London Marathon 2018: how to recover from running a marathon, according to a doctor

Laura Hampson
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More than 39,000 people are expected to cross the finish line in tomorrow’s London Marathon.

The 26.2 mile route is challenging even for experienced runners, and participants train for months to prepare for the big day.

Yet, running a marathon is just as much preparation as it is recovery.

Bupa UK’s Clinical Director for MSK, Damian McClelland told the Standard: “Like most extreme sports, when you run a marathon you are essentially working your muscle fibres very hard and need to give them time to repair.

“It’s important to make sure you give them enough time to recover, otherwise you run the risk of causing serious damage. It’s also a good idea to recover properly so that you’re not in pain for longer than you need to be.”

Below, Dr McClelland has revealed some of the key things you need to do to recover after you’ve finished running a marathon.

What to do straight after you finish the marathon

“Replenish your salt levels, rehydrate, have some protein and keep warm,” Dr McClelland explained.

“You have used a lot of energy during the race and ‎keeping warm after the race requires more energy again especially when damp from sweating allowing thermal loss. It’s important to restore your salt levels as you would have lost a lot during the run.

“An isotonic sports drink with your protein can help replace the salts you’ve lost and start your muscle recovery. It’s also a good idea to replace your glycogen stores with a carb-heavy meal once you’re over the excitement of the race. Try bananas; smoothies; flavoured milks; and pasta. Over the next couple of days, make sure you eat nutritious foods.”

How long should I wait before running again?

Dr McClelland said: “After a marathon, wait some time before running again. The exact amount of time will depend upon your fitness levels and any injuries you may have sustained.

“Gentle walking, swimming or cycling can help with any stiffness in the legs but keep it slow and take it easy. After about a week see how your body feels. If you’re still sore or stiff take it easy until you feel better. When you do start feeling ok you can start jogging again and build up pace and distance but listen to your body.

“Some athletes have a rule of taking off a day for every mile run. However, it’s important to get moving as soon as you are able to, in order to get your muscles working again. It may be that you only start with a brisk walk but early movement is the key to returning to your exercise.

“When you complete your next marathon will depend upon many factors such as your general level of fitness and injuries sustained. Certainly you should wait until you have given your body enough time to recover from the first though!”

Is it okay to drink alcohol after running a marathon?

The first thing you need to drink after running a marathon is water - and lots of it.

Dr McClelland advised: “Without a doubt, alcohol will dehydrate you further after a race and may slow your recovery, but we know that many people will pop to the pub to celebrate their achievements. If you do choose to drink alcohol after the race, it’s a good idea to make sure that you’ve taken care of your recovery fluids and food before doing so and avoid strong spirits.”

What is the best way to ease joint and muscle pain after the race?

“Your muscles and joints are likely to feel inflamed after a run, so go for a cold bath with ice if possible, “ Dr McClelland said.

“You only need to be in it for a couple of minutes to reduce the inflammation. Some people recommend alternating cold and warm water in the shower, which causes the blood vessels initially to constrict with the cold water, and then dilate with the hot/warm water; this increases the amount of oxygen carrying blood cells to your muscles.

“Continue the hot and cold baths for a few days after the marathon. If you can’t take a hot and cold bath, try using heat and cold packs but don’t apply them directly to the skin to avoid skin damage – wrap them in a towel first.

“Gentle movements can help to ease some of the muscle pain. Rest, rehydration and, carbohydrate and protein replacement will also help the body to recover. If you feel the pain worsening, or it feels unusual, speak to your Physiotherapist or MSK physician.”

Why am I feeling a bit flat after finishing the marathon?

After the high of running a marathon wears off, this can leave you feeling a little deflated - but the best thing to do is plan your next goal.

Dr McClelland explained: “Post-marathon depression is not clinically proven, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. After changing your lifestyle and meeting your target, life can feel a bit flat. Plan your next goal to keep you motivated!”

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