BY JOE MULDOWNEY
Training for a 26.2-mile marathon is grueling, but proper recovery from a marathon or any long-distance endurance event is essential.
As difficult as marathons can be, they inspire a positive addiction. When you run one, you will probably run another.
In order to ensure future success as well as to remain injury-free, it is imperative that one properly recovers after the marathon and before beginning to train for the next one.
Keep in mind that complete recovery from a marathon takes one day for each mile of the race. Therefore, a full month is required before the runner is healed from the marathon effort.
Recovery begins as soon as one crosses the finish line. A massive amount of water weight has been lost, so immediate hydration is a must. Begin with water, then move to electrolyte drinks. Avoid alcohol and caffeine drinks, as they increase dehydration.
During a 26.2-mile effort, the runner’s body has burned like a blast furnace, so the fire must be fueled. Bananas for potassium, which will assist cramping muscles, as well as high-protein, high-fat foods should be consumed.
Swelling and inflammation are reduced by cold temperatures. Ice baths, ice packs on specific areas of inflammation, or even spraying the garden hose on your legs and lower back are excellent methods of reducing inflammation during the days after the race.
A foam roller for the lower back and a hard roller for the legs will break up lactic acid and scar tissue.
It is important to resist the temptation to “get back on the horse,” and allow for complete recovery. If you do so, you stand a much better chance of achieving your future goals.
On the day after the marathon, begin with making sure you are properly hydrated, and eat enough to replenish calories lost the day before.
Stretch out hamstrings, calves, quads and hips. Stretch slowly and don’t bounce. Yoga stretches are very good. There is absolutely no need to run or jog. A brisk walk is enough to exercise sore muscles and joints.
Cross train during the days and weeks following the marathon. Cycling and swimming are excellent ways to maintain your aerobic fitness level while allowing complete recovery of your legs.
As you return to your training, easy back gradually. Three days after the marathon, go to a trail or a track and slowly jog on a soft surface. Keep your mileage low and understand that you will fatigue quickly. When that fatigue sets in, shut down your run and walk back home.
Patience is something that most runners have little of, but patience will pay large dividends if you follow a cautious post-marathon training schedule.
A week or so after the marathon, you may increase your running distance, but avoid hills and remain on flat and soft surfaces. Avoid races, of any distance, for a month after the marathon. Running a race within a month of your marathon effort will do little but frustrate you, and it could lead to injury.
Finally, use the month after your marathon to reacquaint yourself with family and friends. Training for a marathon requires a large investment of time, which can sometimes take its toll on those around you. Reward your family and friends with a month of normalcy.
Having run a marathon, you have become a member of an exclusive club of individuals who have achieved an incredible level of athletic endurance.
If you allow for proper recovery, you will increase your chances of remaining healthy and strong enough to improve your marathon time.
Muldowney is an avid runner and head cross country coach at Penn State Schuylkill.