There’s no doubt that running a marathon is challenging. It’s so difficult that even the post-race recovery is complex!
Marathon recovery is substantial for several reasons. After a marathon:
- Inflammation and cell damage are common and persist for up to two weeks.
- The immune system is suppressed, making it far easier to get sick.
- Even the heart can be slightly damaged (it’s a muscle, after all).
- Muscle memory is compromised, making fast running difficult and riskier for overuse injuries like IT Band Syndrome.
No matter what marathon you run, there’s significant trauma and muscular damage to recover from after the race.
But the Boston Marathon is a unique event that makes recovery more difficult. The very nature of the course itself requires a more structured approach.
It’s hillier, meaning you’re going to spend more time running downhill. The course itself is also a net downhill course, finishing at a lower elevation than it started.
All that downhill running requires a lot of eccentric muscle contractions where your muscles are both under load and lengthening at the same time.
The result? Muscular micro-trauma, soreness and a really hard time putting on your pants the day after Marathon Monday.
To help you get those pants on, here are some of the most effective ways to recover from the Boston Marathon.
Strategy #1: Re-Fuel ASAP
The body is in a carb-depleted state at the end of 26.2 miles, no matter how well you fueled during the race with gels, blocks, or powders.
The first goal is to replenish your carbohydrate and fluid stores. Don’t worry about over-eating—now is not the time for that!). Eat the bagel, banana, or energy bar that’s available at the finish line and cherish that sports drink.
After that post-race snack, aim to eat a big meal within 1 to 2 hours, if your stomach can handle it. While a healthy meal is ideal, you can take some liberties with your diet. If not after a marathon, then when?
Finally, continue to eat well and drink a lot of fluids for the rest of the day. Your urine should be pale yellow or clear and you shouldn’t let yourself get hungry.
RELATED: Eat And Drink Away Sore Muscles
Strategy #2: Manage the Damage
There’s no avoiding the muscle damage that a hilly marathon like Boston inflicts on your legs, so it’s best to do everything possible to recover quickly.
And while some soreness is encouraged during training, a stricter recovery protocol after a marathon is a smart idea. Here are a few steps to take:
- Don’t sit or lay down after the race; keep walking for at least 10-15 minutes.
- If possible, take an ice bath for 10-15 minutes before your shower.
- Wear graduated compression sleeves to promote extra blood flow for the rest of the day.
- Avoid getting a massage or stretching during the 24-36 hours after Boston. Muscles are not “tight”—they’re damaged.
- Take a 90-minute nap if possible.
- If you’re really sore, consider ibuprofen.
This simple checklist ensures you’re promoting healing blood flow, not exacerbating any additional damage and putting yourself in the best possible position to recover as quickly as possible.
Strategy #3: Sleep Hard
You trained hard. You raced hard. Now it’s time to sleep hard.
There’s no doubt that sleep is the top recovery tool at your disposal. This is when your body does its most restorative work, not only to your muscles, but also your endocrine (hormonal) and nervous systems.
The body recovers most during the delta wave and REM sleep cycles. This is why I recommend a 90-minute nap, which allows for a full sleep cycle.
For a few nights after the Boston Marathon, try to get an extra 30-60 minutes of sleep every night. This extra time will help the body rebuild and recover from the difficulties of racing 26.2 miles.
It’s also worth noting that alcohol inhibits restful sleep. If you’re going to celebrate with a few adult beverages—no judgment here!—it’s best to choose a rich beer or glass of red wine because of their nutrient content.
And of course, limit yourself to 1-2 drinks if possible. With more alcohol, you risk further dehydrating yourself and preventing your body from entering the most restorative phases of sleep.
Racing a marathon is hard. There’s no reason to make it more difficult by hampering recovery by under-fueling, not sleeping enough or making the trauma of 26.2 miles worse.
Take recovery seriously and your post-marathon running will thank you. You might also be back at Boston next year, ready to duel with the Newton Hills once more.