This isn’t exactly a newsflash, but marathons aren’t just tough to run. It’s tough to recover from one too. A marathon pushes the body to the max and stresses every part of your system and structure.
If you finished the Austin Marathon or Half Marathon on Sunday, congratulations. Obviously, it was a very tough race with plenty of challenges. The draining humidity made for extremely difficult conditions which made the demanding up-and-down course even more taxing. But finishing is the entire point of the race. Any way you slice it, 26.2 or 13.1 miles of running is a long way to run. What won’t be easy are these first few days after the race.
Certainly, you’re still awfully tired after finishing Austin and your leg muscles are probably a little tight, sore and barking back at you. That’s the norm. It differs for everyone, but generally it takes up to two weeks for your muscles to get back to normal after running a marathon. Less for a half marathon. But still, your muscles have been damaged. Even if you felt OK on Sunday night, you might be surprised how stiff your muscles will feel today and tomorrow. Your soreness might even be worse tomorrow.
That’s delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). What happened during the course of running the half/marathon, is your muscles suffered some damage by the repetitive nature of the pounding they took. Since there’s so much up and downhill on the Austin courses, the muscles have to absorb even more pounding than in a flatter race.
Don’t worry, damaged muscles repair themselves quite quickly. The fitter and the bettered conditioned you are, the less damage and the faster the muscles will repair themselves. Your immune system was also compromised on Sunday and you are more susceptible to getting the flu or a cold in the next two weeks. So wash your hands and stay away from friends with colds or the flu.
Here’s what you can do to minimize the soreness and recover quickly:
O Keep walking. After finishing Austin on Sunday, you should have kept moving. For the next few days you might not feel like running, but at least go for a walk every day to flush the lactic acid from your muscles and improve circulation. An easy bike ride also helps to work out the soreness. If the weather continues to stink, try a stationary bike.
O Cold, not heat. If your muscles are still sore a day or two later, use ice, not heat. A dip in a Jacuzzi might feel good, but it will inhibit recovery. Cold is better. Cool your leg muscles with cold water or ice the sore areas. Pay particular attention to the calf muscles, quads and hamstrings. Icing these muscles, will reduce inflammation and speed post-race recovery.
O Drink and eat. The first thing you should have done after finishing the race was rehydrate and refuel your muscles with carbohydrates. Continue to feed what your muscles are craving—carbs. Whatever your tastes buds want, go with it. Hint: Eat plenty of fruit.
O Don’t run. If you don’t feel like running, don’t. Don’t force it. If you feel like running, go short and easy. Walking is fine; running inflicts more damage on the sore muscles. When you can walk without any soreness pain, is when you can consider running again.
O Continue icing. If your muscles are still sore on Thursday or Friday, continue icing to further reduce inflammation. Also consider taking some Aleve or Advil to reduce the soreness.
O Take a bath. Get some Epsom Salts and use about three cups in a bath. Soak for 15 minutes.
O Massage. You might not have wanted to get a massage immediately after the race (it’s better to keep moving), but a massage this week might be the perfect remedy for sore muscles. Seek out a reputable sports massage expert and get a solid hour of bodywork. But make sure it’s a light massage, rather than a deep one which might be too intense. There are plenty of good massage therapists in Austin who specialize in athletes. If you don’t want to get a massage or can’t get an appointment, use a foam roller to roll your sore leg muscles.
O Stretch. If you are able to stretch, a light routine of 20 minutes of leg stretches will help alleviate the soreness. Emphasize the hamstrings, calf muscles and quadriceps.
O Avoid long car rides or plane flights. There’s nothing worse than trying to cram your sore, tight legs into a car or airplane seat for a lengthy period. If you possibly can, put off any long trips for an extra day or two.
O Relax. Give yourself a break. If you feel like getting an extra hour of sleep, hanging out on the couch and not doing much of anything for a couple of days, go for it. You’ve earned it.