Champneys Blog

The 7 golden rules for marathon recovery

First things first, congratulations on completing a marathon! No matter whether it was your first or twentieth, it is a great achievement.

While the hard work and training are over, there is still work to be done and that is recovery. Every recovery is different and there are a variety of things that can affect your marathon recovery such as your health, the intensity of the race and the elements.
With the likes of the 2019 London Marathon taking place on 28th April, in this guide we take you through some of the strategies and tips you should consider in order to aid your marathon recovery.
Recovery tips

1. Keep moving
Your post-marathon recovery needs to start immediately. So, after you’ve crossed the line, claimed your medal, and taken a photograph, you should try to keep walking.

It can be easy to just drop to your knees and thank the gods that you’ve finished, but your body has just run 26.2 miles and is still in marathon mode when you finish. It, therefore, needs to transition back to normal life.

Thomas Watson, a long-distance runner and the founder at Marathon Handbook, tells us why it is so important to keep moving after running a marathon.

“If you managed to run all the way to the finish line, that’s fantastic. But beware, that lactic acid is waiting in the wings to jump in and stiffen up your legs as soon as you stop moving. So - walk around for a good 15 minutes or so once you cross the finish line – don’t sit down and let those legs go stiff.

“Walk over to collect your medal, walk to the burger stall or the physio tent – just don’t be too quick to stop moving, or you will find it much harder to get up again.”

2. Enjoy some relaxing spa treatments
If you are feeling a bit stiff following the run, then a post-marathon pampering is what’s in order. You can blow those aching muscles away with a selection of specialist spa treatments.

Enjoying a massage treatment is a must after running a marathon and you can enjoy a range of massages at our different resorts or day spas. Here are some you should consider to aid your marathon recovery:

- Champneys sports massage – this deep tissue massage helps you with any musculoskeletal problems and will relieve muscle pain and tightness.

- Elemis freestyle deep tissue massage – essential oils are rhythmically applied to pressure points around your body and any tension is massaged away.

- Champneys hot poultice massage – this massage uses heated coconut poultices and warm oils to help relax muscles, nourish your skin and release any tension.

Thomas Watson from Marathon Handbook agrees that enjoying a pampering massage helps with your recovery:

“Better than stretching yourself is getting someone else to do it for you. Likewise, getting a leg massage can really help relieve your tired leg muscles. Some of the bigger marathons organise post-race masseuses – if you can get one of these, go for it!”

3. Refuel and hydrate
As many of our boot camps will recommend, consuming the right food and drink after a marathon can offset the worst effects. It can take up to three weeks to fully recover from a marathon, so it’s not just about eating one slap-up meal.

Coach Angie Spencer from the Marathon Training Academy told us why it is so important to eat food and keep hydrated following your run:

“Your body worked very hard during the marathon and needs to be refuelled as soon as possible following your run. Take advantage of the post-race food and eat a combination of carbohydrates and protein. If your stomach isn’t feeling settled enough to take in solid food be sure to use a recovery drink. You’ll also want to be replacing fluids in the hours post-marathon. Signs of inadequate hydration include headaches, darker coloured urine, not having to urinate for long periods of time, and nausea.”

4. Sleep
Getting a good night’s sleep is always the dream for a runner, but many of you may find it difficult to nod off due to stiffness and pain. The importance of sleeping is vital as your body builds and repairs muscle while you sleep.

To help you we’ve spoken to some top sleep experts for tips on runners getting to sleep as well as the importance of a good night’s sleep following a marathon.

Jennifer Hines from the Alaska Sleep Clinic tells us a bit about how sleep can affect performance: “The quality and amount of sleep athletes get is often the key to winning. REM sleep provides energy to both the brain and body. If sleep is cut short, the body doesn’t have time to repair memory, consolidate memory, and release hormones.

“Some research suggests that sleep deprivation increases levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Sleep deprivation has also been seen to decrease the production of glycogen and carbohydrates that are stored for energy use during physical activity. In short, less sleep increases the possibility of fatigue, low energy, and poor focus at game time. It may also slow recovery post-game.”

Sleep tips for runners to follow post-marathon
Sam Billington, a sleep expert at Sleep Kick, shares some tips to help marathon runners sleep better following the race:

“If you’ve just run a marathon, you’ll either sleep like the dead or have a bad night sleep. We’d suggest only using caffeine when you really need it and not to excess. Re-hydrate as this will help with a natural drop in body temperature late in the evening which is key to you falling asleep.

“If you plan a post-race celebration try not to eat too near to bedtime (3 – 4 hours) and stay off the booze. Both of these will prevent you from sleeping well.

“Try to relax and put the race from your mind – whatever you do, don’t worry about sleep. If you can’t sleep, then get up, relax or read for 20 – 30 minutes and repeat your bedtime routine.

“We’d strongly recommend going home and following your normal bedtime routine after a marathon. There is nothing like your own bed and your normal routine to get you to sleep.”

Charles H. Samuels, a Medical Director for the Centre for Sleep and Human Performance, says, “After you have completed a marathon the recovery time to return to pre-race training is a function of your recovery strategy, how rested you were before the race, whether you travelled a long distance to the race and your output during the race. The foundation of your recovery strategy is sleep and rest. This doesn't mean that you do nothing physical, but it means based on these factors your recovery should take about 2 to 3 weeks.

“Assuming you are a normal sleeper with no sleep problems you simply have to make the time to get your sleep. For those who experience sleep disturbance following strenuous exercise you need to focus on reducing the high state of arousal that occurs during strenuous endurance activities and the best method is meditation or quiet relaxation. Most importantly in this day and age, limiting exposure to technology is critical and has become a serious problem for athletes as a major barrier to getting adequate sleep.”

