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Marathon Recovery

Better Take It Easy

Published October 27, 1997, in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

Congratulations! You have just crossed the finish line of your first marathon, or perhaps just run another marathon. You have traveled 26.2 miles, burned 3,000 calories, lost six pounds, taken 37,000 steps, and subjected your feet to the equivalent weight of 20 million pounds.

A finisher's medal hangs around your neck, and a space-age blanket wraps your body. You are sweaty, tired, happy, and in much pain. The last thing on your mind is a strategic plan for a safe and quick recovery. So, here's one!

Your first priority when you cross the finish line is to keep walking. Your heart has been beating fast for several hours. It is safest to slow it down gradually. Lactic acid chokes your muscles. It is best to clear them gently. Finally, thousands of people had surrounded you in your individual effort. It is time to be alone, to talk to your body and promise never to run another marathon.

Fluid replacement is next on your list. Even if you drank two cups at every water stop, chances are that your body is dehydrated. Drink more water, sports drink, fruit juices, and enjoy a well-deserved cup of coffee. The diuretic effect of coffee will jump start your kidneys, which had been idle for several hours. Keep drinking as long as you are awake.

Eat anything that your body craves. Carbohydrates replenish depleted energy stores. Fruits, vegetables and salty foods replace essential minerals. Protein enhances muscle repair. Watch out for fatty foods that may cause indigestion. Remember that your stomach had been deprived of blood for a long time, and could get upset by a rude awakening.

Feel free to indulge in a massage if one is offered. Expert fingers and hands can relieve sore muscles. The psychological benefit may be even greater. Take an anti-inflammatory if you want. It may promote healing. Treat blisters immediately to prevent infection.

After walking, drinking, eating, bragging and celebrating for a few hours, it is time to return to your hotel. For once, you may take the elevator up to your room. Wash off with a warm shower, but avoid a hot bath. Submerging the body in hot water may aggravate inflamed muscles and joints. Consider soaking your feet for a few minutes in a bucket of ice water.

For the rest of the day, whether spent at a hotel, on a plane or in a car, alternate resting with walking. Wear loose-fitting shoes, or none at all, and elevate your feet if possible. Walk a few minutes of every hour, and drink more. If you do not urinate within six hours of the end of the marathon, seek medical help to prevent kidney damage.

The first month following a marathon is critical to a healthy recovery. More runners get injured after a marathon, than before it, by doing too much, too soon. If it takes six days to recover from a 10-kilometer race, then plan on 26 days to recover from a marathon. Some runners, after missing their target finish time, run another marathon within a couple of weeks. Sadly, many suffer debilitating injuries.

Almost half of all marathon runners suffer upper respiratory infections within two weeks due to a weakened immune system. Heed the early symptoms with more rest and fluids, and consult your physician.

During the first week of recovery, it is best to avoid running altogether. Walk a few miles each day to loosen your body and promote healing. Resist the temptation to run. Increase your walking mileage to four or five miles by the end of the week.

Start the second week by running two or three miles. Alternate walking days with easy running days. Gradually increase your run to six or seven miles. Throughout the 26 days of recovery, avoid races, speed intervals, and hill workouts.

In the long run, it may be a good idea to retain the endurance that you built during your marathon training. Plan to jog an easy run of 10 to 15 miles, every two to three weeks. This way, when you return from marathon retirement, you will be prepared to resume training at a moment's notice.

As you read this column, Kamal Jabbour recovers at home in Pompey after his first marathon, which he ran in 3 hours, 52 minutes and 10 seconds. He will be resting with The Post-Standard in hand, surrounded by two dogs, a pot of coffee, a batch of brownies, and a gallon of rum raisin ice cream. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains The Syracuse Running Page and receives email at

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