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Your 5 Day Post-Marathon Plan to Recover FAST!

You did it!

You actually freaking did it!

You ran a marathon!

And now…you're sore as sh!t for 5 solid days.

(*language alert* I know; but…it's a true statement).

Because now comes the hard part.

Recovery.

(you thought this was the easy part??)

Well, I guess it is. But when you've been training and dedicated for months on end for the sole accomplishment of 1 day and then it's OVER…

It's like the January blues after all the holidays wrap up.

So if you're feeling a little bummed out and deflated after your race, that's perfectly normal.

I promise, everything will be alright.

Your brain is quite literally experiencing a dopamine with drawl…and our brains can be little endorphin addicts.

It's chemistry and physiology.


(disclaimer: don't be afraid to reach out for help from friend, family, or healthcare providers if these feelings are overwhelming or debilitating. There's no shame in addressing the chemical imbalance that might be your brain right now.)

Just keep this tidbit in mind as your start snooping around different race websites and *accidently* sign up for another race.

In order for you to perform your BEST at your next race (whenever that may be), you FIRST have to recover from this one.

Easier said than done, right? Does the science tell us HOW to recover from a marathon?

I'm so glad you asked. ;)

Let's bust some marathon recovery myths together and create your recovery plan for your next 5 days!



Q: Do compression socks or compression garments speed up recovery?

Short Answer: Meh.

  • Wear them if they feel good and decrease soreness (aka pain) because nobody likes to be in pain.

  • Just know that your best recovery tool is still TIME, because the compression doesn't *actually* do anything recovery-wise. (see below)

Long Answer:

Perceived muscle soreness, maximal voluntary isometric contraction, and serum markers of creatine kinase and C-reactive protein were assessed before, immediately after, and 24, 48, and 72 hours after the marathon run.

Perceived muscle soreness was significantly lower (p ≤ 0.05) in the compression group at 24 hours after marathon when compared with the sham group. ("Sham group" meaning "control group;" these runners didn’t have any fancy compression leggings.)

There were no significant group effects for maximal voluntary isometric contraction, creatine kinase and C-reactive protein (p > 0.05). The use of a lower limb compression garment improved subjective perceptions of recovery; however, there was neither a significant improvement in muscular strength nor a significant attenuation in markers of exercise-induced muscle damage and inflammation.

So if compression leggings, socks, whatever…don't "do anything" why do you feel better?
  • Probably because of the neuroproprioceptive input (aka that squeeze sensation) the compression garment is providing to your muscles/joints and in turn, to your brain.

  • We know from other extensive research in the PT world that compressive garments, vests, knee braces etc can provide a feeling of stability and our bodies (and brains!) like that.

  • And when our body/brain feels good about, that reflects in our movement…and ease of movement.

  • (So if you like 'em, wear 'em…but we should make it a rule you have to wear your race medal at the same time.)

Q: Will drinking cherry juice in an ice bath make me recover faster?

Short Answer:

  • Drink the juice if you like it; skip it if you don't.

  • Suggested you pass on the ice water bath (but that doesn't mean you can't ice an area or use a Normatec. Those are fine!)

Long Answer:

Cherry juice (CJ) and cold water immersion (CWI) are both effective recovery strategies following strenuous endurance exercise. However, athletes routinely combine recovery interventions and less is known about the impact of a combined CJ and CWI protocol. Therefore, this study investigated the effects of combining CWI and CJ (a “cocktail” (CT)) on inflammation and muscle damage following a marathon.

Muscle damage (creatine kinase (CK)), muscle function (maximal voluntary isometric contraction (MVIC)), and inflammation (interleukin-6 (IL-6); C-reactive protein (CRP)) were measured at baseline, immediately after marathon (only IL-6), 24 h, and 48 h after marathon.

Results: There were no statistically significant differences between groups and no group × time interaction effects for any of the dependent variables. Confidence intervals (CI) illustrated that CT had unclear effects on inflammation (IL-6; CRP) and MVIC, but may have increased CK to a greater extent than PL and CJ conditions.

Conclusion: There is no evidence of an additive effect of CJ and CWI when the treatments are used in conjunction with each other. On the contrary, combining CJ and CWI may result in slightly increased circulating CK.

Cherry juice has sugar (carbs) in it and you just depleted like…the entire warehouse of glycogen in your muscles. So yea, your body is going to like the fruit juice. But we're not going to claim it has magical recovery healing powers.

And while icing has the potential to decrease inflammation and you're definitely going to have inflammation after running 26+ miles, a cold water immersion is a whole different level. It's actually more of a stress-survival-shock to your system. And you're body just survived the stress of a marathon.

