RECOVERY AFTER A MARATHON/ULTRAMARATHON
Marathons and ultramarathons require a hell of a lot of discipline just to stand at the start line in good shape and ready for the challenge. It is not something that should be done lightly and requires a longer training cycle than a shorter say 5k to 21km race.
But recovering from such an event also requires just as much serious attention. Running a marathon or and ultra does cause a lot of physical and even mental trauma or damage, it't not jus about being a bit sore.
Here are some of the things that can happen when you run a long event:
You Immune system can be suppressed
– you are more likely to get sick you might not be able to fight off bacteria or a virus
Your muscles are weaker, literally and in really tough events you may have have actually broken down muscle tissue and this can lead to temporary kidney problems or in the worst case rhabdomyolosis so go easy on your kidneys. Inflammation and damage to the cells can last for a couple of weeks or in the case of an ultra even longer
The heart muscle may even have sustained some damage especially if you weren't fully prepared for the marathon or ultra. You shouldn't do these long races if you haven't trained sufficiently
You may feel a bit clumsy and uncoordinated so you are more prone to accident and injury in the recovery phase so you should definitely avoid any speed running for a few weeks .ile running fast in
So lets look at a proper recovery regime.
There are three stages to this
1. the day of the race
2. the next day
and the first weeks after a long event.
Day of the race.
So you have just crossed he finish line, exhausted but elated. What do you do. Do you go celebrate with some alcoholic drinks, chow down on burger and fries or party all night to celebrate?
Firstly you should not just sit or lie down immediately after a long event this can lead to a massive drop in blood pressure and we have probably all seen the runner who has passed out after just finishing. Walk around slowly for a good 10 to 15 minutes to cool down and let your body know its times to recover.
Walking will also help you just clear out some lactate that has built up and residual cortisol and adrenaline pumping around in your system.
Start rehydrating and get in some good quality food, carbs are great at this time. But watch you don't overdo it on a "hot" tummy and end up vomiting.
You will likely not feel hungry but its important to get some calories preferably carbs in immediately. This isn't a time to be worried about your waistline but about refuelling the glycogen lost, your muscles are starving and ready for food in that short period after the marathon or ultra so even if it's not the most nutritious foods get something in. Even simple sugars is ok. You also need to try and have some protein at this point to aid in muscle recovery and to stop any more muscle breakdown. I like to take Branch Chain Amino Acids both during the race and after the event. These are building blocks of protein, like having a steak without actually having a steak. It will speed recovery.
Also rehydrate yourself but watch for hyponatremia where you electrolyte levels are too low for the volume of fluids in your body which is just as dangerous as dehydration. Make sure you have a little electrolytes as well and of course we hope you were taking electrolyes throughout the race.
Also remember to treat yourself today, you have worked damned hard for this so a treat in due.
In the hours after the race try have an ice bath if possible or at least a swim in some cold water. This helps stop inflammation and close the swollen and open vessels somewhat and again speeds recovery. Doing some hot and cold changes can also help flush out lactate and speed recovery
Do not drink alcohol - this will add to your likely dehydration and prevent nutrients being absorbed. Perhaps you can get away with one beer which does at least have electrolytes and carbs but you should stop there. Your liver and kidneys have also been under a tough load so adding to their woes is not a good idea.
Don't have an immediate massage wait a day or two ideally you can exacerbate muscle damage, especially deep tissue massage, a gentle light flushing massage might be ok
Rest and put your feet up, this is the time to tell your body it can get out of the "fight or flight" state it is in.
On the next day
Keep hydrating and listen closely to your bodies needs. Eat more, you will likely start to be ravenous, as your body goes into full repair mode. Have a cheat meal if you like and nutrient dense foods too. Lots of healthy fruit, vegetable, seeds, nuts and good protein is essential.
Have a nap during the day if you can and get as much sleep as possible.
Your body needs more recovery time
So what do you do after a day or two and when can you start running again?
Firstly do not run again straight away but do some gentle cross training. Things like aqua aerobics, swimming (both fantastic after a long race as you are non weight bearing and the extra pressure from the water can aid recovery and aid blood flow. Gentle cycling can be great perhaps on an exercycle with the emphasis on gentle, a gentle walk. The important thing is you keep moving and help the body flush our lactate and start to recovery and to get a little blood flow going but you only need 20 to 30 mins.
Now you can also go for a massage to speed things along but again keep it light, you can also do foam rolling but do it gently. You will be very sore
Contrary to other coaches I don't recommend going running for at least 5 to 7 days after a marathon and especially after an ultra.
I know you will think "oh no I am losing my fitness" and perhaps you are excited as you did super well in your race but take your time and let your muscles and tendons, your hormones and everything else recover first.
After about 4 days you can do some short cross training but nothing in the anaerobic zone. I like to do some weight training here to change it up and snap the muscles into a new movement but again not heavy or hard. Light strength training and more mobility work will have you get back running with good form quicker.
Its a good time to do some core and upper body work gently.
Keep up your sleep regime, you need more than usual.
After a 5 to 7 day window (even longer if you are doing 100 milers and the like) you can start with very easy 20 to 30 min runs but feel it out and don't push yourself now. If you aren't ready, listen to your body and back off. You are still more prone to injury so no sprints, intervals or heavy hill work etc.
If you feel super heavy and slow give yourself longer.
Once you are over that phase you can start building again slowly to get back to your normal mileage (according to your new race goal)
Remember too you may have the blues or even depression after a race especially long ultramarathons. I would often come home and hide in my room, feeling very depressed, sad and lost and wondering what its all about. I now know this is normal and its my body's way of telling me you need recovery don't do too much and take time out. Don't panic this too will pass. Don't do anything rash in this phase as you are not in your normal mental state, You may have depleted (especially during ultras) all your happy hormones and your body needs to rebuild them. This is just a hard phase you will get through it.
Running an ultra or a marathon is not for the faint hearted. It takes dedication and discipline prior and a sensible attitude to recovery afterwards if you don't want to do yourself a permanent or serious injury or damage.
The marathon is a rewarding and challenging event. But the hard work continues long after you cross the finish line to maximise your recovery, return to running, and hopefully run another personal best at your next race!
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