Jennifer Hines from Alaska Sleep Clinic recommends cooling your sleeping environment, “Both core and skin temperatures decline when you fall asleep, and a cool sleeping environment helps create a temperature gradient that facilitates this process. Everyone is a bit different, but optimal room temperatures for promoting restful sleep are typically in the 60-70-degree Fahrenheit range.”

The importance of sleep following a marathon
Sleep and exercise should go hand-in-hand as a good night’s sleep should be held as a high priority for maintaining quality performance and/or good health.

Sleep Kick’s Sam Billington, says, “Sleep is as important as hydration and nutrition after endurance exercise. Running a marathon causes significant muscle cell damage and skeletal strain. Cell growth and repair takes place during sleep, specifically during slow-wave sleep or deep sleep. Without sleep, your body doesn’t break down old and damaged cells or repair and build new cells. No sleep, no cellular recovery.

“Seven to eight hours of sleep a night is the gold standard. Any less and you’re likely to be performing below your full potential. However, after a marathon, try to get 9 to 10 hours a night for a few nights. This extra sleep will support recovery. Research has shown it takes 7 to 10 days to fully recover from the cellular damage sustained during a marathon.”

Charles H. Samuels, who is also a Clinical Assistant Professor at the Cummings School of Medicine at the University of Calgary, adds: “Sleep is the ‘cornerstone of recovery’. Getting the right amount, of good quality sleep at the right time of the night is key to getting maximal benefit from your sleep. Recovering sleep debt accumulated from training and travel as well as race day is key to improving your recovery. Sleep is the time when humans recover and repair mental and physical damage to our bodies. Within the first week following a race, it is important to maintain a regular schedule and add naps in to aid recovery. As you saturate your sleep need you will no longer need the naps and that is a sign you are back to normal.”

Jennifer Hines, adds, “The reason sleep is so helpful during the recovery process comes down to growth hormones and blood flow. Growth hormones evidently stimulate growth, while aiding cell reproduction, cell regeneration and regulation of your body’s metabolism to literally repair you while you snooze.

“When asleep, your general energy consumption is lowered as, most of the time, your body and brain is at rest. This means more energy can be used to restore your bones and muscles, both through an increase in growth hormone production and by an increase in blood flow to the area in need. For example, in deep sleep, around 40% of the usual blood flow to the brain is sent instead to the muscles to help restore energy. The hormone Prolactin is also released during deep sleep, which has anti-inflammatory properties to help further recover any achy joints.”

Read our related marathon articles:

•Is it time to start training for a marathon

•How to take care of your feet before a marathon

5. Take to the pool
Going swimming is another activity that’s worth adding to your marathon recovery bucket list as even the pro athletes take to the pool to reap its benefits.

A swimming-based recovery session will help bring your body back to its best. Just a few easy lengths will increase your blood flow and reduce muscle soreness.

This is something Thomas Watson from the Marathon Handbook highly recommends. He tells us, “If you can, get to a swimming pool. They are one of the best ways to recover. Simply walking around the shallow end of a pool can be a great way to treat your legs after a marathon and doing strokes like the breaststroke can ease your muscles and help with recovery.”

6. Wear compression gear
We’re sure you’ve been overtaken by joggers wearing those snug calf sleeves or heard about people wearing their tights to sleep.

There is a reason behind people wearing compression clothes as it helps to aid your recovery as they apply surface pressure to specific parts of the body to boost blood circulation. The result is you may not ache as much as normal.

The Marathon Training Academy’s Angie Spencer shares her thoughts about compression clothing:

“Compression gear can improve blood circulation, stabilise joints and muscles, and help speed recovery. Try wearing compression pants for a few hours post-marathon. Another great strategy is putting your legs up the wall (or simply elevating them above the level of your heart) for a few minutes. This can pay off in terms of reduced swelling in the legs and better recovery.”

7. Rest and get those feet looked at
It is so important to just rest after a marathon as the last thing you should be doing is going out running a few days after the race.

Coach Angie Spencer, says, “While you don’t want to be completely sedentary in the days after the marathon, you also shouldn’t plan on returning to strenuous exercise for at least two weeks. Walking and gentle yoga are great activities to do in the days following a marathon and are a way to give yourself a few days break from running.”

If you’ve been suffering from feet problems or blisters, then why not consider hands and feet treatments to help them recover fully.

Thomas Watson, adds, “Now is the time to clean up any foot issues you’ve had. If they’re minor, you can usually leave them alone and they’ll gradually disappear on their own over a few days. If they’re big or contain blood, you want to drain them hygienically – clean the whole foot first, especially the area around the blister, then pop it with a sterilised needle at three or four points around the perimeter.”

Why is it important to follow a recovery plan post-marathon?
If you’re still not sure why it is so important to follow a post-marathon recovery plan, then don’t just take our word for it and read some other experts’ thoughts.

Coach Angie Spencer, says, “Proper post-marathon recovery can make a big difference in the way you feel after the race. It’s actually very important to start implementing recovery techniques as you train for the marathon. That way you’re already familiar with doing a proper cooldown, normalising body temperature, refuelling, hydrating, using compression gear, and using cold therapy. Not giving your body the support it needs in the hours and days after the marathon may result in lingering fatigue, sore muscles, and worsening of niggles.”

Thomas Watson, adds, “A post-marathon recovery plan in the days following your marathon is important; having a plan in place to let you recuperate both physically and mentally. It’s imperative to take it easy in the days following your marathon and allow yourself to celebrate and have that well-deserved break.”