So it's probably best to NOT do this within the first 24-48 hours.

Q: Do I have to wait an entire MONTH before can I run again??

Short Answer:

Maybe. Maybe not. You *might* be able to run 48 hours post marathon…BUT THERE'S A CATCH.

Long Answer:

It depends.

Let's set the record straight for starters:

"Regardless of an athlete’s performance level, running a marathon places a high strain on body homeostasis over the course of several hours to days following the race."

In other words, your body has literally just survived a physiologically high stress-situation.


It was "fun" stress, but it was a HUGE work-load, nonetheless.

Your body isn't fragile and going to fall apart; but it does need TIME to recover.

Especially because you're probably experiencing:


"exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD) symptoms, such as soreness, swelling, reduced range of motion (ROM) and reduced neuromuscular function"

These are all NORMAL "limiting factor(s) in athletes’ return to regular training". You'd think then that we would have real, tangible answers then on how to best recover right?

"However, research regarding return to training following the marathon is scarce and there is not a clear consensus whether rest or exercise facilitate recovery of muscle damage and function."

Ok, maybe not. So let's find out.


"Therefore, the aim of the study was to analyze the effects of two exercise modalities (running vs elliptical training) vs resting on the time course of neuromuscular performance and muscle damage recovery during the week after running a marathon."

What was tested in this study?

Cardiopulmonary Tests:
  • Pulmonary VO2 and VCO2- measuring Maximum oxygen uptake (VO2max) in conjunction with heart rate.

    • Why does this matter?

    • Max oxygen uptake is not only important for performance, but oxygen means nutrients to the muscles, and nutrients means recovery.

Neuromuscular Tests:
  • Squat Jump-measured how high each runner could jump.

    • Why does this matter?

    • Think of this test as a "performance readiness test. Are all your muscle groups working together as a team in a coordinated fashion when it comes to sequencing of a movement and strength?

Blood Tests:
  • Blood drawn-measured Lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) and creatine kinase (CK)

    • Why does this matter?

    • These are commonly used muscle damage blood markers. We don't want these.

What the runners did Post Marathon:

  • All participants did not train for the first 48 h following the race.

  • From this point onwards, RUN and ELIP groups trained at 48 h, 96 h and 144 h after the marathon, whereas REST group remained without training until 192 h following the race.

  • RUN and ELIP participants exercised continuously for 40 min at a moderate intensity (between 95- 105% of the heart rate corresponding to the VT1 [this goes back the cardiopulm tests we talked about])

What are the FACTS and how does this research help me recovery from my marathon?

  • Let's review: this paper was examining "the effect of performing an active recovery (running or elliptical training) or a passive recovery the week post-marathon" to improve "muscle damage recovery and neuromuscular performance."


BLOOD TESTS: "Our results demonstrate that muscle damage recovery is neither accelerated nor decelerated by exercising on alternate days from 48 h post-marathon onwards at a moderate intensity. Moreover, no difference was identified between running and elliptical training regarding muscle damage recovery."

NEUROMUSCULAR TESTS: Our results showed that those athletes who performed a running training at 48 h post-marathon evidenced an enhancement in their neuromuscular performance at 96 h post-marathon, unlike participants who did elliptical training or passive recovery and whose SJ height remained unchanged.

CARDIOPULM TESTS: In light of the above mentioned results, running at a moderate intensity (between 95 and 105% of the HR corresponding to VT1) for 40 min two days after completing a marathon does not seem to have a negative impact on muscle damage recovery, which is a prime purpose following a long distance race. Furthermore, it appears to have a positive effect on neuromuscular performance.

HOWEVER…Just because you CAN, DOESN'T MEAN YOU SHOULD.

Here's Why:

"Return to running could be addressed 48 h post-marathon, although faster runners are advised to delay such return to running (approximately until 96 h following the race) as a slower muscle damage recovery pattern has been described among better-performing athletes."

What does this mean?

Fast and slow runners alike cover 26.2 miles. That distance is objective and unchanging regardless of pace. So technically, it can be considered a uniform load experienced by both runners.

But one runner finishes in 2 hours (we're making this math easy, folks);

The second finished in 4 hours.

Technically, the first runner experiences greater stress because of an increase in load, aka greater speed. This increased load can require increased recovery time.

"Similarly, a recent study which focused on possible changes in running gait pattern following a marathon found an elevated peak mediolateral acceleration associated with atypical running biomechanics 2 days after the race and suggested that this alteration was linked to an increased injury risk (Clermont, Pohl, & Ferber, 2019)."

