Phase Two: 12 Hours
You aren't out of the woods just yet. By now you have found your friends and family; perhaps you have even made it back to your hotel/house and are now thinking about your next meal. Don't just mail it in from here; there are still a few key things you can do aside from eating the biggest meal you can find (although that's not a bad place to start!):
1. Get Cleaned Up -- There's nothing like taking a shower or bath that will rejuvenate you - and make you aware of any issues you might have (like chafing, ouch). If possible, consider a cool or even cold bath to help promote recovery. Note that this is not for the faint of heart.
2. Serious Nutrition -- Now that your stomach has settled, you'll want to focus on a proper meal. You'll most likely have a pretty solid craving, so picking a place to eat won't be hard. Just bring a snack in case you aren't the only finisher with this idea. As you pick your foods, try to keep them reasonably healthy and drink lots of water.
3. Sensible Celebration -- You have earned the right to party, but don't overdo it. Your body is still running on fumes, and adding alcohol and lots of time standing on your feet can be fun but does have its limits. Make sure you get IOUs from everyone for next time and head home.
4. Sleep Right -- Chances are you'll 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. Feel free to roll over as many times as you can the next day.
Phase Three: 72 Hours
By the end of 72 hours you'll be through the toughest part of your recovery process. But you need to get there first. This period is marked by some of the deepest need for recovery, for once the adrenaline wears off the fatigue and soreness will be all that's left.
1. Stay Active -- 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 the toxins and after-effects of the race. Frequent rest will be needed, but total rest is your enemy here.
2. Continue Quality Foods -- You are what you eat, especially when your body is in such a vulnerable state. A treat or two is OK, but try to save the real craziness for a later date when you can truly savor the food (and bear the consequences).
3. Self-Massage -- 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 fancy gadget, taking periodic breaks to focus on your trouble areas will really help.
Once you have emerged from the most intensive recovery, your work is still not done. Your body is still a long way from being at 100 percent. General guidelines include staying active by walking or including some cross-training like cycling or swimming. The earliest you should consider running is about a week out, but if you can stay away from the sneakers for a full 14 days you'll really be ready to begin the process of getting your stride back.