After a long training run, it can take days to recover–that is, to have your legs fully lack soreness and feel strong and fresh again. After the marathon, it takes weeks to get back to that freshness. Now that I’ve finished two marathons, I’ve discovered a couple of lessons about what recovery looks like–at least for me.
1. It gets easier.
It should shock no one to learn that recovery from my second marathon has been easier than recovery from my first. It’s amazing to me what my body remembers. I find it very motivating: Every workout I do is getting somehow stored in my physical self and can help me in the future.
2. Motion is helpful.
If you’re like me, you’d like nothing more than to plop into a chair immediately after the finish line. Don’t. Walk around for a while–it actually feels better than sitting and will help your recovery. In the days following the race, walking around will also help, even if it feels painful at first. I found my hamstrings would cramp if I sat for too long but gentle walking relieved the discomfort. It also amuses others to see you hobbling like Frankenstein.
3. Stairs are the enemy.
Stairs are immediately a problem after a marathon, and will remain so for several days. Going up the stairs requires your sore hamstrings to work, while going down requires your sore quads to stabilize you. I made a lot of use of handrails after the marathon. Someone told me to try taking the stairs backwards, and this does help; I found myself a little shy to do it in front of people, though.
Curbs count as really short flights of stairs.
4. Massage is your best friend . . . but not too soon, and not necessarily where you think.
I have a massage therapist I trust, and he urges people not to get a massage immediately after the marathon but to wait a few days. Apparently massaging the newly damaged leg tissue isn’t a great idea. However, a few days later, the massage really does help speed recovery.
What surprised me this time was that the part of my body most in need of help from the therapist wasn’t my legs . . . it was my back and neck! Apparently I’d gotten them all out of whack during the race, possibly due in part to angling my body into the headwind. I wouldn’t have paid attention to my upper body without expert help, but found it really did make me feel better.
5. Your legs? Oh, they’re tired.
After the initial muscle soreness fades away, the symptom I’ve found myself left with is fatigue. My legs feel normal when I’m just sitting around, but as soon as I try to workout, they feel exhausted. Even now, two weeks later, my legs feel fatigued when I go on a run. I have to remind myself not to feel frustrated; they carried me over 26 miles and have a right to need recovery.