Thanks for all the kind words and feedback on my last post! I truly appreciate your help in supporting this new trajectory my life is taking. I’m so excited to start this new journey of oversharing on the internet so one day my grandkids and my grandkids’ grandkids can read about how Grandma Rachel almost sharted herself one morning during a marathon. This really is such a blessing!
Before I begin the topic du jour (did I spell that right? I only took Spanish in high school) I need to get through a little legal-ese disclaimer for this post. First off, I’m not a doctor. Wait a minute…I AM a doctor! How about that?…But unfortunately, I’m not the kind of doctor that can write my friends prescriptions for Vicodin and Oxycodone. If that were the case I would have a lot more friends out here in Orange County, CA. Nor am I the kind of doctor that can dole out unsolicited medical advice on the internet. Also, I’m not a registered dietitian. I’m a doctor kind of like how Ross Gellar on Friends was a doctor. I can’t give you individualized medical, dietary or health-related advice. Go to your real doctor for that. He or she should have a fancy diploma on their wall from an accredited medical school. However, I do have a lot of personal experience about what has worked for me (and what has not worked for me) in terms of diet, exercise and lifestyle that I’m happy to share. This is one of those types of posts – I’m going to talk about what works for me in terms of post-marathon recovery habits. It may or may not work for you, so at the end of the day, do what works best for you (not me). Who knows…I might just turn out to be another one of those crazies on the internet!
OK, now that that’s over and done with, here we go! Over the past 5 and a half years, I have run about a dozen or so half marathons, and San Diego was my fifth marathon. From that statement, you can probably figure out that I don’t race a lot. My body and psyche simply aren’t built for that much activity. There are a lot of runners and bloggers out there who will have a a bib pinned to their singlet every other weekend, ones who can run back to back marathons with just a week recovery in between. And I give them all the credit in the world. But that doesn’t work for me – I will likely finish 2015 having run 3 marathons and 3-4 half marathons during the year, and that will be plenty. In my opinion, proper post race recovery is just as if not more important than training for the race itself, as it helps to ensure that you can continue running for the long haul by giving your body adequate time to heal and repair in between bouts of hard effort. And I don’t want to retire from this wonderfully painfully masochistic sport at the tender age of 35.
In the First Few Minutes After the Marathon
So you just ran a marathon! Congratulations, that is such a great accomplishment! You must feel amazing!!! Don’t worry, you will feel like absolute shit in 5…4…3…2…oh THERE it is! You’re nauseous, you’re cramping, your legs are shutting down. A medal is draped around your neck and you are handed a water and a Gatorade. Now what do you do? Answer: Drink that shit immediately! Like now. Did you read my first sentence? The one where I said you just ran a marathon? Yea…that one! This means your body is really dehydrated. You have also lost a lot of salt/electrolytes through sweating and peeing your Lululemons when you couldn’t make it to the porta potty on time. This is why you are cramping so badly, and you need to replace your lost fluids and other goodies stat. And don’t just drink water – this part is important, so listen! Again, your salt/electrolyte levels are low. If you are only drinking water, you will only serve to dilute salt/electrolyte levels in your body even more. That’s why the Gatorade is important – it has electrolytes. Personally, I like a 50/50 mix of water and Gatorade.
You are also handed a banana, maybe some pretzels, maybe a granola bar. As soon as you feel like you can keep some food down (remember that nausea I mentioned?), you need to replace your glycogen reserves that were depleted during the race. Try and eat something containing simple sugars within about 15 minutes of your big finish.
If you are given a mylar blanket then use it unless it’s like 80 degrees out. Chances are, its colder than you think it is, and I’m guessing you shed some layers at some point during the race to compensate for your body’s increase in temperature. These blankets prevent hypothermia which can occur once your body temperature decreases back to normal after you have finished the race.
I know some people like to sit right after a race, but I need to keep moving. I fear that if I sit it might feel really good and I may not get back up for awhile. So waddle your chafed ass straight to the car/shuttle/hotel/nearest bar.
In the Couple Hours After a Marathon
I have heard really good things about ice baths mitigating next-day soreness from a race, but truth be told I have never tried one. Remember the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge from last summer? From what I hear it’s kinda like that but more icy and uncomfortable. And I’m a wuss. But if you want to partake in that sort of unholy torture, now is the time. Personally…I like to partake in a little ritual called “Beer in the Shower”. Hot shower…ice cold beer…heaven. Try it. You’re welcome.
