Congratulations to all the runners who participated in the 16th Annual Steamtown Marathon yesterday! In addition to the euphoria and pride that comes with successfully completing such an arduous task, one other feeling is present: pain! You may have blisters, black and blue feet, black toe nails, chaffed skin, stiff and painful lower back, knees, ankles and feet, and muscle tightness and soreness. This column on recovery tips is for you!
Do not take this recovery lightly. Respect the distance and its toll on your body. Remember what happened to the first man to run a marathon. In 490 BC, the Greek soldier Pheidippides ran approximately 25 miles from the city of Marathon to the city of Athens to bring the news of success in the battle with the Persians, who had been invading their country. Upon informing the people of good news, he fell over and died.
Recommendations for Marathon Recovery
IMMEDIATE RECOVERY: Day 1-7
- Hydrate - Drink - 24 ounces of water for every 2 pounds you lose after the race. This is based on pre- and post-exercise weight. Sport drinks such as Gatorade are useful to maintain fluid balance. You just burned 2,600 calories, so don’t drink diet soft drinks. You need the glucose (sugar) boost. Also, don’t drink alcohol in excess.
- Refuel with Good Calories– Drink (water and sports drinks), eat carbohydrates, and snack, snack, snack. Try to eat healthy snacks such as granola or fiber bars, fruits, nuts, vegetables, fish and lean meats. But, avoid overeating.
- Rest – Take it easy for a few days. Let you muscles/body heal. Go home. Take multiple hot showers, and rest in bed even if you can’t sleep. Then, get up to eat, drink and walk around the house again. Remember, sleep is necessary for your body to repair.
- Elevate – By elevating your legs you allow gravity to help the blood/fluid in your muscles return to the heart.
- Use Pain Relievers with Caution– Based on your medical history, use an over-the-counter pain medication that works for you (Advil, Motrin, Aleve, or Tylenol). However, do not overuse these products, because they can delay the recovery of bone and soft tissue.
- Ice – can be used on painful joints as a natural pain reliever.
- Massage – This can be an effective method of relaxing muscle spasms and cramps and mobilizing fluids from your muscles to your heart after the long run. It should be very comfortable. Wait 45-60 minutes after the race so you have ample time to drink, eat, and move around a little. You may find even more benefit from massage 24-48 hours after the race, as it will assist in the recovery of delayed-onset muscle soreness caused by lactic acid build-up in your muscles.
- Keep moving – walk intermittently for 5 minutes or so around the house or yard. Do this every 1-2 hours so you don’t get too stiff. This will prevent lactic acid build-up in your muscles. Do not run or take long walks for a few weeks after the race.
- Do Not Run - for one week after the marathon. Studies clearly demonstrate that runners who did not run for five days following a marathon regained more leg strength than those who ran, even if they ran slowly.
- Do Not Stretch – while gentle dynamic stretching is helpful, aggressive passive stretching of damaged and inflamed muscles is harmful.
LONG TERM RECOVERY: Week 2-4
- DO NOTHING! – for 1 week after the marathon. NOTHING: no running, no long walking, no swimming, no weight training!
- Allow 4-6 weeks - for a complete recovery, even for elite athletes.
- Allow 6-8 Weeks - before beginning speed-work training, even for elite athletes.
- Cross Train – Consider low-impact aerobic exercise such as biking, elliptical exercise, swimming, core and balance exercises, and weight training.
- Ease Back - into running. Consider a slow walk/run for 2 miles in week-2 and 3 miles in week-3.
- Studies Show – Even in elite athletes the damage to the body from running a marathon does not allow optimal performance for several weeks. This has been found even when the runner felt fully recovered.
- Important Variables - Temperature, Humidity, and Intensity of the race significantly affect recovery time. Recovery time is different in each person and in each race. Listen to your body. Rest and heal before you push!
Next Monday: Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey in “Health and Exercise Forum”.
This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an affiliate faculty member at the University of Scranton, PT Dept.