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Everything you need to know about recovering from a marathon


The Straits Times


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Congratulations! You are a marathoner. For months, you've focused on that one goal - had nightmares about it and spent sleepless nights fretting about what shoes to wear. Well, now you've gone and done it, and the medal is hanging around your neck. So, what now?


Treat the recovery the same way as you did the training - as an integral part of the marathon process, and you'll soon be back and raring to go. Get back too soon and push too early, and you risk injury.




The second you cross that line, your legs will go from running to "utterly incapable of movement".


The best thing you can do is just keep moving - it doesn't matter how slowly. Get into clean, dry clothes and comfy shoes.


If you are a fan of compression gear, now is also the time to get into that. While the jury is out on the benefits of actually running in compression gear, it can definitely help aid recovery.


If you have any sore spots, noticeable immediately, you can try a topical product like a "freezing" spray.


Rehabilitation therapist Chris Roberts explains: "Cryotherapy products... are topical analgesics, which work through a 'counter-irritant' mechanism. This creates a sensation that overrides pain signals to the brain. But it is important to remember that cryotherapy only provides temporary pain relief."


Think twice about painkillers. NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) - such as ibuprofen or aspirin - are a lot stronger than many people realise. NSAIDS can cause harm to your kidneys, and increase your blood pressure to risky levels, as well as put you at greater risk of hyponatremia.




In an ideal world, you'll have that three parts carbs/one part protein snack waiting for you.


However, I've run 10 marathons and I know full well that sometimes you can't even look at food after the race as your stomach is queasy, full of gels and in rebellion.


Don't worry, just try and eat whatever you can cope with, whether that's an ice cream, a bag of crisps, a banana or a protein bar.


Have a proper meal later. Do, however, make sure you rehydrate.




Back in the comfort of your home or hotel room, it's time to soak those aching limbs. So what's better, hot or cold?


"The research is ever changing in this area," says Mr Neil Smith, a physiotherapist at Pure Sports Medicine. "But I would say that ice baths are likely to be better for recovery than a hot bath."


How cold it should be is a personal choice - but something in the region of 15 deg C would work, said Mr Smith. "Some athletes like to go as low as 8 deg C - and that is still achievable with cold water and plenty of bags of ice."


However, Mr Smith and his colleague Lisa Posnett are sceptical that Epsom salts, which are often recommended as a post-marathon remedy, make any difference.


"Epsom salt is a common name for magnesium sulphate," they say. "Despite it being used for decades, there is actually little evidence out there to support its use and muscle soreness alleviation."




Many races will offer you a quick post-race massage. That can definitely help, but can also involve standing around in a queue.


As Ms Ellen Cook, a sports massage therapist at Ten Health and Fitness, says: "The sooner you can do this, the better, as it will flush out any lactic acid that has built up during the race and in turn reduce the build-up of muscle tension.


"Sports massages help by warming up the muscle fibres through friction and improve blood flow and circulation."


And if you've had a Torquemada-like experience, then don't be put off. "There are many myths out there regarding sports massage," says Ms Cook.


"The most common is that effective massage should hurt. This is not correct at all, there are many techniques for massage that are used to relieve muscle tension and sometimes going gung-ho on a muscle is not what it needs."




Sleep is essential for recovery. However, this also comes under the "great idea in theory, hard in practice" rule.


You are riding an adrenaline high and every muscle in your legs is twitching and your system just can't seem to shut down.


Don't worry - this is perfectly normal. Just rest. Don't reach for the phone - just try to relax, listen to an audiobook, have another bath... whatever helps you to drift off again.




If you have a blister or two, leave them alone. "If the blister hasn't popped on its own then don't pop it yourself. Cover it with a soft plaster - there are some great blister plasters available these days," says Mr Smith. "If it has burst already - let it drain, clean it, then cover it to help prevent infection. Also avoid wearing tight-fitting shoes (after the race) that may further irritate."


In fact, comfy shoes for a few days after the race are a good idea for everyone, regardless of blisters.




If your legs don't feel like they fought a war the next day - and the day after that - at what point do you know if it's just a sore muscle, or something worse?


"Delayed onset muscle soreness can start a few hours after your exercise and will often peak at about 48-72 hours, but can last up to even a week," says Mr Smith.


"If the pain lasts longer than a week or gets worse then I would suggest seeking some medical advice."




To some of you, that will be a no-brainer. Others will be twitching to get back out there again after a few days - don't.


You have nothing to gain, and a lot of torn muscle fibres that need to heal. If you crave being active, go for a swim, or do a gentle yoga class, but do not feel guilty about not doing any exercise.


Remember that elite athletes take a minimum of two very, very easy weeks to recover from a marathon, some longer.




Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.


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