You just ran 26.2 miles, and sweet victory has washed over you.
Maybe you beat your old PR or maybe you had to walk a few times. At this point you really could care less.
You did it. You're alive. Where are the bagels?
But remember, your body has just undergone tremendous physical stress and, according to Dr. John Gallucci, a physical therapist and the medical coordinator for Major League Soccer, no amount of recovery carbs, deep tissue work or cool-down stretching can immediately undo it. In fact, most of these things will land you in even more trouble.
"The bottom line is you just ran a marathon," Gallucci says. "You're going to have muscle soreness. Right away, runners want to do things to decrease muscle soreness, but many of the actions they take actually lengthen the recovery process."
For the most efficient recovery, here are five things you want to avoid after crossing the finish line.
Don't Get a Post-Race Massage
Let's get the biggest heartbreaker out of the way first: You shouldn't get that complimentary deep-tissue massage offered at the end of the race. According to Gallucci, your muscles are completely broken down at this point and are actually bleeding. The last thing you want is to have someone working their hands into them, increasing blood flow to the area.
Instead, wait one to three days and stay away from deep-tissue work at first. Massages with light strokes are ideal. Also consider getting warmed up beforehand with heating pads or a bath. The same thing applies with cool-down stretching: It's best to wait until the next day when your muscles aren't as inflamed, then ease into it slowly.
Don't Go Out For a Victory Meal
Finishing a marathon is one of those bucket list life events that gives you free reign to eat whatever you want in massive quantities. Hey, you deserve it.
But even if you're feeling pretty good after your marathon (and ready to reward yourself for your hard work), your body will not be capable of breaking down a large amount of food and will be forced to expel it in one way or another (sorry for the visual).
Stick to small snacks for the rest of the day, which will allow your body to digest everything it needs and use those nutrients to start you down the road to recovery. The good news? Scheduling your victory meal a few days later checks out with the doc. Whew!
Don't Do the Dramatic Finish Line Moment
Gallucci once had a patient come in after a race with a serious injury—but not from running. The runner's wife was so excited to congratulate her husband for accomplishing his goal that she ran right up to him and gave him a huge hug after he crossed the finish line. Unfortunately, this runner, like most, was extremely fatigued and hadn't quite caught his breath or balance. He collapsed on the pavement and shattered his kneecap.
Lesson learned: Save the dramatics for a time when you're a little less clumsy.
Don't Ignore Your Immune System
When marathoners cross the finish line and start evaluating the damage, they're likely thinking about their muscles and joints. Chances are they aren't thinking about their immune system. But Gallucci points out that the old-fashioned immune system is actually one of the hardest hit parts of your body post-marathon. You are much more susceptible to illness after running for 26.2 miles.
Make it a point to get in a little extra fruit for the next few days, specifically any rich in Vitamin C, like oranges and grapefruit.
Don’t Get Right Back To It
Many runners believe that a light jog a few days after finishing a marathon is a great way to keep the muscles loose and warm. Gallucci disagrees.
"Take at least two to three weeks to recover before running again," he says. "Then start light jogging. Use that time to evaluate possibly injuries, like any strains or tendonitis."
Trying to run again too quickly—even if it's just a light jog—often leads to a soft tissue strain because the muscle hasn't healed yet. Be patient and save yourself an even longer recovery period.
- 2016 Early Season Marathons Across the Country
- 10 Reasons Why Marathons Are the Best Distance
- The 5 Most Common Injuries for Runners
Find your next marathon.