Here's how to recover physically and emotionally from running a marathon
I ran my first marathon yesterday. I don’t know about you, but I woke up feeling like I was trampled by horse and carriage. I have a headache, stomachache… and wholebody ache. Between my painfully pulsing body and racing mind, I couldn’t achieve restful sleep despite feeling exhausted.
The obvious is… well, obvious. You’re going to be sore after a marathon. But why the headache, stomachache, anxiety, depression, hunger, lack of hunger, constipation, and diarrhea? And what’s this about being extra susceptible to sickness in the following weeks after a race?
Let’s start with the physical.
The headaches are potentially due to residual dehydration, low blood sugar levels, hormonal imbalances due to the stress of the race (I’ll explain below) and/or tension from tightness in the neck and shoulders.
The stomachaches may be due to intestinal dehydration, your digestive bacteria being thrown off by loads of Gu packets (I ate 6 yesterday, barf!) and other sugary energy supplements, and/or continued recovery from the physical stress.
AND THE SICKNESS PART, more than half of your immune system lives in the gut. Your gut environment has taken a beating between dehydration, loads of sugar, hunger, and lack of blood supply (blood is shunted to the working muscles in the legs during the race). As you recover, your immune system’s attention and energy is diverted to muscle recovery—leaving little attention to fight off sickness.
WHAT TO DO for your bod:
1. Intestinal health is key—as it’s essential for proper hydration, digestion (and the refueling of key depleted nutrients!), and your immune system. Start each day with at least 8oz. of warm lemon water to hydrate your stomach/intestines and stimulate proper digestion. Plus, the dose of vitamin C from the lemon is an added immunity-boosting bonus!
2. Take a high quality probiotic. A healthy gut equals a healthy bod.
3. Get back to eating healthy foods. I loved being able to eat full boxes of Mac and Cheese throughout the training, but my intestines weren’t loving the processed junk. Crap food is stressful for your body to digest. Instead, choose simple, clean meals such as whole grains (like rice, quiona, millet), veggies and proteins.
4. Continue to hydrate between meals with filtered water and natural options like coconut water. Avoid drinking too much water during meals, as it will impede digestion and potentially worsen stomach discomfort.
5. Take a warm bath, warm Epsom bath, and/or steam. Your muscles are tense and traumatized. Millions of tiny muscle fibers were torn during the race and your body is actively repairing. You’ve got to keep moving to get blood pumping to facilitate that repair! And heat will aid in easing the stiffness through improved better blood flow. **Hot environments are dehydrating, keep drinking that water.
6. Massage yourself or pay someone to do it for you. Removal of metabolic waste (lactic acid in your muscles) and blood flow is imperative for recovery. By massaging the sore areas you're reducing the production of cytokines, which are natural compounds that are responsible for inflammation.
7. CHILL. Your body doesn’t differentiate and discriminate when it comes to stress. You’ve just gone through a battle—be sure to be gentle on yourself in the coming days. Remove outside stressors if possible. Be sure to get extra sleep in the coming days—especially since in your recovery you may not achieve the deep sleep you’re seeking due to hormonal imbalances during rehabilitation.
OK, now your emotions.
You’ve had a massive goal to work towards (some have prepared for years!) and now it’s over. Maybe your expectations were so high that they couldn’t be met and now you’re consumed with disappointment. Maybe every expectation was met and you’re still riding high off of the victory! Whatever the case, many runners experience post-race depression. Sure, the psychological part makes sense—the big moment has passed. It’s like coming back from vacation—so much planning went into the process, and then it’s suddenly over.
But, there’s much more behind the slump then just FOBNA (fear of being normal again). Your hormones are funky!
Your endocrine system is a collection of glands that produce chemical messengers, called hormones. Hormones dictate the how and when of our bodily functions, ranging from digestion, to stress, to mood, to the immune system. One massive job of our hormones is to maintain homeostasis in the body—so, bringing you back to ‘normal’ (happy, calm, focused) during and after disruption.
You’ve just experienced a massive disruption. Without getting too technical, you physically and mentally pushed yourself to a state of extreme discomfort… for a period of HOURS. Imagine your little hormones working hard to help you get back to homeostasis when you’re stressed, nervous, damaged, exhausted, thirsty, hot and on an adrenaline high. It’s gonna take a while!
WHAT TO DO for your emotions:
1. See the physical tips. Your mind and body are intricately connected. Feeling your best physically substantially improves your chances of feeling good mentally and emotionally. When your hormones are wonky, your emotional state is going to feel wonky too. Hormones play a large role in whether you feel stressed and fatigued or energetic and happy.
2. Breathe deeply. You’re made up of 37 trillion+ cells and each one needs oxygen to thrive. Belly breathing, or intentionally breathing deeply through the diaphragm, can greatly affect one’s mood. The body mimics your breath—if you were to breath quickly and shallowly as if you were having a panic attack, your body would eventually think you were really having a panic attack. Inversely, if you’re feeling anxious or depressed, you can use slow, deep breaths to tell your body you’re cool and calm… and eventually you’ll really get there. Try it! Find a quiet, comfortable spot. Sit in a position that allows your spine to be straight. Place a hand under your rib cage-- this is your diaphragm-- it should be moving up and down when you breathe, not your chest. Practice taking deep breaths in and out, aiming to use the same counts in as out. (Example, inhale for 8 counts-- exhale for 8 counts). Try to sustain this for 3-5 minutes.
3. Limit caffeine, alcohol and processed sugars, they mimic anxiety in the body and will exacerbate any negative emotions you’re experiencing.
4. CHILL AND SLEEP. I know, I said this before. But removing outside, unnecessary stressors (traumatizing movies, gossip, dramatic news stories, toxic people) will do wonders for your mood and wellbeing. If possible, intentionally surround yourself with positive, relaxing people and things. Also, lack of sleep is one of the top hormonal disruptors, do your best to make it a priority.
5. Find gratitude. I swear, it’s a miracle drug. When in doubt, thank it out.
Hey you, congrats. You’ve achieved an amazing feat and you should be immensely proud. Long after the muscle pain and rollercoaster emotions have passed, you’ll forever get to say you are a marathoner. Best of luck in your recovery!
Want to know more about balancing hormones and detoxing upsetting toxins? Download my free ebook on the front page of my site, here.