A marathon-a-week runner reveals his short-term recovery secrets
June 1, 2008
So what to do? Even the most ardent multiple marathon runners know that the body has just been put through the metaphoric ringer and rest is needed. But that knowledge does not satiate the desire to lace up the shoes and hit the roads/trails/treadmill as soon as possible.
In 2006, I ran a full marathon every weekend. As such, I underwent a self-imposed crash course in recovery techniques using myself as the guinea pig. While most runners will not need to know how to get from one 26.2-miler to the next in a single week, that does not lessen their desire to recover and feel like a runner again. Therefore, I have taken what I learned to offer up four recovery techniques to help get you out running again.
Go For a (Short) RunWhat and why: We have all heard how you should keep moving and not sit down immediately after finishing a marathon. I feel this theory extends to the next few days as well. Providing gentle blood flow to sore areas not only helps bring nutrients that heal into the muscles, but also assists in moving out the waste products and damaged tissue, and that serves to reduce post-race soreness. While work obligations and the normal life I led during the weekdays in 2006 took its toll on me, I know I never would have made it through the year if I had not been out running, even if just for 15 to 20 minutes at a snail's pace, the day after each and every marathon.
More insight: Jim Hage, a 2:15 marathoner and one of only two men to win back-to-back Marine Corps Marathons, attests to a primary recovery method called "Hair o' the Dog." While he agrees rest is vitally important, he believes getting back out there is important, too. "It's a major psychological boost to keep moving rather than atrophy mentally and physically. Sort of like having a cold; I generally feel worse if I give in and feel sorry for myself."
One of Marathonguide.com's top marathoners of 2006, Mike Aldrink of Columbus, Ohio, concurs. Moreover, the psychological boost he receives from not remaining sedentary is quite high, even if he only goes for a short, slow jog.
Plus: Remember, Dick Beardsley went for a nice easy run the day after his infamous Duel in the Sun with Alberto Salazar at the scorching 1982 Boston Marathon.
Take An Ice BathWhat and why: The basic theory of an ice bath is that the freezing water will constrict the blood vessels in your legs, reducing swelling. Once you leave the icy coffin and warm your legs, the ensuing blood flow will deliver fresh oxygen to the muscle cells, helping the cells repair the damage done from the exertion during the race. I personally do not subscribe to the idea but it definitely works for some.
Plus: Terrell Hale, a sports massage therapist in Rockville, Md., who worked on athletes in the 2004 Athens Olympics, also prescribes a dip into an ice bath "as soon as possible after a marathon" as one of the quickest roads to recovery.
Eat RightWhat and why: Whether you are a multiple-finisher or a first-time survivor, the urge to scarf down lots of yummy but horrible food is almost too much to bear. And, to some extent, you have earned the right to do so. But remember, the body is in desperate need of repair after the rigors of a marathon and its immune system is at its weakest. So eating a gooey cheeseburger and French fries from a fast-food restaurant or munching down a full bag of Doritos isn't the best thing you can do for yourself. You will recover best by giving your souped-up engine the proper fuel it needs.
More insight: Don't let up on your carb intake just because you're done with the marathon. Your body needs to refuel and rebuild cells in the hours and days after the race, so eat plenty of whole grains and fruits and vegetables. But also be sure to take in adequate amounts of protein -- from meat, fish, dairy products, beans, soy or legumes -- to help repair broken down muscle fibers. Also, focus on foods and juices high in potassium, such as bananas, orange juice, milk, raisins, baked potatoes or squash, and try to replace your electrolyte losses with a few sodium-rich foods.
Plus: Ultrarunner Dean Karnazes says that two things which really help him are to supplement his already healthy diet with Arnica montana (oral tablets; not rub) and to rehydrate using a recovery drink with a high carb/protein ratio such as Accelerade.
Get a MassageWhat and why: Getting a quick rub-down immediately after finishing a marathon feels great, but getting a sports massage 24 to 48 hours after your run will help flush your body of the excessive amounts of lactic acid and muscle waste that your body continues to produce in the hours and days after your marathon. It's hard to know for sure whether I would have done all 52 marathons at the pace I did in 2006 without them, but I know they helped immensely. I have come to realize massages are not just a "treat" but are a necessity to good health and fast recovery.
More insight: Make sure the masseuse knows not to rub too deeply. The muscles in your legs are already tender as it is and a deep-tissue massage may do more harm than good. Hale suggests regular massage throughout a training cycle. Not only does massage facilitate greater recovery and help prevent injury, but the training schedule of each individual runner will inform how and when the massage is done.
Plus: The combination of consistent massages and day-after jogs got me through the year. The massages
Will these things work for you? Hopefully, but remember that no two runners are the same, so the best way to find out what works for you is to experiment. That's what I did, and for me, the proof was in the end results. When all was said and done, I averaged 3:29 per marathon for the first half of the year and sped up to a 3:13 for the second half -- all while my PR was 3:07.
I guess if running is the addiction, I don't want the cure. I just want to make sure I recover properly so I can keep at it.