If you’ve just wrapped a long marathon, you may be hobbling down the stairs the day after. Depending on numerous factors, such as fitness level, age, the difficulty of the marathon course or whether you drank enough fluids during the race, it may take you up to six weeks to recover from the pounding. However, you can take steps to relieve stiffness after a race and accelerate the healing process.
Walk around for the first five to 10 minutes after a race. Then get off of your feet and elevate them to prevent too much fluid from pooling in your legs and causing them to swell, according to Hal Higdon’s book “Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide: Advice, Plans, and Programs for Half and Full Marathons.”
Take a 15- to 20-minute leisurely walk on the first day post-marathon, which can loosen your muscles. Avoid running or strenuous exercise for about three days. Engage in aerobic cross-training, such as swimming, on the fourth day if you insist on working out.
Reduce swelling and stiffness by taking an ice bath, which can help to remove lactic acid from your muscles. Fill the tub with cold water and sink into the bath up to your waist. Add ice to lower the temperature. Soak for about 10 minutes. Take a cool bath with your legs only if you can’t endure an ice bath. Soak your legs for 10 to 20 minutes within three hours after finishing the race.
Stretch your muscles to help flush out lactic acid. Use light easy stretches and spend extra time on the stiff areas of your body.
Get a massage a day or two after the marathon to speed the recovery, according to Don Garber’s book “Basic Marathon Training: All the Techniques and Equipment You Need to Get Started.” Schedule an appointment with a therapist who has training and experience in sports massage.
Drink a lot of fluid and stay hydrated. Check your urine. If the color is pale yellow or almost clear, then you’re drinking enough fluid. If it’s dark yellow, your body is dehydrated.
Eat well and plenty to replenish your muscles. Consume carbohydrates if that’s what you’re hankering for, or protein depending on your needs.
Take naps and get enough sleep. Allow your immune system to recover from the physical demands as well as the emotional stress of competition.
- If you’re going to run a marathon in a different city, reach out to other runners to locate a good massage therapist.
- Avoid hot baths or showers, which will aggravate inflammation and raise your body temperature. Also avoid aspirin. Although it can relieve the pain from sore muscles, it will retard your body’s ability to repair muscle damage.
Kay Tang is a journalist who has been writing since 1990. She previously covered developments in theater for the "Dramatists Guild Quarterly." Tang graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in economics and political science from Yale University and completed a Master of Professional Studies in interactive telecommunications at New York University.