Post-marathon: recovery when you’ve traveled to get there

After I crossed the finish line at Boston, I was immediately funneled into a chute to pick up a water bottle, warmth retention cape and – the crowning glory – my finisher’s medal.

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Waiting under the “S” in the family meeting area

As soon as you stop running, whether you’re out for a regular old tempo run or you’re racing, you need to start thinking about recovery. Those first 15 – 30 minutes are crucial, but unfortunately it’s a little hard to jump into your recovery routine at a race, when you’re surrounded by chaos, runners, spectators and of course your own emotions running wild even if your legs have stopped! You can’t exactly bust out the foam roller and get that blender whirring up a protein-packed smoothie, and honestly? Nor should you. There’s definitely a lot to be said for just soaking up the environment around you at a race.

After running a marathon, the only things that feel good-ish for me is sitting or walking (albeit very slowly and gingerly). The worst thing? Just standing there. So after I chugged my water bottle, I walked over to the family meeting area and staked out a little spot on the curb underneath the “S” sign to wait for my family. I sat down in a butterfly stretch with the soles of my feet touching and my legs spread out and just stretched my groin.

After meeting up with my family, we took the T back to our hotel in South Boston. The hotel was charging $75 for late check-out (and their idea of “late” was 2:30 p.m.) so we had already packed up the car and checked out. Obviously, a shower would have been preferable but sometimes you just can’t swing one. If you’ve traveled to a race and don’t have access to a shower, still find somewhere to change into fresh clothes – it will feel wonderful. I ran (er, hobbled) into the hotel lobby washroom and, thanks to the power of deodorant, a disposable wash cloth and clean bra/underwear/track pants and my new Boston shirt, felt like a new person walking out.

I’ve traveled to both of my marathons – approximately 10 hours in the car for each one. Although running local races has its benefits too – there’s nothing like sleeping in your own bed the night before a race – I LOVE combining two of my favourite things: travel and running. You just need to plan ahead and remember to be flexible.

If you can plan your trip to include an extra day or two in the city after the race, that’s probably preferable, but it’s definitely not the end of the world if you have to jump into a car/plane right away. Here are my tips for marathon recovery when you have a long trip home ahead of you:

– Wear your compression socks to keep the circulation in your legs flowing and to continue muscle support

– If you can, prop your legs up in the car to keep them elevated

– Change into different shoes than the ones you ran in, or remove shoes altogether

– Take frequent stops (every hour) at rest stations and go for a slow walk around the parking lot

– If you can, only drive a few hours the day of the marathon and stop at a hotel overnight. We did this after Boston – drove a couple hours and then found a hotel and restaurant, then hit the road the next day for the longer part of the drive. Breaking it up into two days was definitely easier on my body.

– Get lots of fluid in! About an hour after I finished the race, I mixed a package of Vega recovery protein powder with a 1.5 L bottle of water. To be honest, it didn’t taste delicious (maybe it would have been better mixed with milk or in a smoothie with a banana, so the consistency would be thicker?), but it wasn’t gross. Maybe a 5 on a scale of 1 to 10 in tastiness. The most important thing though was that it had 25 grams of protein and you want to feed those muscles as soon as possible!

– Foam roll and stretch as soon as possible/when you have the space

I think the most important thing is to take as many walking breaks as possible. It was funny – whenever we stopped at a rest station, we’d spot a bunch of cars in the parking lot with the tell-tale 26.2 bumper stickers, and then we’d see at least three or four other runners in their bright orange Boston jackets or blue shirts slowly making their way around the lot, a curious expression of pain and pride on their faces. We’d grin, congratulate each other and ask how the race went, chatting about our experiences before slowly parting ways back to our cars. This continued as we kept driving out of Massachusetts and through New York. Just another reminder of how running and racing really creates a community!

Any other tips for marathon recovery when you have a long way to travel home? Do you prefer races close to home or farther away?

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