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- Progressive recovery plan
The feeling after a big marathon can sometimes feel like a bit of a let-down.
You've spent weeks and months training to build up your body condition for the big day.
Then, when you cross that finish line, everything may feel as if it's all over.
But it shouldn't be over as the post-race recovery week is an important time to rejuvenate and heal your body.
Post-race recovery is critical, both for recovering from the race and for setting you up to continue your training.
As tough and overwhelming as every marathon can be you just can't wait to get back out there and do it again - and you want to make sure that you can.
Post-race recovery starts the minute you cross the finish line.
This article is going to look at how to set up the perfect recovery week starting from that moment.
Day 1 of the week includes the time immediately after the race and the rest of that day.
The moment you finish you mustn't just stop. Continue with a 10-15 minute cool down, such as a walk, to prevent blood pooling and muscles cramping.
You could also put on a pair of recovery leggings to accelerate this healing process.
Incorporate some stretching. Don't rush through them, hold for a good 20-30 seconds for a couple of rounds per body part.
Foam rolling later in the day may also be a good way to help with recovery as studies show how this can help reduce pain after intense exercise. Foam rolling can also help keep the muscles limber up becoming more useful compared to not doing it. This means you should avoid hobbling around as much.
Hydration and nutrition need to be taken care of within the first 15-30 minutes and will continue later into the day.
Hydration wise, you will want to drink 16-ounces of water for every pound you lost over the course of the race. If you were sweating excessively, or in very hot weather, a sports drink containing electrolytes can be valuable within that first 15-30 minutes. After that, you'll want to focus on plain water.
For nutrition, you'll want to start with a snack that has protein, carbs, and healthy fats within 30-60 minutes post-race. This is to replenish glycogen in the muscle and provide protein for muscle repair. You want around 10-20 grams of protein and a 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein to restore energy, reduce fatigue, and reduce muscle soreness in the coming days.
Everything you do after finishing a race will help with recovery and prepare you for the next one including the first few minutes, hours, and the entire week.
This article gives a good run-down on more of the specifics of hydration and nutrition you want to focus on as soon as your race is finished.
Days 2 & 3
Rest and recovery is the name of the game now. Allow your body a break from exercise but be sure to include some very light active recovery in the first days following your race.
Walking for 15-20 minutes would be best, as studies show active leg recovery effectively reduces fatigue in those leg muscles. Active recovery is seen to help increase recovery better than doing absolutely nothing. Some studies show that as low as 6-10 minutes of walking or light cycling can help recovery. It will help increase blood flow getting oxygen to your muscles and tissues which is an important part of the healing process.
You can make good use of foam rolling/ roller massage on these days and throughout the week and make sure you keep stretching every day, as often as possible.
Hydration and nutrition will still be paramount in the days following your race. Getting enough fibre and adequate protein will help with your muscle recovery. There are many opinions on protein requirements for muscle building but the research for athletes still says you should aim for 1.3-1.8 grams per kg per day so aim for this each day to support your muscle growth and repair.
"Hydration and nutrition will still be paramount in the days following your race"
Days 4 & 5
This is when you can start re-introducing some light exercise including lower intensity running or cycling.
Now would be a good time to get into some cross-training as you'll be able to incorporate and recruit muscles you weren't using while training for your marathon.
Racket sports, swimming and strength training are some sports to try. You still need to remember that these activities need to be done with low intensity as you're still in recovery mode - you're just doing them to help the recovery process.
You'll hopefully be keeping up your stretching over these days.
Performing yoga can be a good way to increase your flexibility while stretching. Research from the Journal for Strength and Conditioning Research shows yoga to help in the muscle recovery process, with just one yoga session being helpful to lower delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS. If you have a yoga studio nearby it would be a good time to have a go. Alternatively, there are always many YouTube videos to guide you.
Massage is also great for recovery during your perfect post-recovery week. At the very least it will feel good and boost your mood but may also help with flexibility, muscle recovery, muscle soreness, and strength.
Days 6 & 7
At this point, any deep muscle soreness from your race should have subsided by around day 6 if you've been proactive with your post-race recovery. You should be feeling more like your old self at this point and workouts can resume, but the intensity still needs to stay moderate.
It's important to note that you're still in recovery mode and you don't want to ramp up the intensity of your exercise too quickly.
The second week can be more about slowly easing into training again. However, depending on the length and severity of the race you just completed, recovery remains your priority. You need to listen to your body and not feel guilty about having this time of rest and relaxation which may need to continue into the second week.
Your next goal
Every marathon is different. It's important to get familiar with what happens to your body after competing, to be able to gauge how you need to respond to it. For your future races, what you are doing right now will help prepare you for them.
Over To You!
With all the planning that goes into training for a race, you want to devote some time to planning out the perfect post-race recovery week. Recovery starts the moment you finish your race with proper hydration and nutrition and this will extend out through that first week after. A good quote to keep in mind - which can be applied in all areas of life - is:
"do something today that your future self will thank you for."
When it comes to post-race recovery, this really rings true.
About the Author
Jamie is a personal trainer, nutritionist and author of the Amazon #1 "Taking Back Your Health".