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Advice to improve your movement, fitness, and overall health from the world's #1 in orthopedics.

A Guide to Post-Marathon Recovery

HSS exercise physiologist Pamela Geisel shares how to help your body bounce back after running 26.2.

Advice to improve your movement, fitness, and overall health from the world's #1 in orthopedics.

Congratulations! Crossing the finish line of a marathon after months of hard work and dedication is a huge achievement. It is also the moment that the recovery process begins, says Pamela Geisel, MS, CSCS, an exercise physiologist and manager of Performance Services at HSS. “Taking the appropriate steps post-marathon will facilitate recovery, reduce soreness and allow for a quicker return to running,” Geisel says.

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She offers this step-by-step process for recovery immediately after your race is complete:

  1. Don't stop moving. As soon as you stop your running watch and receive your medal, keep walking! This will help return the body back to its resting levels and prevent blood from pooling in your legs. This continued blood circulation is important because it allows for the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to your likely aching muscles and the removal of waste products from your system.
  2. Make sure you eat within 30 minutes. Your snack should include carbohydrates to replenish depleted energy stores, protein to repair muscle damage, and water and electrolytes to rehydrate and restore electrolyte levels. The apple, pretzels and sports drink typically given out after the race are a good example, but chocolate milk is also a fan favorite. 
  3. Limit the post-race booze. While it’s understandable that you may want to celebrate your achievement with a festive beverage, try to limit your alcohol consumption. It will only dehydrate you further.
  4. Mind your body temperature. Change into dry clothes and do some light stretching after you finish your walk. Regardless of the weather, your body temperature will drop and you may feel some post-race chills, so grab a heat sheet until you can get to your change of clothes.

Geisel also shared a reminder for runners that your recovery continues in the days and weeks after your marathon. “The most important thing is to take your time returning to running to reduce your risk of injury,” she says. “While your mind may be ready to hit the pavement again, your muscles and immune system may not be.”

She recommends the following tips as the most crucial to help your body bounce back:

  • Get as much sleep as possible. During sleep, the body is able to repair damage and restore our muscles and tissues. Try to make sure you get a good night’s sleep each night and fit in naps when you can.
  • Eat nutrient-rich foods. Your appetite will likely be elevated in the days post-marathon, so it’s important to try to provide your body with foods that are high in nutrients. You may also gain a few pounds of water weight during this time, but this will level out once your nutrient levels are restored.
  • Hydrate. Hydrate. Your body will require additional water during its repair stage, so make sure to keep a water bottle with you and drink regularly.
  • Leave your blisters alone. Blisters can happen to any runner. It’s how you address them that’s important. Blisters can get infected so if one pops, be sure to cover it with a bandage and ointment. If it looks red or irritated, be sure to see a doctor.
  • Be sure to cross train. Choose easy cross-training activities as you ease your body back into exercise. For example, biking, swimming or using an elliptical machine are great options to consider the week after your marathon.
  • Relax your muscles. The days after a marathon are a great time to get a gentle massage, take an ice bath or wear compression socks. Whatever makes you feel better!
  • Protect yourself from germs. Your immune system is significantly compromised after a marathon, making you more susceptible to getting sick. Be sure to wash your hands frequently and take precautionary measures around those who may be under the weather.

A special note for anyone running the TCS New York City Marathon on Sunday, November 7th: Be sure to join us on Marathon Monday, November 8th, in the HSS Recovery Zone in Central Park from 8 am to 5:30 pm for some stretching, recovery, and to answer any of your questions. You can register for a 10-minute timeslot here.

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