Post Marathon Recovery – Learning to Love Stairs

So you’ve done the hundreds of miles of training, bought your bib number, eaten roughly 13.5 boxes of spaghetti in your 3 day carbo load, woken up early, gone to the bathroom roughly 7 times in your hotel room, found your corral, met new friends, left your corral to go to the bathroom 2 more times in that one Port-O-Johnny nobody seems to be standing in line for which you’re pretty sure it has to do with the ice-cold Port-O-Johnny seat (usually a slate grey color) glistening in a golden shower of nervous-and-full-runners-bladder “mist” we’ll call it which you definitely didn’t see right away because it’s not even 6 o’clock in the morning yet for crying out loud, got back to your corral to meet more new friends which you don’t shake hands with since leaving that one Port-O-Johnny we talked about earlier, hear the Rocky music, shuffle to the start line at which you smack your running watch’s START button, proceed to check if the smacking-of-the-start-button worked about 4 times in the first 20 meters, and head out on your 26.2 mile adventure ……. you feel great for a long while … then it starts to hurt …. then it really hurts …. and finally you get yourself to that finish line – a moment you’ve been waiting for, training for, and thinking about for a long while ………… NOW WHAT?

There is so much physical and mental preparation that we throw into running a marathon, but what about when we stop running?  What comes next will dictate how our body responds for the next days, weeks, and future training.  My first marathon, 2008 Philadelphia Marathon, I went up to the area a few days early to do something for work.  My wife came up to watch the race a day later, so we had two cars at the race.  At the time we lived in the DC area, so after racing 26.2 miles I had the pleasure of walking to our car and driving down I-95 for 3 hours.  Other marathons I’ve had the luxury of walking around more, taking an ice bath at night, or not having to go into work the next day.  My last marathon (2011 Marine Corps Marathon) takes the cake though as I finished around 10:30am, found my wife and friend, walked 1.5miles to our car, showered at a friend’s house, caught a 1:00pm flight back to Milwaukee with a 19 month old sleeping (dead weight) on my lap, found our car in economy parking, and took my spot in the passenger seat as my wife drove us 4 hours back to Iowa …. 8am work meeting the next day!

Anybody that has run a marathon knows how different stairs look for the next couple days.  Stairway to Heaven is only a legendary Zeppelin hit because we all know the couple of days after the marathon we start to curse, loath, and mock stairs (…you and your multiple dumb looking stepping surfaces).  But ye of sore quads have faith …. there are things you can do, both little and big, that can go a long ways towards a safe and fast recovery starting right after you cross that finish line!

Post race
Keep walking … I know you don’t want to and of course take your time to chill and get to the bathroom if needed and gather your thoughts, maybe puke up something in front of your new girlfriend to show her you really dug deep and went for it today … I mean, if there’s any question if you dug deep, simply remind her of the puke that is now on her jeans and the ground in front of her.  But after all that, keep moving.  Having your car parked 1-2 miles away is honestly a great thing for you.  Keep drinking … when your stomach comes around, you need to put stuff in it.  I know you want to pound those PBR’s (or Hamm’s) beers you’ve been refraining from but the first things in your stomach should be sports drinks, bananas, Coke (not kidding), juice boxes, candy … really anything with sugar and salt that you feel won’t make you hurl on your soon-to-be ex-girlfriend again.  Whenever you feel comfortable, start mixing in more solid carbs with protein.  Having your family/friends having a giant Gatorade and bagel with peanut butter afterwards can go a long ways – you might not want to eat all the food the race offers right away and by the time you do want to eat, you’re away from it.

Same day
Keep moving … going for an evening walk is a great idea pending you haven’t injured yourself during the race or anything.  Need to keep the blood flowing.  Icing your legs (now u can grab a PBR or Guinness or Tab) is also a great idea – no more than 20 minutes in the tub fully submerged.  Compression … get those compression socks and tights on and keep ‘em on all the way until you hobble into bed and through your sleep.  The toxins that have built up in your legs need to get out.  Your muscles and tissue have been damaged and promoting good blood flow is the best passive way to repair and flush.  Another active way to do so is massage … get somebody to give you a nice (painful) massage with their thumbs or forearms flushing out your legs from top to bottom … but since you already barfed on your ex-girlfriend twice and you’re all alone, try working the quads, IT band, and calves with a high density foam roller or The Stick.

Next day
You’re going to hate what I say next …………….. run.  We need more blood flow and activity in the first 24 hours!!!!  Ok, it’s going to be  nothing like your other runs.  It is going to be short, it’s going to be painful, and it’s going to be embarrassing … just picture the oldest person you’ve ever seen in your whole life (if you can’t picture somebody over the age of 80, picture this guy) and imagine them trying to run the 100m dash … now picture yourself looking 1000 times more foolish and terrible at running.  Nothing special – 10-20 minutes max – just getting the legs moving.  If you just can’t bring yourself to look this awkward and dumb in front of your neighbors or your children of which you still demand their respect, a nice brisk walk can also be of some help that first day back.  Continue massage, stretching, and compression that whole first day and week.  If you sit down at work all day … GET UP … set an alarm for every hour at the most to get up and walk.  No, you won’t feel like walking … yes, you will look dumb … but it’s better than sitting for 8 straight hours only to TRY to get up at closing time to go home and you literally can not bend your legs and of course you’re not going to ask for help from your coworkers, so you just sit there until everybody goes home at which time you call the ONE person that will come help – that brand spanking new girlfriend that’s so impressed with how you dug deep yesterday … wait, what’s that?  She’s not answering your call?  Try again … oh, yeah – about the puking I did all over you yesterday, you see I was really pushing myself and digging deep you see – I thought I told you that already … (click) …. nobody else to call …. hope your co-workers aren’t too freaked out when they find your body the next day.

Beyond
Continuing to stretch and massage are the best things you can do for your legs, but the rest of your body needs nutrition too.  Keep topping off your fluids and electrolytes and I’d suggest eating till your nice a full every single meal (3-4 meals each day) for the next week.  I’d be lying if I said I continued to eat healthy after running a marathon … junk food has its place but just listen to your body and if you have 36 hours of continuous gut rot starting eating fruit for crying out loud!  As for running … if you’re not getting ready for another marathon or anything (future blog post for multiple marathons) don’t run.  Your brain and your legs need and deserve the rest.  Wait until you WANT to run and then wait a little more.  I’m usually chomping at the bit to get out after about 10 days, but I usually wait for that second week to wrap up before hitting it again.  Those first runs you’ll feel out of whack but just go with it and run easy, how you feel, and when you want.  Don’t beat yourself up over anything formal for the first month following a marathon … just enjoy running again, and if you aren’t having fun taking it slow – don’t run.

Quick run down of the do’s and don’ts:
DO: keep moving, replenish fluids, eat when you feel like it, stretch, massage, compress, walk, run slow the next day, run when you want
DONT: barf on your loved ones, run fast, run when you don’t want to

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