Well I did it. I FINISHED MY VERY FIRST RACE! I am so happy to have participated in the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon and honestly can't believe that I completed a half marathon as my first race ever. It was such a wonderfully organized event, and the sense of accomplishment from having participated truly is indescribable.
As I was sitting there after the race, I was thinking about all the advice I had gotten from my running Physical Therapy patients regarding preparation for the race, including all the advice that I, myself, normally give my running clients. And then it dawned on me. No one really gives you advice for POST race recovery. And as I was sitting there, I realized that I wasn't necessarily engaging in activity that would help my recovery go smoothly, and neither were some of the other runners around me. So I decided to focus on what would be best to help me get back on my feet faster.
So here are the Top 3 Tips for post race recovery:
I kept to my normal post race routine with drinking a vegan protein shake. This would allow me to get some much needed nutrients into my system quickly, including protein to help my muscles recover. I also calculated that I had lost approximately 18 oz of water weight during the race via sweating, so I looked to replace that lost water.
Now, the mistake that I believe some people make with drinking water or any nutrient based drink after a race is that they look to chug down their drink of choice as fast as possible. This is a mistake, as hydration should be approached slowly and steadily post race, with sips taken slowly over the course of 30 minutes to 1 hour to maximize absorption into the system.
Change Your Clothes
Moisture wicking clothing is definitely a necessity when running. However, post race, I think that the first thing you should do is change your clothes. This is essentially for two reasons. First, that lightweight clothing is now filled with sweat, making it heavier on your body. And, in my opinion, getting rid of any excess stress on your body is a good thing. In addition, it was quite chilly on Sunday. And even though the running clothes effectively kept my dry and kept my body warm, when the race was over, that brisk wind quickly made my sweat-soaked clothes feel ice cold and left me shivering a little, even with the nice little foil blanket that was given to me in the recovery area.
If you're not careful, this could lead to a tightening of the muscles. It just made more sense to me to change my clothes. I, personally, found myself feeling better immediately once I did so.
Do NOT Stay Static
Coming from the race, I was certainly tired, as was everyone else around me. The temptation is just to sit, and sit for a long time. This can be detrimental to a swift recovery. The fact is that you've just participated in a highly intense, stressful, fitness activity, that being a marathon, and to go from one extreme to the other, that being staying completely static, can cause your muscles to tighten up quickly and to extremes as well.
What you have to do is to ease your body back into normal activity. Instead of sitting for long stretches after a race, get up every 5 to 10 minutes to walk in place or take a short stroll. Or get up to do some light stretching. Doing this every so often instead of just extreme stagnancy will do wonders for your bodily recovery.
In addition to moving around, you should also handle any nagging pains and soreness that occur as a result of the marathon. For myself, I was experiencing very painful knee pain and back pain. Back pain was nothing new, as that happened towards the end of my training as my distances increased. This was quickly alleviated by a combination of prone press ups, both knees to my chest while lying down on my back, and chair stretches from side to side by reaching up overhead to each side.
With the knee pain, a quick examination with help from my wife, Dr. Asha, helped me figure out that I was experiencing a good amount of patella femoral pain, a very common running injury. KT Tape worked great along with McConnell taping.
So there you have it. My top 3 tips for recovering from a race, as I've now personally experienced one myself. If you stick to them, I'm confident that these tips will help you get back on your feet in a jiffy! Here's to the next race!
Dr. James Pumarada is a licensed Physical Therapist (and now marathon runner!) specializing in Vestibular Physical Therapy and Running Physical Therapy with over 17+ years of experience. He is the co-owner of Complete Physical Rehabilitation, a Physical Therapy practice based in Elizabeth and Jersey City, NJ.