What to Do After a Marathon
By Jimmy Williams, PT, DPT
Congrats!! It’s 2021 and we just got back to in-person marathons again. Whether you had a PR, struggled through to the finish line or sustained an injury after/during the race, the question I always get is, what do I do now?
First is first, if you finished your marathon with or were forced to pull out early due to an injury, it’s a good idea to go visit your favorite physical therapist. Together, you can assess the damage, plan for an ideal recovery & return to running progression plan to get you back before the spring season. Now is the time to get healthy, build back strength and have a plan for races going forward. Don’t just take a week off, try to run again with pain & let a chronic injury cycle start.
If you are not injured, I recommend taking two weeks off from running completely. The marathon is a brutal race and the physical toll that it takes goes beyond just muscle soreness. Your body needs time to repair at a cellular level as there is not only muscular damage but your entire body system including other organs need time to recover & you have to respect that. Now, not running does not mean no movement. Please don’t go sit on your couch and binge Netflix for the next two weeks because as the saying goes, Motion is Lotion. In these two weeks, focus on other cardiovascular activities such as walking, cycling at a low resistance, elliptical and swimming. These types of activities can help maintain cardiovascular endurance while promoting an increase in blood flow to damaged muscle tissue from the marathon without causing further tissue damage.
Besides cross training with those activities, you can also work on soft tissue mobility. As I previously mentioned, there is a lot of muscle damage after an event such as the marathon, so in an effort to expedite the recovery process, you can try different modalities such as cryotherapy, an infrared sauna or using pneumatic recovery boots. At home, you can also dedicate that time you would normally spend running to performing a mobility routine that may include stretching, foam rolling and specific exercises. This is incredibly individual based on the person so I would recommend speaking with a physical therapist to identify your movement impairments rather than spending 30 minutes a day stretching your hamstrings when they may not have any mobility restrictions to begin with.
The exception to the above recommendations would be if you have another race on the schedule over the next few weeks. Regardless of the date of the race, I still recommend taking at least 1 week off from running to allow for recovery. Everyone recovers from a marathon at a different rate so it is important to not only listen to your body during this time but also consult with a running coach to help bridge the gap between the two races to make sure you’re recovered before the next race and not setting yourself up for an overuse type injury.
Use this time to REFLECT & PLAN! Reflect on your training, your race and what changes you can/want to make for the next experience. If you have a coach, now is the time to sit down with them and talk about your goals for the next year, not only in the short term but also long term looking ahead for another fall marathon. Now is the time to plan ahead looking into 2022 to find a marathon to set your sights on as well as other, shorter distances to build that foundation of training over the entire calendar year.