Also, I’m guessing by this point the nausea has passed, and you are starting to get hungry. If you parked really far away from the finish line and/or are stuck in post-race traffic, this hunger has the danger of evolving into “hangry” territory. At this point you may or may not threaten to divorce your spouse if he doesn’t find a %$#&%@! drive through within the next 30 seconds. It happened once to a friend of mine…
Anyways, just do your thang at this point! Like the title of this post says – you just ran a marathon! Treat yo’ self! Shove some food down your gullet, and don’t hold back, you earned it! Cheeseburger, steak, fried chicken, cupcakes, whatever you are craving. You have sacrificed so much to run this race, and now is not the time to deprive yourself.
That apple fritter didn’t stand a chance.
OK this part is really important: You need to keep drinking your water/Gatorade mixture, until you are peeing and it is NOT the color and consistency of crystallized honey, especially if you are going to start boozing. I don’t have the greatest tolerance for booze these days (a far cry from my college years), but I personally like to stick to a lighter beer after a race. Pacifico isn’t winning any taste awards, but it IS mostly water and it’s not like you’re going to need more than 2 of them to catch a decent buzz after all that running anyways.
Remember, drinking in moderation is key after a big race.
And if you have any normal post-race soreness or pain (knees, hips, calves, quads) then take care of that pain during this time. Foam roll, ice, stretch, take a Motrin. Even if the joints and muscles feel OK, a little post-race stretch and QT with the foam roller never hurt anyone, and it can go a long way in preventing next-day soreness.
Take the rest of the day to relax, enjoy the day, nap, try and get free food at restaurants by flashing your race medal (I regret nothing) – again, you earned it!
The Day After the Marathon
First off, don’t panic – walking like a duck is totally sexy. OK, I’m guessing (unless you are Iron Man) that you are pretty sore. Take about 15-20 minutes to stretch when you first get out of bed (assuming you can get out of bed). Honestly, the best way I have found to get through this day to just keep moving as much as possible. I tend to stiffen up when I am sitting for too long the day after a race, so I will just take little walks here and there throughout the day. Remember to continue to hydrate and refuel your body. At this point, I still don’t pay very much attention to calorie counts, grams of protein or fat content, and I pretty much honor what my body is craving.
The Week(s) After a Marathon
Massage is a beautiful glorious treatment that can go a long way in assisting your body’s recovery efforts after a race. Here is an article in Runners World detailing the benefits of massage for runners. Some people like a massage literally right after a race (and some races will have massages available on site at the finish line), and some people like them the next day. I’m in an “ow don’t touch me” state of mind at that point, so 3-4 days after the race is usually when I get my deep tissue on.
In terms of exercise, some experts say that you should avoid hard running one day for every mile you run (so 26 days if you ran a marathon, 13 if you ran a half). Other experts say one day for every kilometer you run (so 42 for a marathon, 21 for a half). Personally, I like to gently ease back into exercise after a race. For the week after a marathon, I will not run at all. Instead, I’ll go on walks, do the elliptical or stationary bike, do some light resistance training, do some yoga or pilates, and I will stretch for 20 minutes every single morning. Any cardio is done at a very easy to moderate pace, and the weights I use for resistance training are light. In the 2-3 weeks after a race, all my running will be at a relatively easy to moderate pace. and mileage-wise I average about 20-25 miles/week.
On Wednesday (3 days post-marathon) I did a 30-minute moderate intensity kettlebell workout.
Also, I tend to get sick with a cold after races – I think it may have something to do with high-fiving, hugging, and taking food and water from 20,000 strangers all while putting my body through nearly 4 hours of strenuous exercise and touching door handles on not-so-gently-used porta potties. And the cold will end up sidelining me for a few days of rest anyways.
Obviously, the first day or two after the marathon are a bit of a binge for me food wise. Don’t misunderstand here, I don’t go crazy – you won’t see me pounding a dozen donuts and chasing it with a trough of zinfandel (please I’m a lady – I use a trough of 1997 Cabernet). But like I said, I honor my body’s cravings with zero buyer’s remorse. However, after those first couple days, I will get back to my regular diet.
After those (roughly) 3 weeks are up, I will start to plan/train for my next race. Since I didn’t completely lay off the exercise and my diet didn’t (totally) go to shit during those weeks following the race, I have a nice base to start with, and I can use that to build upon for the next training cycle.
And the next big event, my internet friends, will be revealed as soon as I sober up from this bottle of ’97 Rothschild. I kid…it’s just Franzia in a box.