuprofen or aspirin to calm muscle inflammation and ease pain. Don’t hesitate to rub salicylate anti-inflammatory creams into skin over aching joints or throbbing tendons. Research shows that ointments like this do more than pad the bank accounts of pharmaceutical companies; they actually penetrate deeply enough to limit discomfort.

Blisters
The best advice for dealing with blisters is leave them be. If they’ve broken open during the race, your main concern should be preventing infection. Twice a day, soak your feet for up to 20 minutes in water containing iodine solution. Gently dry your feet, and cover the blistered area with a sterile gauze or plaster. Continue this process until the blister no longer oozes.

If the pain is unbearable, you might want to consider opening the blister yourself. Clean the area with antiseptic or rubbing alcohol, then pierce the skin close to the base of the blister with a sterilised needle. Apply gentle pressure to drain all the fluid, taking care not to remove the covering layer of skin. You should then treat the area as if it had broken open of its own accord.

If the pain persists, or a redness develops, seek professional advice as you may need antibiotics to fight an infection. Try not to alter your walking style despite any discomfort – by placing undue stress on other leg muscles you will only heighten your risk of a new injury.

Colds
The stress of running a marathon can depress your immune system, leaving you susceptible to colds, flu and other upper respiratory tract infections in the days immediately following the race. Self-care is the best way to reduce your risk of contracting a virus, so make sure you get plenty of sleep, eat well-balanced meals and drink lots of water. You might also find taking herbal remedies such as Echinacea, or nutritional supplements such as zinc and Vitamin C, beneficial. Steering clear of crowded places if possible will reduce your exposure to other people’s lergies.

Lack of Energy
A general lack of energy in the week following marathon is perfectly usual. Try to eat meals comprising 50-60 per cent carbohydrates to replenish your glycogen reserves, and foods rich in protein to assist your body in repairing muscle and tissue. Indulge any cravings you might have – these could be your body’s way of telling you what it needs.

Scientific research also indicates that many marathon runners lose around 3mg of iron (about the amount in a serving of beef stew) per day for up to five days after the marathon, so eat foods rich in iron – including meat, spinach, beans, peaches, parsley and peas – during your post-marathon week. To promote iron absorption, drink orange juice or consume other rich sources of vitamin C with your meals.

Weight Gain
Some runners complain of weight gain immediately after a marathon. This is most likely due to water retention as your muscles repair and rebuild. Don’t be tempted to start (or resume) any weight-loss regime during this time – your body requires a full complement of nutrients to recover from the stress of the race. Of course, if you are still gaining weight after your first recovery week, you might want to consider adjusting your calorie intake to suit your new activity levels.

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