How I recover from a marathon

Posted October 4

I used to joke with my husband that it was easier for me to recover from running a marathon than it was from throwing my daughter a birthday party. I’m 10 years older now, but I think that’s still true.

One of my proudest accomplishments as a runner is winning the Utah Grand Slam three years straight. The UGS is an event put on by the Wasatch Running Center. Participants run four Utah marathons in one given year. The runners with the fastest cumulative times win.

I am by no means the fastest female marathoner in Utah. I’m not slow, but no one’s expecting me to make the Olympic Trials anytime soon, either. The secret to my success those three years wasn’t speed. It was recovery.

Some of the marathons in the Grand Slam were only two weeks apart. Because I was essentially racing each one, full and speedy recoveries were crucial. I no longer run that many marathons each year, but I still use these recovery techniques to get me back to life after a tough race or workout. I’m not a physical therapist. I’m a runner with a lot of stuff to do. Remember that each runner is unique and what works for me may not work for you.

  1. Eat and drink. Water and a little Powerade is about all my stomach can take in the minutes following a race. If I can keep down chocolate milk, I do. I usually can’t handle anything immediately after a marathon. But as soon as things settle down I chow down. A mix of protein and carbs works best for me. My go-to meal is a good cheeseburger. By good, I don’t mean fast food. I mean good grass-fed beef or even turkey. A whole grain bun. Lots of veggies piled on. And since I ran a marathon I always have a side of fries or onion rings. Or both. Just keeping it real. Food is medicine. It has the power to heal.

2. Epsom salt baths. Ice baths were all the rage and I was one of the ragers. But I hated them. My legs always felt invigorated after, but the dread of shivering for hours outweighed the benefits. Introducing epsom salt baths. They’re warm. They’re a little luxurious. And I swear my legs recover faster. Even if they don’t, it’s nice to have a little downtime to read and soak.

3. Sleep. Most people don’t sleep well the night before a race. I don’t sleep well the night after a race. Soreness, adrenaline, non-stop brain activity all keep me awake. So I try to take a short nap the day after and get to bed early the next night, and if possible, every night the week following a race. Sleep is highly underrated. I’m infamous among my friends for being in my pajamas by 6 p.m. but I’m unapologetic. When I sleep well, I’m a better person. I feel better. I recover faster. I have a nighttime routine to help me wind down and fall asleep better.

4. Foam rolling. Every night, whether I ran or not, I roll out my legs and back on a foam roller. Don’t be fooled by the name. My foam roller isn’t actually made of foam. Those at my gym are, and they are hardly effective for me. Mine has a hollow core, solid plastic ring inside and a lumpy, bumpy outer shell to really dig into those muscles. If you’re tight, rolling hurts like crazy. As I loosen up, the rolling session is something I almost look forward to.

5. Massage. Not the nice, calm, vacation resort massage. These are sports massages. I get one every month. Yes, it’s an extra expense, but I spend more money at doctor’s appointments when I’m injured than I do getting a monthly massage. Since I’ve been going, I’ve not seen a single doctor for a running-related injury.

6. Active recovery. After a long run or the day after a marathon, I always hit a spin class. I’m not there to burn more calories. I’m there to get the blood flowing to my muscles minus the impact. Blood flow encourages recovery and repair. While I love the simplicity of my bike, swimming, elliptical workouts, yoga could all do the same. Even a slow, easy run/walk can work wonders. Don’t overdue it. Just get moving.

The older I get, the more important recovery is. And let’s face it, the older I get, the harder it is to recover. But when I employ all these strategies I find that I’m back on the road sooner rather than later. Whether you’re running the Grand Slam or running through life, recover right and get yourself back in the game stronger than before.

Kim Cowart is a wife, mother, 24-Hour Fitness instructor and marathoner.


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