For Your Health

Rules for Recovery: A Marathoner's Guide to Healing After the Big Race

Chad W. Lutz
As the push for the finish line ends, a new race begins. One of the more overlooked aspects of marathon running, recovery proves almost as crucial as training for recurring marathoners. The minute your legs stop moving past the threshold of a race your body instantly begins the recovery process, but without proper aid from the person claiming ownership to those legs, your next race may stand in serious jeopardy.

It's no secret that marathons tax the body. One of the crucial elements marathons deplete while racing is glycogen, a sugar-based chemical which serves as one of the body's main energy sources. As you run, your heart pulls glycogen from your muscles to fuel the brain. What happens to many runners, especially those participating in their first races, is your body runs out of sufficient glycogen to support the brain and muscle function, muscle function loses out, and the body begins to shut down. This is known as "The Wall." We have become very good friends over the years, The Wall and I.
Courtesy of Google Images
Another component of the body marathons tap into is sodium levels. Otherwise known as electrolytes, sodium plays an active part in the body's ability to absorb moisture, including blood. As you run you lose a great deal of sodium to sweat. The less sodium present in the body, the thinner a person's blood gets and the less a person becomes able of absorbing nutrients.

What does all of this do to muscles? It destroys them. Ask anyone who has run a marathon before and they'll tell you, even a week later, stairs are public enemy number one. During this phase of muscle stiffness and overall body soreness, athletes looking to continue a healthy career as runners must take precaution before heading back out into the streets to resume training. On average, runners should wait at least three days before resuming training. The day directly after the marathon should be spent on your butt, more or less. Avoid any rigorous physical activities, including any form of R-Rated celebration. The desire to celebrate should be met with fruits and vegetables, although this is only for the serious athlete. All others carry on as you would.
Chad demonstrating proper refueling techniques (results may vary) Lutz 2011
Once a few days have passed and your muscles and joints have relaxed, begin slowly. Go out for a brief 30-minute run using the run/walk/run/walk method. Boring as all fuck, it helps flush out the enormous amounts of lactic acid built up in your muscles in a less devastating way. The desire to run out and proudly puff your chest for all your neighbors will be present, but you must fight it! Run roughly two or three minutes above your marathon pace for 3-5 minutes and then walk for 3-5 minutes. Alternate until you hit 30 total minutes. The next day, reduce the amount of walking, and continue to reduce the amount of walking in subsequent days until the pain in your legs, which will probably center mostly in your calves, completely disappears. For some, this process may take in upwards of 3 weeks. A general rule of thumb many runners abide by is to multiply the number of days off you've taken by 3. If you take one day off, it will take you three days to resume running at base pace, or the pace you were running before you took the day off. The true can be said if you become ill and take a day off, however; when you get sick, it usually takes longer because of the taxing effect of the virus or bacteria has on the body.

But don't let me stop you from celebrating. Completing a marathon is not an easy task and should be celebrated heartily. Enjoy knowing you've just joined a group roughly 1% of the population that has taken on the task of marathon and came out victorious. However, if a career as a runner is in the cards, you may want to concentrate more on what you do after the race than what you did during the race. Otherwise, you might end up injured, and nobody wants that.