Recovering after Your Marathon Is Over
Although you can't predict how you'll feel after your first marathon, you can plan a few activities that can help you to heal and, perhaps, look forward to your next one. Chances are, right after your marathon, you'll feel like doing any or all the following:
- Drinking anything, from a noncarbonated sports drink to beer
- Eating anything you can get your hands on
- Lying down and taking a nap
- Never running again
- Throwing up
- Wrapping your feet in soft cotton
Immediately following a marathon, you can see plenty of runners who take a seat and then eat and drink. Don't think that because so many people do this, that you should set yourself down to a meal after your big run, too. You won't see those people later that night or for the next 3 or 4 days, when they can barely walk. Stretch a little, walk a little, and get plenty of sugar into your body, and you'll be amazed at how great you feel (sore, but not in extreme pain) during the days right after your marathon.
After most shorter races (5K or 10K), you want to spend a few minutes cooling down before you eat anything substantial. For a marathon, however, especially your first one, get plenty to eat and drink (while standing or walking around), and then take a walk.
Try to walk for at least a mile. If you enter any of the larger marathons, the walk back to your car or hotel is likely to be at least that long. But if you're running in a smaller marathon, go a few extra blocks out of the way before heading to your car. And if you're planning to stick around and enjoy the post-race festivities (which can last for hours after the race), change into dry clothes, do a little stretching, and then hang out at the event area.
Rehydrating and refueling
The first action you want to take after you finish a marathon is as follows:
1. Eat one or two packets of energy gel.
You can carry an extra packet or two of energy gel or have someone bring them to you at the finish line. A third alternative is to keep some packets in your car, but this helps only if you can park really close to the finish line because you want to consume the gels as soon as possible after finishing your race.
Energy gels are about the most basic simple carbohydrate you can find: They're made of sugar and fruit puree and packaged in small containers a little bigger than the catsup packets that you get at fast-food restaurants. You can buy energy gels at any running store, through any running catalog, and at some sporting goods and outdoor stores.
2. Drink several cups of a noncarbonated sports drink.
Sports drinks are better at rehydrating your body after a marathon than water is. You may decide to drink one or two cups of water, too, but at this point, you want to make sure you don't end up in the medical tent due to dehydration. Even if you feel great at the finish, if you don't drink up at this point, you may feel the effects of dehydration within 30 minutes.
3. Gather up as much fruit and bread as you can hold in your hands and gobble it up.
Even if you don't feel like eating, eat! The better you refuel your muscles, the less you'll experience cramping, soreness, and fatigue in the hours ahead. In your food choices, focus on simple carbohydrates.
Keep walking while you eat. If you don't feel comfortable walking while you eat, lean up again a wall as you munch. Whatever you do, just don't sit down until you've had a chance to walk and stretch a little. If you sit for a long period right after your race, your leg muscles may cramp and take on a life of their own — a painful life.
You absolutely, positively must stretch after your marathon. Before you change out of wet clothes, take a shower, join the post-race party, or drive home, go through at least one set of all your stretches. If you don't do this, you'll be so sore the next day that you may not be able to get out of bed.
The reality is that the day after your marathon, you're going to be sore whether you stretch or not. But stretching makes you less sore than you would be otherwise and keeps your muscles loose, which can help you avoid an injury.
You're likely to experience painful blisters after (and even during) your marathon. No matter how bad they are, though, you can probably get around well enough to get something to eat, walk back to your hotel room or car, and stretch a little. After that, your first step should be to take care of those blisters.
When you pack your bag before your marathon, be sure to include several sizes of Band-Aid Advanced Healing bandages, alcohol, sterilized gauze pads, nail cutters or small scissors, andBand-Aid Liquid Bandage or New Skin Liquid Bandage.
Planning a shake-out run or walk
A shake-out run is a short run that you take the afternoon or evening after a morning race. (This short run can also be a shake-out walk — a brisk walk.) You may begin to tighten up from 4 to 6 hours after your race is over, especially if you've been riding in a car or have taken a nap. A shake-out run loosens you up again and keeps you from being as sore the next day. Run or walk anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes — no more than that.
If a short run or walk just isn't possible the day of your race, try to do some sort of activity for 10 to 20 minutes: Ride a bike, swim, do some aerobics in front of the TV, and so on.