Marathon Recovery and Tootsie Rolls

Well, it’s been more than two weeks since I ran through the streets of the Big Apple at the New York City Marathon. I’m still trying to make sense of the whole experience. The miles went by so fast that before I knew it, it was over.

And then I was left with very sore legs.

These sore legs, which I never experience with shorter races even though they’re a lot more intense, got me thinking (don’t you hate when that happens?): If I could duplicate the marathon muscle damage in training and get my legs to experience the same feeling, I could run the marathon a lot faster. But it’s hard to run long at the same pace in training when you run by yourself as you do in the marathon. The marathon brings things out in people that a long training run on the lonely back country road does not. But if I ever decide to run another marathon(!), that’s one thing I’d do different: find a way to run very hard for as long as possible as often as possible. And find someone faster than me to run with who can push me to do it.

I took off from running for one week after the marathon, then ran easy every other day last week. Did one brief interval workout on Tuesday this week: 10 x 200 meters with a 200-meter jog recovery to start getting my running legs back and begin my journey to my 2014 running goal: run under 5 minutes for 1 mile.

My quads and hip flexors still feel a bit fatigued. Not sure how much of that is real muscle fatigue and how much of it is in my head, since I think I should be fatigued after a marathon. Hopefully, the peppiness in my legs will return soon. Can’t go through life without peppy legs!

Recovery after the marathon is similar to recovery after all of your long runs, just more extreme, especially if you’ve never run the full distance before. How long does it take to recover from a marathon? Who knows? How long does it take to recover from the flu? How many licks does it take to reach the center of a tootsie roll pop? When my twin brother and I were kids, my brother loved tootsie rolls.

TootsieRolls

Everyone is different when it comes to recovery. You should feel fine after your marathon in about 2 to 3 weeks, but it could take longer if you’ve really stretched yourself during the race. I’ve coached runners who feel fine within a few days.

After the marathon, you have to recover from a number of things:
* Glycogen depletion: Your muscles, once full of carbohydrate at the start of the marathon, are now empty. You’ve literally run out of gas.

* Muscle fiber damage: This is one of the biggest recovery issues. At the end of a marathon, your muscles are a mess. Pounding the pavement for hours, combined with the eccentric muscle contractions that actively lengthen your muscles while you run, cause microscopic damage to your muscles as the fibers are torn, making your legs very inflamed and sore. Expect walking downstairs, which includes a lot of eccentric contraction, to be difficult for a few days after the marathon.

* Dehydration: You lose a lot of body water sweating for hours, especially in the heat.

* Psychological fatigue: Concentrating for hours on your effort leaves you mentally exhausted.

* Suppressed immune system: Running 26.2 miles, especially when you push yourself to your limit, can leave your immune system compromised. Combined with being dehydrated and glycogen depleted, the effort leaves you vulnerable to catching a cold, flu, or other respiratory tract infection.

Use these tips to recover after the marathon:

Immediately after you cross the finish line:
* Wrap yourself in a space blanket the volunteers hand you at the end of the race. This keeps you from getting a chill. If you don’t have a space blanket, use a beach blanket or beach towel.

* Pick up your gear from the gear check and put on dry clothes.

* Walk (slowly) for a few minutes so you don’t get stiff.

* Get off your feet, but not for too long. Sit on the grass and stretch your legs out for a few minutes before getting up to walk around a little.

* Consume about 200 calories of easily-digestible carbohydrate (read: sugar). Chocolate milk, fruit, gummy bears, or a nutrition bar are good choices. Be careful about consuming too much so you don’t get bloated.

* Drink plenty of water or sports drink to rehydrate.

Within the first hour after crossing the finish line:
* Consume 300 to 400 calories of carbohydrate and protein.

* Soak your legs in a cold water bath to reduce inflammation.

* Elevate your legs to reduce swelling.

More than one hour after crossing the finish line:
* Go out to eat with your friends and family and have a meal high in carbohydrate and protein to replace muscle and liver carbohydrate and to repair your muscles.

* Drink water or sports drink to rehydrate.

* Pop 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C to reduce inflammation and boost your immune system.

* Stay away from people with colds, as your weakened immune system makes it easier to catch a cold yourself.

The first few days to a week after crossing the finish line:
* Eat and drink anything you want—chocolate brownie sundaes, beer, a New York egg cream. Have a little fun!

* Do whatever you want, but don’t run! Take a walk, take naps, read a book, ride a bike, go canoeing. Your muscles will be very sore from the marathon, so the last thing you want to do is run. Both your body and mind need a break.

* Stay away from people with colds. Your immune system is still recovering.

After at least a week of no running at all, slowly integrate running back into your life with a “reverse taper.” For example, if you ran 50% of your peak mileage the week of the marathon, run the same amount for your first week of running after the marathon. Keep building up your mileage over the subsequent weeks the same way you tapered it down in the weeks leading up to the marathon.

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