By now your race strategy has been tried, tested and perfected. But have you thought about what happens after you cross the finish line? It is vital to do everything you can to help your body recover. And, no matter how tempting, hobbling with a beer in hand to the nearest patch of grass is not a recovery plan.
The Comrades exerts a huge toll on your muscles, tendons, hormones and cells. It damages your legs and severely taxes your immune system. Here’s what you can do straight after the race to recover faster:
• No matter how tired you are, you need to keep moving. This is not the time to sit down or take a nap. Walk through the finish area, get some dry clothes on and keep walking for a few minutes.
• Concentrate on rehydrating and rebalancing electrolytes and nutrients.
Eat a high quality balanced meal rich in complex carbohydrates and high quality, lean proteins as soon as you can tolerate it.
• Eat eggs to replenish your body’s supply of choline to avoid those post-marathon blues.
• Reach for the milk: Milk is one of the best foods for recovery after an event, because it provides a good balance of protein and carbohydrates.
• Treat any blisters that have cropped up.
• A gentle massage might make you feel better.
• Icing down sore and injured muscles can help with localized tissue recovery.
• Stretching might make your muscles feel better and improve circulation.
• Putting on compression garments aids muscle recovery.
• Sitting for 30 minutes in an Epsom Salt Bath can soothe sore muscles.
And, once the dust has settled and the medal has been safely stored away for another year, don’t rush to get back on the road. If you don’t recover properly, you’ll increase your injury risk and limit your long-term potential.
• In the days after a marathon, your priority is re-fuelling and hydration.
• You will experience a degree of muscle soreness for up to 10 days. The cause of this is microscopic tears in the muscle fibres. Tendons, ligaments and the sheath around muscles are also damaged and will need time to rebuild. The microscopic damage and breakdown of tissue is also the mechanism by which your body gets stronger, since the muscle repairs itself to be stronger than before. If you don’t allow the body time to complete this cycle, the muscle and connective tissue will instead get weaker, leading to continuous injuries. The damaged cells can also die completely and form scar tissue, which is not as strong or elastic as muscle and connective tissue, making the muscle weak and prone to injury.
• Mental fatigue, or mild depression might be experienced a day or two after the race, probably caused by the depletion of neurotransmitters in your brain during such a long event.
• You may also develop symptoms of infection or inflammation in the first two weeks, often in the form of sore throats, sinus, cough and fever.
Don’t get back on the road too soon: The post Comrades recovery is a slow and deliberate process and cannot be hurried.
To come out the other side stronger, keep off the road for about two weeks with no running at all. It is better to do no physical training even in the gym or on the bike. Don’t think as soon as the post race stiffness has worn off you have recovered and can start training again. When your legs tell you they are back to normal with no soreness, pain or tiredness, ignore them. They are not telling the truth. Rest for another week before you go out. When the spring is back in your legs, build yourself up slowly. Make certain that you have fully recovered before running hard again.
Remember you were also drained during those 9 weeks heavy training and by the pressure of having to meet targets each week and at each race. Both your body and soul need to recover: Just as training was a combination mental and physical, so is the recovery.
To come to terms with a disappointing Comrades results – whether it be a missed time goal or the dreaded did not finish – ask yourself what you could have done differently but don’t beat yourself up about it. The reality may be an injury, illness, a poor pacing strategy or just not quite being ready for the task – whether it is physical or mental, acknowledge these things happen but don’t dwell on it.
Take stock and use the experience as motivation and inspiration to make yourself a better runner. Come back next year and get your Comrades medal.
And last, but not least, a huge WELL DONE to all the novices who will collect their first medal and to all those who will earn yet another medal! I hope you finish with enough breath to tell yourself that was good fun and that you will be back again next year, knowing that each year is never just the same old race but rather a new set of challenges and exciting experiences.