What does this mean?

Basically, it means, your muscles might still be freaking fatigued (aka super sore). If you're still walking funny, you're probably going to be running funny with "atypical running biomechanics".

And there's enough research out there to indicate, when your running form demonstrates certain alterations, it could potentially increase your injury risk.

So if you're super sore and struggled to walk down the stairs, it's probably best to walk, not run right now.

"Hence, although our results showed that no detrimental effects on muscle damage recovery are involved in return to running 48 h postmarathon, both coaches and athletes are suggested to avoid it in the event of elevated musculoskeletal pain, reduced ROM or joint compliance that could affect running biomechanics."

This is GOOD news!

Because this data shows you're NOT hurting your muscles more.

You're not creating more damage! YEA!


So even though you might feel like you got hit by a mac truck, you're not hurting your body by engaging in gentle movement, walking, or easy running especially if you feel better afterwards.

On the flip side, running 48 hours post marathon might not feel real great.

  • So don't feel you need to push yourself.

  • You're not lazy.

  • You're not a couch potato.

  • You're not slacking.

  • Your body is sending you pain signals for a reason and it's asking (probably very loudly) that you take some much needed recovery time.

In the meantime, considering that increased muscle tightness in ankle, knee and hip joints have been described until five days post-marathon in recreational runners (Tojima, Noma, & Torii, 2016), elliptical training rather than running may be the preferable approach during the week post-marathon in athletes who experience any of the abovementioned EIMD symptoms (Cheung, Hume, & Maxwell, 2003).

Read that quote again.

Just to be safe. ;)


And to be re-assured that you're not crazy when everything feels tight, limited, and/or sore.

And…to maybe get an idea for what you CAN do during your immediate marathon recovery phase.

The PT world exists because of this one simple truth: Movement is Medicine.

And like all medicine, it's all about the dosage.

So your marathon-recovery-movement-dosage is going to look a LOT different from your training dosage. And that's OK!

You're not going to break yourself.

You're not going to cause more muscle damage with gentle movement.

And if you're body is telling you it's not ready to run again after 2, 5, 7 days, or longer...that's ok! Recovery is part of the training process and the training process is about learning what your body is telling you.

Q: What CAN I do if I can't run?

A: some easy, restorative, gentle stuff that helps decrease pain and manage symptoms.

  • Daily walks

  • 2x a day: Non-strenuous, dynamic mobility work like the ones in my FREE running guide

    • (I'm obviously biased, but I think you should make these a recovery priority.)

  • 1-2x a day: Some exercises you've learned from previous rounds of physical therapy since those were prescribed specifically for you to help create a healing environment

  • 2x a week: gentle yoga

    • (not the weighted kind or the power yoga kind…hold off on that for at least a week)

    • (hint hint: you might really like the legs up the wall pose)

  • As needed: Easy stretching if that's your thing

  • As needed: Any other gentle, active recovery physical activities that don't come back to bite you later (aka increase symptoms).

THE GOAL:

  • maintain range of motion or mobility and normal muscle length. We don't want muscles overly shortened/tight in a guarded, protective position, which is what tends to happen with runners n these research groups that rest only without any other activity.

But keep these rules in mind, and you'll back out running in the meantime. Don't forget to stop and enjoy right now and all the hard work you've put it! You and your body deserve a little rest time.

I'd love to hear from you though! What are your go-to post marathon recovery tricks? Drop those down in the comments below!

And until next time, running fit fam,

Dare to Train Differently,

Marie Whitt, PT, DPT //@dr.whitt.fit

P.S. Looking for post-marathon recovery next steps? Check out my FREE Running guide to snag some hip-relieving mobility drills!

 

References


Difranco, I., Cockburn, E., Dimitriou, L., Paice, K., Sinclair, S., & Faki, T. et al. (2022). A combination of cherry juice and cold water immersion does not enhance marathon recovery compared to either treatment in isolation: A randomized placebo-controlled trial. Frontiers In Sports And Active Living, 4. doi: 10.3389/fspor.2022.957950


Hill, J., Howatson, G., van Someren, K., Walshe, I., & Pedlar, C. (2014). Influence of Compression Garments on Recovery After Marathon Running. Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research, 28(8), 2228-2235. doi: 10.1519/jsc.0000000000000469


Martínez-Navarro, I., Montoya-Vieco, A., Hernando, C., Hernando, B., Panizo, N., & Collado, E. (2021). The week after running a marathon: Effects of running vs elliptical training vs resting on neuromuscular performance and muscle damage recovery. European Journal Of Sport Science, 21(12), 1668-1674. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2020.1857441

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