You just conquered a marathon, what now?

By Matt Forsman A.K.A. Marathon Matt, November 22, 2017

Running a marathon is non-trivial. Conquering one requires days, weeks, and months of consistent training. It requires no shortage of compromises and sacrifices.

Once you cross the finish line, you’re bound to feel an avalanche of emotions. It’s likely you’ll find yourself awash in bliss, ecstasy, and a little agony. There’s a reason why the marathon is often characterized as a metaphor for life. You experience ‘all the feels’ over the course of 26.2 miles.

For some, the marathon is simply a bucket list item. For others, it’s just the beginning of a longer journey. Regardless of how you define your marathon experience, it’s only natural to ask ‘what now?’

If you’re not sure what to do once you’ve crossed the finish line, we’re here to help. Read on for our thoughts around recovering from 26.2, resuming running, and a few ideas about what to do next. 

Keep Moving.

You’ve just crossed the finish line. Your body is protesting in all kinds of distressing ways. You’re a house of pain.

The natural inclination is to collapse, curl up in the fetal position, and weep. But, don’t do that quite yet. While it may sound counter-intuitive, you need to keep moving for a few more minutes. Don’t panic. We’re not talking about running.

But, walking for 5-10 minutes immediately following your marathon is a great way to help expedite recovery. Walking for a few minutes will help flush out lactic acid and other toxins that have accumulated in your legs over the course of 26.2 miles.

Drink.

Even if you hit every aid station and consumed tons of fluids regularly during the course of the race, you’re still likely somewhat dehydrated. You need water. You also need electrolytes (sodium, magnesium, potassium).

As you’re walking around, casually knock back some water and/or sports drink. I’d also recommend drinking something that has the magical 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio.

You need carbs to help replenish your glycogen stores. You also need protein to help expedite healing of the multitude of micro-tears in muscle fiber you sustained over the course of the marathon. 

Get friendly with the foam roller.

If you don’t have a foam roller, get one. As a runner, it’s the most important item you can own aside from a pair of quality running shoes.

Once you’re done walking (and consuming ample fluids), spend some quality time with the foam roller. Massage your quads, calves, IT band, glutes, and give some special attention to any spots that are particularly tight or sore. Ultimately, this may be EVERYTHING. 

Using the foam roller will help relieve tightness, adhesions, and help increase blood flow to all the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that sustained damage during your marathon.

Ice, ice, baby.

It’s likely the last thing you want to do, but draw a cold bath. Once the tub is full, gently lower yourself in. Once you’re in, dump a bag or two of ice in the tub.

Soak in the ice bath for 15-20 mins. It’s not a bad idea to wear a sweater and/or a hat to help keep your upper torso warm while you’re soaking. Knocking back a cup of coffee or hot tea while you’re soaking is a good idea as well to help brave the cold.

You may be wondering why you’re subjecting yourself to this kind of torture after you’ve already endured 26.2 miles of torture. Rest assured, there is a method to this madness.

As mentioned earlier, you’ve sustained a TON of damage as a result of completing your marathon. You’ve got microtears in muscle fiber. Your legs are rife with inflammation.

When you have a bruise, contusion, or a sprained ankle, usually the first thing you do is ice it to help control the inflammation. The ice bath is working the same way on your beleaguered legs. A quality ice bath will help reduce inflammation.

EAT!

While you likely ingested some calories immediately following the race via whatever post race food was provided and whatever fluids you consumed, you need more.

You burned in excess of 2,600 calories over the course of your marathon. You need carbohydrates, you need protein, and you need it within the first 45-60 minutes of completing the marathon.

If there was ever a time to eat ‘all the things’, now is the time. We’re not condoning being a total glutton. But, there’s no shame in being a bit self-indulgent. Order an appetizer. Have a second beer.

Don’t Run.  

Whether it’s your first or your fiftieth marathon, going out and logging some miles the next day is likely not a good idea. This is particularly the case if you’re feeling markedly sore and having problems navigating chairs and stairs.

If you feel you simply MUST do something, go for a light walk. Keep it to 30 minutes. Do some foam rolling following your walk.

It’s not a bad idea to stick to this routine for the first week following your marathon.

Gradually resume easy running.

After a week of light walking, gradually resume some easy running. Run a bit slower than you normally would. Run a bit less than you normally would. If your typical routine entails running four miles three times/week, run two easy, slow miles three times/week.

Even if you feel great, stick to this routine for a couple weeks. The reality is you won’t be fully recovered from your marathon for 2-3 weeks. This doesn’t mean you can’t run, but tread lightly and listen to the messages your body sends you.

Gradually resume formal training.

After 2-3 weeks of casual, easy, unstructured running, you can start thinking about resuming more formalized ‘training’.  This being said, don’t feel compelled to resume training for another race.

Listen the messages your body sends you.  If the idea of running makes you physically ill, don’t do it. Give yourself an additional day of rest. Alternatively, do some easy cross-training (swimming, cycling, spinning, elliptical training, etc).

But, if you’re feeling physically (and mentally) sharp again, start thinking about what’s next. You certainly can start looking at another marathon. But, don’t feel compelled to tackle 26.2.

Training for a marathon is a major undertaking that isn’t always lifestyle friendly. There’s no shame in switching gears and focusing on running a faster half marathon, 10K, or even a 5K. Part of being a well-rounded runner entails training for a variety of different distances.

Mixing things up will help you get better at ALL distances, stave off aggravations/injuries, and avoid burnout.

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