Recovery is so important. Often, when people start training, they underestimate the importance of recovery. This leads to overtraining without giving your body time to rebuild and recover. After running over 100 marathons, I am aware of how my body responds and recovers, which is important to note because all our bodies are different. There is plenty of advice out there that would suggest needing to rest completely for months after a marathon. Of course, rest is good, but frankly, there is no one size fits all, and sometimes the marathon isn’t the end of a challenge. Last month, I ran 10 marathons in 10 days and a total of 15 marathons in 6 weeks. So I think it’s a great time to talk about how I recover from a marathon and my thoughts on what’s important. I follow the 3 R’s: Rest, Refuel, Recover.
A marathon puts a lot of strain on your body. Your muscles will break down with little micro tears, you become dehydrated, and you will burn a lot of calories. How much you need to rest and recover also depends on the challenge, so it is so important not to compare yourself to others, as you don’t know what their challenge is. For example, if you are running for a PB, you will put your body under more stress and need to recover more. However, in endurance, when you are running multiple events, you are able to do more if you lower the intensity. Most of the time, and certainly more recently, this is where my adventures have taken me, lots of lower level intensity. Just think of a long training run. When people ask me how I do it and think it’s crazy, the intensity is not too much more than a long training run.
This is pretty self-explanatory, but the thing that most people struggle with. We seem to psychologically tell ourselves that training more will make us better, but that really isn’t the case. Most people overtrain. Either running sessions to hard or running to often. I am a strong believer in active recovery, especially when I’ve had a hard, intense race. You would be surprised how good you feel after a very gentle run, a little spin or swim, or just a long walk, even when it’s the last thing you feel like doing. For me, when I do international races, the next day, I will often be walking around a zoo, carrying kids, and far more active than you would plan. But this truly helps, trust me. Next time you do a marathon, get active the next day.
I think this is one factor that helped in my 10 in 10 challenge. Your body adapts and gets used to moving, and it helps to loosen your legs. When I am doing marathons on consecutive weekends, I tend to take rest to the extreme. I actually train a lot less than people expect, as unless you are aiming for a PB, life is more important, and it’s about balance. During April, I ran 13 x marathons and 2 x 5k. Outside of that, I did not run. 350 miles in the month, and not a single mile run outside of an event. During such a large challenge, I was not going to get any benefit of running more, so I rested. I spent time walking the dog every day, taking the kids out for walks, and getting on with life. But I didn’t do any other training.
Refuelling is something I am good at. Now, I’m not going to say I’m the most sensible, nor that my way is the best way. But in essence, when you run a marathon, you need to repair your muscles and hydrate. Water, salts, and protein are what your body craves. Now, I never sacrifice things I want in terms of reward running. There are many benefits psychologically by doing this, but I also think it can be harmful. If you restrict yourself, you can end up resenting it, and this can encourage unhealthy habits. I could actually benefit from drinking less alcohol and I really need to stop eating the kids’ sweets and chocolate so much, but it’s all about moderation.
When I have finished a marathon, I love a nice cold beer (s) and the largest burger I can find. Carbs, protein, and fats. Yes, I obviously dehydrate myself more, and water would be more beneficial. However, life is about balance, and after running a marathon, I refuel with beer and lots of food.
All of the above will help you to recover. However, I have found 3 things that help me to recover. A nice warm bath, my massage gun, and compression tights.
People talk about the benefits of an ice bath. I don’t discount this, and I’m sure there are lots of benefits. However, I love to relax in a nice hot bath with some bath salts.
I have a large range from Pulseroll. I started with the vibrating foam roller, which is great, but foam rolling can be painful. Since I invested in a massage gun, I have never looked back, and I also now have a smaller travel size mini gun. The only downside to this is that I can not do a good job on my glutes and hamstrings without assistance. My daughter enjoys using the massage gun on me, but it tends to range from tickling me to pushing so hard, and my glutes and hamstrings are always so tender. My wife also enjoys seeing me squirm as she helps me with my calves.
I have managed to agree to a great collaboration with Pulseroll. During their summer sale, they have the best possible rates on their products. If you choose your items you can get an exclusive discount with Pulseroll, contact email@example.com quoting ADI5 and not only will you get an additional £5 off the sale price, a further 8% will be donated to Cancer Research.
Once I have finished massaging my legs, I like to put on compression tights to help aid recovery through improved blood flow.
This is just what I do, and it has helped me get through many marathons, and I often feel good the next day. I am interested to know your tips and what works for you. Please let everyone know in the comments.
4 thoughts on “How to recover from a marathon”
I read your blog and found it to generally matches my views. As you know from your 10 in 10 days, one must adapt recovery to the available interval before the next marathon/ultra. (And it is worth noting that if one runs a 100-miler, that is equivalent to running 4 marathons with no recovery, teaching us that recovery is not mandatory as long as one does not expect to match the speed of the well-rested race.) Depending on age, speed, and body weight, one burns about 3,000 calories in a marathon, so if doing consecutive day marathons, an important goal is to consume that 3,000 calories early enough for the body to process it, which typically means beginning right away after finishing the preceding race, even if (like me) you have no hunger at all after racing. Also, while sugars and fats can provide the replacement for calories burned, they do not help repair the unavoidable injuries to muscle fibers from a race, so those calories need to include significant proteins. (Electrolytes generally do not have calories, but if you did not push electrolytes during the race, then those also will need replenishment. Most cramping of muscles is a signal that your body is low on electrolytes).
Switching to less intense regimens, such as weekly marathons for extended periods, your body can adapt to not require recovery at all in the normal sense, just getting into a groove of what works for you. I’ve found the day after the weekly marathon should be light effort (say a gentle 3) even if you don’t feel like doing it (as the blog says), the next 3 days can each be longer, and then a taper to a final day-before the next marathon with easy or no jogging. (I typically do a 3 the day before a marathon, but skip the day if it will be an ultra or extreme trail marathon.)
For what it’s worth. (My wife and I were also at Prague but only she ran, as I am injured.)
Some great advice, thank you for sharing. I hope you enjoyed Prague with your wife, sorry you are injured at the moment, I hope you recover quickly
Awesome Paul. I’ve only been back running 6 weeks and had the pleasure to run with you in my first run/marathon back. I’ve done 12, but only one triple due to lack of 10in10 and not wanting to disrupt my new clients too much.
Recovery for me is currently work, shower, rum, bed and sometimes a nap before work if I can.
I find the best way to recover is a fair few rum and diet cokes, or Long Island Iced Teas with other runners to mentally recover and relax. Following this, a long soak in the bath with Epsom salts is always beneficial, as is a high protein meal later that day and an early night!
I love that your recovery is focused around mental health rather than the physical side… I totally agree that once you get past the initial ability to run a marathon, the recovery is as much about how you feel mentally