Post-race recovery tips for runners

Posted by Mayo Clinic staff
October 18, 2016

Marathon Runners 400x267

You’ve just finished a marathon or other running event — now recovery begins. So, let’s break it down into three different phases.

Phase One: Immediately after you finish

Once you've crossed the finish line, it's imperative to turn your focus toward recovery. You can start swapping stories as soon as you have taken a few basic steps:

  1. Once you’ve stopped running, your body will immediately enter recovery mode. Even on a warm day, you can find yourself getting cold and clammy. Avoid this by changing into some nice, warm, soft clothes — this includes footwear. Injuries aside, another pair of shoes is helpful to keep your feet from swelling up and provide you with much-needed support.
  2. Find a way to lie down and get your feet up. After several hours of hard work, your body needs help facilitating blood flow. Besides, this is just plain relaxing. Ideally, you'll be able to keep your feet up for 15 to 25 minutes, and it's recommended you do this several more times during the day.
  3. You'll need some kind of recovery meal, preferably in liquid form and containing protein. Avoid processed fruit juices or other sugary substitutes. Use what has worked in training, but make sure this happens in the first 30 minutes after your event.
  4. If you’ve sustained some kind of injury, such as a blister or muscle strain, now you can begin assessing the true extent of what you’ve done and seek out help. Your brain will be much clearer, and if you need to go somewhere or wait in line, at least your basic needs will have been met.

Phase Two: 12-24 hours post-race

At this point, you’ve found your friends and family; perhaps you’ve even made it back to your hotel or house and are thinking about your next meal. Here are some key things you can do:

  1. Take a shower or bath to rejuvenate your body and help identify any issues you might have. If possible, consider a cool or cold bath to help promote recovery.
  2. Focus on a proper meal. As you pick your foods, try to keep them reasonably healthy, and drink lots of water.
  3. You have earned the right to celebrate, but don't overdo it. Your body is still recovering, and adding alcohol and lots of time standing on your feet can be fun but has its limits.
  4. Get some well-deserved sleep. You’ll likely be so tired that falling asleep won't be an issue. The problem is you'll be so sore that staying asleep could be harder than you think. Put plenty of fluids — and maybe even a snack — on your bedside table, and keep your feet elevated.

Phase Three: 2-3 days post-race

By the end of 72 hours, you'll be through the toughest part of your recovery process. But you need to get there first. Some of the deepest need for recovery is during this period, because once the adrenaline wears off, the fatigue and soreness will be all that's left. Tips:

  1. Do your best to avoid being stationary — other than sleeping. Light walking, an easy dip in the pool or a short spin on an exercise bike will each, in their own way, help your muscles flush out toxins and after-effects of the race. Frequent rest will be needed, but total rest is your enemy here.
  2. Continue to eat healthy. You are what you eat, especially when your body is in such a vulnerable state. A treat or two is alright, but try to save the real craziness for a later date when you can truly savor the food.
  3. Lightly working on your calves, feet, hamstrings, glutes and quads is another great way to stay loose and promote recovery. Whether you use your hands or a tool, taking the time to focus on your trouble areas will really help.

Moving On

Once you’ve made it through the first three days of recovery, your work isn’t done. Your body is still a long way from being where it was prior to the race. You’ll want to continue staying active by walking or including some cross-training into your post-race training regimen. You should wait a minimum of one to two weeks before returning to running.

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