You’ve probably heard of RICE (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate) for the treatment of injuries, but did you know that it applies to post marathon recovery as well? Pounding the streets for the length of time it takes to complete 26.2 miles causes damage (micro-tearing) within the muscles, and needs to be treated the same as any other musclular injury. As soon as you can, spend some time with your legs raised - either propped up on some pillows or raised up against a wall - to let gravity give you a helping hand in your recovery.
Get proper nutrition
Carb loading isn’t just for before the marathon. After the race, your muscles will have depleted their glycogen stores, so eating a carb rich snack soon after can help replenish them. Studies have shown that eating some carbs within 30 minutes of activity is optimal for recovery, so although you probably won’t feel that hungry immediately afterwards, it’s a good idea to try and eat something small. Protein is also vital for repairing cell damage, so try to include some protein in a ratio of about 4:1 (four parts carbohydrate to one part protein) to combat this - something like half a turkey sandwich, or some hummus with pita bread would be ideal. And make sure to keep sipping on fluids with some added electrolytes, to replenish your sodium levels, which will have become depleted through sweating. Celebrating with a beer after your run may be tempting, but if you do decide to indulge, make sure to drink a glass or water alongside it so that you don’t become dehydrated.
Ice can be helpful, but contrast bathing can be even better. This is where you alternate between 1-3 minutes of heat and 1-2 minutes of cold, which has a particularly invigorating effect on your muscles, since the cold constricts your blood vessels and the heat dilates them, which creates a pumping effect which is great for flushing out waste. For a simple take on this technique, aim a shower head at your legs while you’re lying in the bath and alternating between the two. Always finish on a minute of cold however, to reduce swelling and inflammation.
The last thing you probably feel like doing after you’ve just run 26.2 miles is more exercise, but this is honestly one of the best things you can do for your legs in the couple of days following a marathon. Hard training is out of course, but gentle walking will really help get the blood flowing through those muscles, which is vital for bringing nutrients to those damaged cells, and helping to reduce stiffness and swelling. In the days and weeks following the race, cross training activities are helpful to prevent injury - try cycling or swimming to maintain your fitness without overworking your muscles.
One of the most pleasant and effective things that you can do for yourself after a marathon is book yourself in for a sports massage. Book it for two or three days after the race so that your legs aren’t too sore to touch, and tell your therapist that you’ve just completed the marathon so that they can adjust the pressure and strokes accordingly. The massage will probably be lighter than usual, and will focus on slow gliding and wringing strokes to help with swelling and bring blood and nutrients into the muscles, as well as some gentle stretching to work out some of that post-race stiffness. Enjoy - you’ve earned it!