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I'm Done and I'm In Pain. Now what?

By Scott Douglas
Special to The Washington Post -- October 23, 1998

Your next 26.2-miler probably won't be the first thing that springs to mind when you cross Sunday's finish line. But what you do soon after a marathon goes a long way toward determining how quickly you're ready, willing and able to resume regular running.

Here's a marathon recovery program designed by coach and two-time Olympic marathoner Pete Pfitzinger that will hasten your return to the roads.

The First Few Hours After

Keep moving and stay warm. If you plop yourself under the nearest tree after finishing, your muscles will become stiffer than they already are. Change into warm, comfortable clothes and walk around to keep blood flowing through your legs. Your feet will probably be swollen and may be blistered, so change into a roomy pair of shoes.

Drink. After any marathon, you'll be dehydrated. Drink plenty of fluids after the race, but avoid caffeine and alcohol until at least the evening after the race because they can contribute to dehydration. "Your thirst mechanism is imperfect," Pfitzinger said. "Keep drinking until your urine is clear in color."

Eat. Because your muscles are most receptive to being refueled within the first 90 minutes of a draining run, you'll recover quicker if you take in carbohydrates soon after you finish. Many marathoners' stomachs are upset after finishing; if yours is, try bagels, bananas and other bland, high-carbohydrate foods. "Continue to eat carbohydrate-rich foods for at least two days," says Pfitzinger, "because your muscles need time to reload."

The First Few Days After

When you overexert -- such as by, say, running 26.2 miles -- you cause microscopic damage to muscle fibers and their surrounding tissues. This process of damage, inflammation and pain, known as delayed-onset muscle soreness, is usually most severe 24 to 72 hours after a marathon. As a result, when it's time for breakfast Monday, you might find yourself adopting new ambulatory methods to make it to the kitchen.

What should you do for the first few days after? "Get a massage, go swimming, ride a bike, take a walk," says Pfitzinger, "but don't run until the soreness in your muscles subsides. Their resiliency is at an all-time low, so your risk of injury is high." Gentle exercise will help to speed recovery by boosting blood flow to your legs without subjecting them to running's pounding.

"There's another reason to skip running for a few days after the marathon," Pfitzinger said. "Eventually, your warped judgment will lead you to start training for another race. You'll be getting up at 5:30, running in the dark through snow, rain and hail. Your mind needs a break, too.

"Indulge yourself: Sleep in. Slack off. Eat kahlua mocha fudge brownie ice cream. Do something to give your mind a break from the discipline of training."

The First Few Weeks After

Most marathoners tapered before the race. Pfitzinger advises reversing this process afterward:

"After a few days of no running, jog a couple of miles a day on a soft surface to finish off the first week. Then run 50 percent of your usual weekly mileage the second week and 75 percent the third week."

All this running should be at a relaxed, conversational pace. "If you can afford it, a massage during the second week after can work wonders," said Pfitzinger.

Drink water, not caffeinated beverages or alcohol, until you're fully rehydrated.

Eat shortly after the race to replenish your muscles as soon as possible.

Don't run again for a few days to give microscopic muscle tears a chance to heal.

Cycle or swim to boost blood flow to your legs without pounding them.

Eat something decadent to celebrate your success.

Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

Friday, October 23, 1998; Page E06



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