As a sports medicine physician, I often see patients in my office the days following the marathon with aches, pains, and fatigue. As a runner who has run more than 30 marathons, I have been one of the sickly "post-marathon hobblers" in the days after the race. Over time, I've learned some tricks to ease the post-race recovery period.
Here are my suggestions for staying healthy after the race:
1. Take it Easy. Remember that you've done something huge! A marathon is an enormous physical and emotional drain on your body. Plenty of rest, hydration, and healthy foods are in order for the few days following the race.
2. Avoid Germs. This isn't always easy, but your body's natural defenses, called interleukins, direct white blood cells to fight infection. For the 48 to 72 hours after the race, interleukin levels drop to almost zero. That means that any cold or flu encountered along the way is much more likely to cause illness compared to normal. Prevent becoming a sick post-marathon runner with regular hand washing and care to avoid the guy coughing on the plane or subway. I'd also recommend some high-dose vitamin C for the few days after the race to bolster immunity. This is most important for the second and third days after the race.
3. Move Your Muscles. You might be sore and tired, but gentle muscle movement helps keep your joints moving and will also lessen the effects of DOMS, delayed onset muscle soreness. If you've run a marathon, you'll be feeling the effects of DOMS for several days after the race. Great ways to alleviate symptoms include riding a bike at the gym on an easy gear, going for a swim, or doing some gentle yoga. All of these activities aid recovery and will lessen the aches and pains of post-marathon life.
If you follow my post-race tips, you'll not only be smiling the week after the marathon, you'll be walking down the steps better as well. Best of luck, fellow runners—I'll see you out there!
Dr. Jordan Metzl is a sports medicine physician at Hospital for Special Surgery. A 33-time marathon runner, Dr. Metzl’s focus is to safely return athletes to the playing field of their choice and to keep them there.