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Marathon Recovery – How to Recuperate From Your Marathon
By Rick Morris
There’s nothing quite like the final strides of a marathon. The site of that finishing line banner to a marathon runner is like someone dying of thirst seeing a vibrant green, lush oasis in the middle of a desert. It’s a combination of elation, pride, accomplishment and relief. Finishing a marathon brings a lot of positive emotions and physical feelings, but what follows a short time later may not be as positive.
You will probably enjoy an immediate post race glow due to the excitement of finishing and meeting your goal. Sure, you’re completely exhausted, but you feel great. Unfortunately, that post race glow may not last long. Running a marathon is a draining event both physically and mentally and chances are you will begin to suffer from one or more unpleasant post race symptoms.
Some of the more common post marathon symptoms include: dehydration, muscle soreness, illness, glycogen depletion, nutrient depletion and even a form of depression that is commonly called the marathon blues. Depending upon your fitness level, running experience, prior training and race management, you may suffer from all of these or only a few, but chances are you won’t be able to avoid all of these nasty consequences of marathon running and racing. Maybe you can’t avoid every problem associated with post marathon fatigue, but you can take steps to shorten their duration and limit their effects on you and your running.
After Crossing the Finish Line
You just crossed the finish line. Your leg muscles feel like blocks of petrified wood, your mind is like mush and you have this overwhelming desire to collapse into a heap and never move again. Well, I have some bad news. Your work isn’t done. Now is the time to start your post marathon recovery. Don’t collapse in a heap. Don’t even sit down. Keep walking for a while. Your contracting leg muscles are like blood pumps. The contractions help push blood and waste products through your body. If you suddenly stop you could begin to suffer from leg cramps, light headiness or even fainting. Keep moving until you feel some strength begin to return to your body and those blocks of wood on your legs begin to feel like actual muscles again.
Drink a lot of fluids after you finish. You’re most likely in a dehydrated state. Make sure you drink a sports drink or another beverage containing electrolytes and nutrients. Drinking plain water could further dilute your blood and increase your risk of hyponatremia. Some good post marathon drinks are sports drinks, soft drinks, juices or chocolate milk. If there is food available at the finish, don’t be shy in pigging out. This is not the time to worry about calories. Your body is nearly completely depleted in carbohydrates and you need to replace them as soon as possible. Good food choices at the finish line would contain both simple carbohydrates for quick energy and complex carbohydrates to level out your insulin levels. Good food choices are muffins, bananas, fruit, yoghurt, milk and bagels.
You probably won’t find a full balanced meal at the finish line, but try to eat a full meal that contains lean proteins, complex carbohydrates and some fats as soon as you can. Your body is craving calories and nutrients. Replacing them as soon as possible will aid in your recovery.
The First 24 Hours
After you have rested and recovered from your marathon race efforts, it’s time to start your long term marathon recovery. During the first 24 hours, try to avoid any running. Some short to medium distance walks will help reduce muscle stiffness and soreness. Perform some light dynamic and static stretching to restore some range of motion and reduce muscle stiffness. Continue to eat a high quality balanced diet that emphasizes complex carbohydrates and high quality proteins. Don’t eat huge portion sizes. Your body needs a lot of nutrients, but you don’t need an unusually high number of calories. Concentrate on high nutrient foods such as lean proteins, vegetables and complex carbohydrates.
According to some recent research, this is also a good time to consider taking a dietary supplement. A study done at the University of Utah looked at the effects of a dietary supplement on post marathon recovery. Twenty five subjects were divided into two groups. One group took a supplement containing branched-chain amino acids, glutamine and beta-sitosterol, while the other group took a placebo. The researchers found that the group taking the supplement had significantly lower levels of tension, fatigue and confusion than the placebo group. The supplement group also had much higher scores of vigor and mood. The study also measured the incidence of cold symptoms. No member of the supplement group suffered from cold symptoms while 20% of the placebo group caught a cold.
The Marathon Blues
All post marathon fatigue is not physical in nature. There are also possible emotional problems. The marathon blues is a very common post race ailment. Many marathon runners report feelings of depression after their big race. The cause of this is partly physical and partly mental in nature. It’s natural to feel a bit of a let down after a marathon. Your marathon training was such a big part of your life for several months. You put a lot of time and effort into the training involved. Now it’s all over and you feel like something is missing. No worries. The marathon blues don’t last long. You’ll feel better in a day or two. One way to avoid the marathon blues is to immediately set another goal and start working towards it. Your new goal could be another marathon, setting a new marathon PR, qualifying for Boston or whatever you like. A new goal will give you something else to start working toward and will help you avoid the post marathon depression.
The marathon blues may also have a physical cause. There are a large number of nutrients in your body that are depleted by marathon racing. One of those is the neurotransmitter, choline. Some scientists believe that lowered levels of choline can cause feelings of depression and fatigue. If marathon blues become a problem you may want to consider taking a choline supplement to help replenish your body’s supply. If you can’t find a choline supplement a good natural source is eggs – so eat up those morning omelets.
Post Marathon Recovery Schedules
Now that you’re past the first 24 hours it’s time to resume training. Not your normal training pattern, but a post marathon recovery training schedule. What schedule is right for you? No one can really tell you that. It depends upon your experience level, how well prepared you were for the marathon and how you reacted after the race. Here are some generic post marathon recovery schedules for various experience levels. Keep in mind that these schedules are generic in nature and you should adapt them to your specific situation. If you feel you need more rest or recovery you should take it. If you think you can handle a bit more – go for it. But be cautious. It’s better to err on the side of caution in your post marathon recovery. Recover properly now and you will avoid more long term problems later on.
Post marathon recovery enhanced by a dietary supplement. Talbot, SM, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: Volume 36(5) SupplementMay 2004p S127
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