Top 10 Marathon Recovery Tips

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Sport scientist and expert running coach Nick Morgan gives his advice for bouncing back after a marathon

The first hour
1. Keep moving
“It will go against everything you’ll want to do after finishing the marathon, but keep moving for a little while after you’ve crossed the finish line.  The London Marathon has a great funnelling system that guides runners back to where they collect their bags, embrace this by walking and shaking out your muscles.  This continuation of slightly active movement will improve recovery by taking the body gradually down to its base-line and slowly reducing the heart rate back to a normal level.”

2. Avoid sitting or lying down
“No matter how much your body is aching to do so, avoid immediately sitting down or lying down after you’ve finished the marathon as this will be counterproductive to the body’s recovery process. The average runner takes over 40,000 steps in a marathon, so stopping too quickly can increase trauma to muscles, meaning they stiffen up and less able to recover.”

3. Get your family and friends to carry your finishing bag
“While it may seem like a small thing, after running the 26.2miles the added weight of all the freebies in your goodie bag will only strain your already over-worked muscles further and delay the onset of muscle recovery. If you’ve family or friends meeting you after the finish, get them to carry your finishing bag.”

The first 24 hours

4. Try to eat as quickly as possible
“This might feel difficult after all the sweet drinks and gels on course, but eating some carbohydrate (pasta) and protein (chicken) will kick start recovery. Believe me, your muscles are craving it! If you struggle in the immediate period, try to use drinks, such as a milkshake, to get some calories in to feed tired muscles.”

5. Shower (and if you are really lucky, a massage!)
Showering will help you to recover mentally as much as physically. Some hard core scientists would suggest a cold shower, but even the process of getting your clothes off, showering and getting into some fresh clothing will help revitalise you in the short term.  If you are lucky enough to have access to a massage, it will be a great help to keep the circulation going, helping you recover faster.”

6. Wrap your muscles with compression technology
“Compression is a great strategy for facilitating blood flow, and in turn recovery. Using SKINS RY400 recovery range could help you feel all the better in the short term and in the next few days (skins.net). The targeted support from the garments will help give your muscles extra stability in the time of need, whilst over the next few days they are proven to reduce delayed onset of muscle soreness. In simple, terms you’ll feel better sooner.”

7. The low down on alcohol:
“Who are we to suggest you stay away from alcohol! You probably aren’t going to, and in truth why should you – it is time to celebrate. Just be aware that the alcohol will promote dehydration and potentially slow down the body’s recovery process.  Therefore, whilst no one would begrudge the drink, it might help to go easy!”

The next day
8. Avoid stairs
“The one movement everyone will struggle with the day after is walking down stairs. The muscle damage will be high – you can’t avoid it. Therefore help yourself and keep life simple. If you can avoid work then do so, but certainly avoid excessive distance to cover or stairs to climb. If there is a day to take the lift, this is the day you are allowed!”

The following week and beyond
9. Exercising again

“In truth, you should allow at least 7 days to recover fully, and for some of you, even longer before you begin to exercise again. There is no hard and fast rule, but light exercise e.g a gentle 30 min jog or light swim will be great for recovery, you can then build up then from there the week afterwards, introducing 3 x sessions like that.  If you wanted to push a 5k at pace, then waiting the full 7 days before you put on your running shoes might be more sensible.”

10. Finally – the next marathon! If you’ve truly caught the marathon bug, this will depend on how experienced you are. The more experienced in marathons then the quicker you could go again. A simple rule of thumb would be 2 marathons per year, so you have plenty of time. Any more than this, and it’ll be tough to run a personal best!

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Nick is Director of Sports Integrated, and a British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES) accredited physiologist. He has a vast experience of working with athletes from beginner through to elite, across a range of sports. Nick is also Head of Sport Science at the Sotogrande Tennis Academy, and is published in both academic and specialist press.