Recovering From a Marathon Walk

After the Race

What you do in the first few minutes after the race can really help to reduce your post-marathon recovery time. After you cross the finish line, walk around slowly to gradually bring your heart rate down. Don't sit down.

If you don't keep moving, your muscles will stiffen up and you'll feel much worse once you try to get up again. Try to drink as much as possible ? preferably sports drinks to replenish carbohydrates, but water is also fine if it's all you can find.

If your stomach can handle it, it's also a good idea to try to eat some fruit or a PowerBar as soon as you can. Your muscles are most receptive to carbohydrates within the first 15 minutes to two hours of finishing your marathon. A little protein will help your muscles to store even more carbs and will help to repair damaged muscles.

You may be tempted to soak in a hot tub or Jacuzzi after the race, but you really should avoid doing so. You don't necessarily need to subject yourself to a cold shower, but try to avoid very hot water. Heat will dilate your blood vessels, causing swelling in your sore muscles. An anti-inflammatory like Advil will help to keep some of the swelling down.

After the shower, take a short ? or not so short ? nap. Then get up and take an easy walk, and keep drinking water to keep from tightening up too much ? you'll need to get those legs working again if you want to dance at the post-race party!

Keep a bottle of water with you and continue hydrating the rest of the day and night. If you do attend a party, it's OK to have a few "adult beverages." But continue drinking water ? at least one glass of water or sports drink for every "other" beverage you consume.

When the evening winds down, unplug the alarm clock, take the phone off the hook, draw the shades tight, and tuck yourself in for a nice long rest. Try to sleep in as late as you can. If you do get up to use the bathroom, take another drink before going back to bed. You've had a long day, so you'll need a long night of sleep (or two or three) to start healing your tired muscles.

Getting Back to Normal

You'll probably be a little stiff and sore the day after a marathon, but most of the aches and pains will go away after a few days of rest. That can be a double-edged sword. You may feel so good after the race that you'll want to jump right back into training. Or you may want to get back into racing shorter races ? why let all that hard training go to waste, right?

Wrong! Take it very easy for the first two weeks after the race ? especially if it was your first marathon. I've never sustained an injury in a marathon, but I have wound up with more than a few in the first week or two after the race because I didn't respect the distance. I felt good after the race so I jumped right back into training. You may feel great, but your muscles and joints will be weakened from the hard effort.

For the first few weeks after the marathon, continue doing the same good things that helped you to get through your marathon training.

  • Continue drinking water.
  • Maintain a high-carbohydrate diet for at least three to five days after the marathon to fully reload your muscles with glycogen.
  • Gently stretch your muscles to regain range of motion.
  • Spring for a massage to speed healing of overused muscles.
  • Consider taking supplements like Vitamin C and echinacea to help boost your immune system.

After the first two weeks you'll probably start to miss training. You'll miss the camaraderie of walking with your training buddies, or the tranquility of your long walks alone. At this point it's probably safe to get back into training, either for shorter races, or if you still have the bug, for another marathon.

If you do decide that you're up for another challenge, get out a calendar to start plotting your next marathon. Then follow the same rules that got you to the finish line of your last marathon. You won't have to start from scratch-your last long day, after all, was 26.2 miles!

And with all the valuable experience you've gained ? and all those miles under your belt ? your next marathon is sure to be a personal record!

Just make sure you don't overdo it. If the marathon you just completed was your first, give yourself a full six months before doing another. With more experience you can safely walk a marathon once every two to three months or so, but doing more than three or four per year can cause "burnout" or injury.


Dave McGovern is the author of The Complete Guide to Marathon Walking. For more tips visit his website at www.racewalking.org.

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