Runners in action (© Getty Images)
Tomorrow will see the return of top-flight marathon racing, with the 40th Virgin London Marathon taking place in a unique and historic format in central London. And in just two weeks’ time, the first world championships since the hot and heady days of Doha last year will see the world’s best half marathon runners do battle in Gdynia on Poland’s coast.
Will you be joining them? Many thousands of recreational runners have signed up to run the virtual mass participation races that will accompany these elite races. London’s 45,000 places have sold out, but there’s still time to join the World Half Marathon Championships virtual mass race.
Running a half marathon or marathon takes a lot of preparation, but have you thought about what you’ll do afterwards? It’s easy to overlook this part – after all, the hard work will be over. When there’s so much to think about for the race itself, life beyond the finish line may seem like a low priority – something to worry about when the time comes.
But what you do after the race can have a big impact on how you recover, and therefore on how soon you can return to training. Racing on the road can take its toll – the hard tarmac is less forgiving than running on trails or the track. So it’s worth spending a little time planning ahead, and thinking through how you will optimise your recovery afterwards. Believe me, your stiff and sore legs will thank you for any love you can give them!
Here are my five top tips for recovering well after a road race:
1 Food and drink
The need to replenish lost calories and fluid is obvious… but the exertion of the race makes many runners not feel like drinking or eating anything. So items that are easy to eat, drink and digest quickly are essential. No roast beef and Yorkshire puds on the finish line!
A protein and carbohydrate recovery drink is ideal – either shop-bought or home-made (check out my recovery smoothie!). Simple snacks like bananas or energy balls are good alternatives. Have something in your bag at the finish which you can ingest within 20 minutes.
2 Travel home
Again this may seem obvious, but are you certain that your plan will work? No unexpected road closures, train cancellations or Covid-related restrictions in place? It’s worth checking this in advance, because you may not want or be able to walk a step further than is absolutely necessary after completing a marathon or similar.
3 Calming down
Perhaps the most important activity for recovery after a race is sleep. But racing fills you with adrenaline and a general buzz of excitement which takes time to wind down.
I often found myself lying wide awake in bed, unable to sleep after racing marathons. So calming activities such as a warm bath, a hot drink, or relaxing with a good book may be worth a try in the hour before you go to bed.
There are lots of small steps you can take to be kind to yourself after a race which will help with recovery: an ice bath or icing any sore places, wearing compression tights or socks, applying a soothing massage or recovery oil (eg, emu oil) to your legs, elevating your legs to reduce any swelling, and so on. What works for each of us varies so just try one or more of these steps and see what helps.
5 Gentle exercise
In the days after your race, some movement is better than none. This helps to prevent stiffness and flushes out waste products. But take it easy – some gentle walking, swimming or cycling are ideal, and when your legs feel ready, some easy running. You might be surprised but walking downstairs was impossible for me after some marathons – if I had to do it, I always turned around and walked down backwards.
Mara Yamauchi for World Athletics