Categories: Health

How to recover from your big race

October 9, 2016

So you’ve just crossed the finish line of a marathon or triathlon. No, that throbbing in your legs and inability to catch your breath isn’t exclusive to you. Everyone who has completed 26.2 miles feels some sort of pain, and your post-race actions make a huge difference on how soon you recover.

Race day and a long training day are two completely different animals. For obvious reasons, race day should be the longest in terms of mileage, and the hardest in terms of sustained effort. Combined, this usually leads to heavy legs, achy joints or just an overall feeling of fatigue.

While passing out on your hotel bed and not moving for a month may sound like a great option at the time, follow these general recovery tips to keep some of the post-race soreness at bay.

Because… Instagram

Before you worry about recovering, first enjoy the few moments immediately crossing the finish line. Wear your medal, find your friends and family and take pictures. You’ve earned it. Once you’ve given out all your sweaty hugs, it’s time to get serious.

Grab the free stuff

As you walk through the finish chute, volunteers will usually be handing out bananas, cookies, chips and recovery drink.how-to-recover-from-race_pic1It’s important to replenish your glycogen stores and provide some protein to your damaged muscles within 30 minutes after the race. Also, don’t pass on the emergency thermal blankets being handed out. Sure, nobody wants to be ‘that nerd’ who grabs one, but once the adrenaline wears off and your HR drops, you’ll be cold and still covered in sweat. Pneumonia is less cool than your uncool shiny blanket.

Time for a bath

While the half-mile walk may feel like a death march (the movement helps flush out your muscles), make your way back to your hotel and clean yourself up. Soak in a cold bath for about 10 minutes before taking a shower. The cold water will help with inflammation and can slow any further damage to your muscles. I know, it sucks.

Cankles be gone!

Once you’ve dried off and found your comfy sweats, lay in bed (or on the floor) and put your feet up on the wall. The higher you can keep them, the better. Post-race is all about managing inflammation, and a 20- to 30-minute session will help drain some of the blood from your sore legs. Now is also a good time to stretch and roll your legs out (repeat every couple hours).

Race to eat, eat to race

By now those post-race potato chips and protein drink are long gone. You probably burned between 2,500 and 3,500 calories during your marathon, so choose a place with significant calories that you’ve been craving. If possible, call ahead and make a reservation the day before – you won’t be the only athlete craving a cheeseburger and shake.

Keep it moving

Being stagnant is one of the worst things to do after a marathon. Walking for a few minutes each hour will flush the toxins out of your legs and keep them from tightening up. Walk down the hall to the ice machine or walk down the street to the nearby ice cream parlor – just keep moving.

The morning after

Depending on how well you recover the day of will determine how tough the next morning will be. Expect your muscles to be heavy and sore, so loosen your legs up in bed a bit before you walk across the room. Massage, roll and stretch for the next 72 hours to aid blood flow and reduce tenderness.

Head in the game

Mental fatigue is a real thing, and a marathon isn’t just tough on your body. It’s more than likely you won’t feel the urge to run for a few weeks or even a month or two. Enjoy the fitness you’ve accumulated through different outlets – try swimming, mountain biking, etc. Once you get the running itch again you’ll know it, and shortly after you’ll be toeing the line at your next marathon.

In the spotlight

Michael Nystrom

Michael Nystrom

Writer Michael Nystrom is a 2x IRONMAN and has done countless sprint- and Olympic-distance triathlons.