The excerpt below is from Running Doc’s Guide to Healthy Running: How to Fix Injuries, Stay Active, and Run Pain-Free. This new book is now available in bookstores, running shops, and online. Please learn more and preview the contents at velopress.com/runningdoc.
Written by: Dr. Lewis G. Maharam, MD
The best way to have a good day at Boston is to stick to your training plan. Don’t do anything new! Instead, approach the marathon in the same way that you handled each training run. Of course, you may be nervous and excited, and that adrenaline may carry you to the finish line in record time. But don’t let your emotions get the best of you, and don’t let any doubts about your readiness lead you into rash, last-minute decisions. If you’ve trained and prepared well, then you’ve done everything right to get ready for this special day. Enjoy yourself, and keep the following guidelines in mind.
Race as you trained. On race day morning, eat and drink as you did during your training.
Take a baby aspirin. As long as your doctor approves, take one baby aspirin (81 mg) on race morning to help avoid cardiac problems.
Limit caffeine. Keep your caffeine intake below 200 mg; that’s about 2 cups of coffee.
Hit the port-o-potty. When you get to the race venue, immediately get in line for the port-o-potty! This may sound funny, but clearing your waste prior to the start makes good sense. The excitement and anticipation of the event will make you want to clear that waste at some point; doing it before you start may help you avoid looking for a place along the route.
Do “the salt.” Lick one fast-food packet of salt right before you start and carry a second packet for consumption halfway through.
Obey your body’s signs of thirst. At fluid stations along the race route, drink no more than 1 cup (8 ounces) of fluid every 20 minutes while walking/running. Drink based on your thirst level. Although it’s okay to drink plain water in the early miles, you should consume sports beverages after 30 minutes of continuous exertion. During your training, you found out what works best for you. Stick to that plan unless race conditions are vastly different from your training mileage. Gauge the distance between fluid stations, and decide beforehand whether or not you should bring and carry your own sports drink. Every race is different. Be prepared.
Water is usually offered at the first tables at a fluid station, with sports beverages usually served near the end of the station. If you choose to drink while moving through the stations, squeeze the top of the cup into a “V” shape to create a smooth delivery of fluid directly into your mouth. If you decide instead to stop and drink, please get out of the way of other participants. Drink only what quenches your thirst; do not over-drink!
Use gels only if you are used to them. If you’ve used gels during your training, continue to use them as part of your normal routine. Do not consume more than usual on race day. Again, do not try anything new!
Finish “the salt.” Halfway through the event, lick the second fast-food packet of salt.
Don’t be afraid to seek aid. If you feel sick or are having pain that causes you to change your running/walking style, stop at a medical aid station. At these stations, volunteer physicians and medical personnel are there to help you. Take advantage of these free services to ensure a healthy and successful finish.
After You Finish
After the race, make sure to do the following:
Walk to cool down. After crossing the finish line, walk, walk, and walk some more. It is important that your blood flow goes back from your legs to the rest of your body. The blood that has been naturally directed to your legs during the event now needs to get back to your stomach before you eat and drink.
Drink after you have cooled down. After walking for about 10–15 minutes, get something to drink (water, sports drink). Although it may be tempting, hold off on consuming alcoholic beverages until later in the evening if you feel so inclined (if you are over the age of 21).
Eat after drinking. After you can keep fluid down normally, grab something to eat. Try bananas, tomato juice, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, orange juice, chocolate milk, or the scientific recovery drink you practiced with during training.
Take care of any medical concerns. If you have any medical concerns or questions, go to a medical aid station and inquire before leaving the venue. There are volunteer physicians and medical personnel available to help you. Take advantage of this free service.
Steer clear of the massage table for at least two hours. Do not have a post-event massage within the first two hours of finishing the race. Research has shown that the lactic acid built up in muscles needs that time to “buffer” back to a neutral pH so as not to cause further damage and post-event soreness. Having a light massage between two and eight hours after event completion has proven to be beneficial in preventing post-event soreness, so book an appointment with a local therapist during that window of time. Do not have deep tissue work for at least three to five days after an endurance event, for the same reasons.
No new stretches. Your post-race muscles are fragile. If you put them through a stretch they’re not used to, you can easily injure them.
Avoid a hot shower right after the race. At home (or at the hotel) avoid taking a hot shower. A hot shower will only increase inflammation of stressed muscles and joints. Most sports physicians recommend a cool shower or iced bath (add ice cubes to your bath) or an ice massage to cool down muscles and reduce inflammation.
Eat a balanced meal. After you return home (or to the hotel), have a nice lunch. This should be a well-balanced meal in which the majority of the total calories are carbohydrates. However, don’t forget to consume at least 20 percent of the total calories from protein sources in order to give you the amino acids that you need to repair your muscles.
Restart NSAIDs after six hours. Six hours after you have finished, and once you are able to drink without nausea or vomiting, have urinated once, and feel physically and mentally back to normal, you can use your favorite headache, anti-inflammatory, or pain reliever that your doctor has recommended.
Congratulations! And now it’s time to think about your next event.