Even before running the New York City Marathon on Sunday, I knew that this week would be dedicated to recovery. However, what I didn’t expect was for my legs to completely give out on me the next day. On Monday morning, I panicked a little bit (okay, a lot) in the morning when I realized that I could not put any weight on my legs. Since I had already run four marathons before running NYC, I thought I knew what to do in order to recover. But as it turns out, everything that I expected to happen did not.
It seems that each marathon I have run has led down a different path of recovery. My first marathon was most similar to New York in terms of recovery, and the other three were significantly easier. This most recent post-marathon experience led me to a revelation in terms of recovery: our bodies recover differently every single time. Even if we run the same distance, the various race conditions lead us down different paths of recovery. Seems obvious, right? Now that I’m thinking about it three days post-race, at home on my couch, of course it makes sense. But in the moment on Monday morning, knowing I still had a two hour flight and two hour car ride to make it through, it surely didn’t make sense to me.
Thinking back on the NYC Marathon and its hills, the late start, rainy weather, my faster-than-usual pace, the 1.5 mile long finisher chute, and combination of 10 miles of walking around town before the race, I realize that I should have fully expected my recovery to take longer than usual.
We can expect our own body to recover differently after each race, but there are a few strategies we can use that will assist in every situation. When I realized that I was not able to walk in the morning, my mind quickly tried to find a solution. I knew that I would need to walk through the airport and changing my flight was not an option, so I needed to do something to get back on my feet.
Here are 10 strategies I used to speed up the process and recover in just a few hours.
How to Recover Quickly from a Marathon (or Half Marathon)
- Drink your calories (and electrolytes). And by this I don’t mean alcohol (although some might say that numbs the pain too, haha), but drinking sugary drinks with electrolytes like Gatorade or Powerade can help you refuel fast. You’ll need more liquids than usual for the few days after the race, and this method helps pump your body with fluids and sugars needed for muscle recovery at the same time. I drank a 12 ounce Gatorade once I realized how tight my legs were and it helped me feel better right away.
- Give yourself a light massage. Now is not the time to go crazy on your muscles, but lightly rubbing the tight spots on your legs will help break up the lactic acid that has built up and hopefully start to loosen those muscles.
- Do some gentle stretches. As much as possible, try and stretch out your legs. Definitely don’t push yourself here, but some gentle movements will help get the blood pumping and stretch out those tight spots.
- Drink more water than you ever thought possible. Water just helps with everything. Even if you hydrated like a champ throughout the race and afterwards, the next morning is crucial. Drink lots of water so your blood can flow to those muscles and help speed up the recovery process.
- Take Ibuprofen. I am not a fan of taking pain killers to help, but Ibuprofen really pulled through when I needed it. Painkillers like Advil or Ibuprofen help reduce inflammation which makes those muscles feel less sore and make it feel a little less painful to walk.
- Walk slowly around the room. Similar to stretching, walking will help loosen those muscles and keep them from contracting and staying tight. This is exactly the opposite of what you’ll want to do after a marathon, but walking slowly in short spurts will make sure those muscles don’t lock up in a contracted position.
- Practice bending your knees and hips. Once I realized that I could not stand up, I spent some time laying on the floor just moving my legs with my hands. I wanted to lubricate all my joints and help those movements become more fluid. I stretched out my legs and then brought them in close, and did a few hip circles on each leg.
- Make sure to eat first thing, even if you’re not hungry. Frequently after running long distances, I find that I am actually not very hungry. Sleeping and resting sound much more appealing than sitting down for a big meal, but they are often not the best things for me to do. Rather than trying to eat a huge meal to replenish your lost energy, try to have small snacks periodically throughout the morning. This will keep your body nourished while not overdoing it causing you to feel sick.
- Take a warm shower. The warm water really helps muscles relax and loosen. Plus the standing and walking you do to get in the shower wakes them up.
- As tempting as it is, try not to sit for long periods of time. All I want to do after a distance race is sit down and not get back up. However, every time I succumb to this temptation my legs wind up taking way longer to recover. That’s not to say you need to walk around for the rest of the day, just make sure to take periodic walk breaks every 15-30 minutes while you’re relaxing to ensure that your muscles don’t lock up. Even just a circle around the room will get the blood flowing and remind them that they are needed.
It’s often hard to remember that the race is not over as soon as we cross the finish line. Those moments immediately after the race and the next morning are crucial for our body. Our legs have just carried us through an incredible journey, and we need to respect them while they recover. Expecting your body to be able to jump right back in to your usual fitness routine is very unrealistic. Even still, expecting to not do anything special and magically recover is just as silly. Treat your body well and respect what you have just accomplished. You’ll find yourself ready to hit the roads feeling fresh in no time.