My Top Tips to Recovering from a Marathon
Updated: Jan 14, 2020
First of all, congrats to all those that are waking up feeling proud because they just finished the Boston Marathon but also feeling as though their legs may give out if they attempt to go down the stairs to get the mail. To all of you I can say that know how you feel as I have done Boston four times (top photo, with Boston Race Director Dave McGillivray in 2014) and it is truly the greatest endurance spectacle on the planet. With its late-in-the-race hills, it can take a toll on your body and leave you very sore for days or even a week.
Here are my 5 favorite tips for a quicker recovery.
1. Lay on your Back with Feet Up: The blood and swelling is rushing to your legs as you have done quite a bit of damage to the tissue. We want to avoid pooling of fluid in our lower body. Go to a wall and lie on your back with your feet up on the wall for 5 minutes. It will make substantial difference in decreasing fluid accumulation.
2. Keep Moving: I know this is not what you want to hear, but lying in your bed will not do as much as you hope to relieve your achy muscles. When I say keep moving, I don’t mean continual standing or walking, but rather avoiding long periods of sitting. Getting up and moving around will help reduce muscle tightness and will also help avoid developing any blood clots (also known as DVT). Take short frequent walks and do some light stretching.
3. Compression: I say the more compression, the better, following a marathon. Your muscle pumps are fried so it helps to wear compression clothing to pick up the slack (socks, tights, tops, etc). Optimally, I'd suggest a NormaTec system, but other compression gear can work.
4. Ice Packs or Baths: Personally, I hate ice baths and I feel the cringe on your face as you read this. The fact is, they work especially well if you can do it the hours after or within the day of the race. You may even feel the heat coming off of your legs. Cold will help slow down the inflammatory response which leads to the soreness. If you can’t do an ice bath for 5-10 minutes at least try to put an ice pack on the most sore areas for 20 minutes. Don’t ice constantly as this is not good either. Ice and then wait an hour or so.
5. Swim: I am a firm believer that swimming will help pretty much all injuries. If you are comfortable with the water, it has a calming effect on the body and the hydrostatic pressure that the water places on the skin will help push swelling back towards the heart especially as you move through the water. As you move your body through the water, it is like a subtle pump pushing fluid through your vessels. I would highly recommend some light swimming, especially with a pull buoy, as this will avoid fatiguing your legs more.
Hopefully these tips help speed up your recovery. Be sure you celebrate your accomplishment as just making it to Boston is something that only a select few can say they have done. Now you have completed it, so give yourself a break from vigorous training.
And lastly, you might want to try walking backwards down stairs at least for the first day. Your quads will like you a lot more and you are less likely to fall flat on your nose!
My wife Brittney Paisley and I at the Boston Marathon in 2013