It’s already been more than a week since the Charlotte Marathon. But if you ran the full 26.2, and you still haven’t fully recovered from your endeavor, don’t worry. You’re not alone!

With the possible exception of a small handful of extreme ultramarathoners, just about everybody who runs that distance in a day will need plenty of time for both physical and mental recovery—even people who are in great condition.

marathon recovery

The good news is that, although recovery takes time, most are able to manage it fine on their own. That said, if you don’t listen to your body, you could be looking at chronic pain and soreness that seems to last forever.

Then, we’ll need to get involved—fortunately, we actually have a lot of high-tech treatment options to help you. More on that in a bit.

What A Marathon Does to Your Body

In the long term, of course, conditioning yourself to successfully run a marathon can be a very positive thing for your health. You’ll be stronger, fitter, faster, and reduce your risk of systemic diseases.

In the short term, though?

We’ve heard running a marathon compared to being in a car wreck for your body, and honestly it’s not that far off.

  • Inflammation, tearing, and other damage to muscle fibers significantly reduces your short-term muscle power and durability—not to mention leads to cramping and fatigue. Running 26.2 miles will also create some cellular damage that needs time to heal, and can even stress internal organs (such as kidneys).
  • The exertion of a marathon temporarily compromises and suppresses your immune system, making you more likely to contract infectious diseases (colds, flu, etc.).
  • Blisters, bleeding under the toenails, cramping, and other injuries and problems can develop on your feet—especially if you aren’t wearing a good pair of running shoes appropriate for your gait style.

In short?

Your body really goes through wringer when you run long distances. And while, ideally, you’ll come out ahead in the end, taking enough time to recover and heal is extremely important.

Otherwise, instead of realizing those gains, you’ll be in pain and struggling just to get back to your old level of performance.

ankle injury

What to Do Right After the Race

So this information may not be helpful to those who are already 1-2 weeks post-marathon, but keep this in mind for your next race!

Here is your short-term roadmap to helping yourself recover in the few moments and hours after crossing the finish line:

  • As much as you may want to just collapse, keep walking for a bit after your marathon is over. Ten or 15 minutes should be plenty. Basically, you want to cool yourself down to zero instead of going straight from “race mode” to “off.”
  • Grab a small, easy-to-digest snack rich in carbs and/or protein as soon as you can—say within an hour of finishing. Drink lots of fluids.
  • Wait several hours (typically until dinnertime) before eating a nice big celebration meal. You earned it, and it’ll taste better if you let your appetite return a bit first.
  • You should also wait several hours (or even an entire day) before doing any serious stretching or massage, since this could actually reduce your blood flow and may not be the best choice for your damaged muscles while they’re still trying to replenish fluids. Instead, you could try taking a cold shower or ice bath.

How Long, Exactly?

At an absolute bare minimum, most people should (and do!) take a solid full week off from running. In the meantime, as your body allows, get in some gentle, low-impact cross training. Maybe take a short walk, enjoy some time at the pool, or go (very easy) on a stationary bicycle.

If you’re in great shape and no longer hurting, you can start doing some short, easy runs in week 2 post-marathon and see how you feel.

Then, as you would when first starting out, gradually increase distance and intensity, so that you’re back to your regular pre-marathon routine after about a month to six weeks.

That said, your mileage may vary. From a physical perspective, running a marathon is an incredibly high-stress activity and it’s not always easy to predict how quickly it’ll take to feel better. Plus, if you don’t listen to what your body is telling you, measurable damage to muscle fibers may persist 3 months or more.

And from a mental perspective, it’s even trickier. If you’ve run a marathon before, you know that it can be just as mentally and emotionally exhausting as it is physically. Some people take months before they’re ready to go again. Even some of the world’s most elite runners only race 2-3 times per year.

What If I Hurt Myself During the Race … or Stay Hurt After It?

If you suffer a lower body injury during your race—or develop chronic pain after it—you should bring yourself down to the Carmel Foot Specialists so we can take a look at you.

You might not know this, but sports injury care is one of the core specialties at our practice. And because of that focus, we’ve invested heavily in specialty and regenerative treatment technologies designed to help our athletes recover from injury and fatigue as quickly as possible.

Take, for example, platelet rich plasma therapy, commonly known as PRP. It’s been popular with pro athletes since the 1990s, but trust us—it works just as well on weekend warriors and amateur marathoners as well!

ankle doctor

To give you a quick summary of the procedure:

We draw a small sample of your blood, spin it in a centrifuge to separate out the individual components, remove the red blood cells and recombine the rest into a platelet-rich mixture. That gets re-injected to the chronically injured tissue.

The whole procedure takes less than an hour from start to finish.

Platelets are best known for their role in clotting blood to help close wounds, but they’re also packed with growth factors crucial for tissue healing. These growth factors stimulate connective tissue growth, boost oxygen and nutrient flow, and even recruit nearby stem cells to help with repair. And because it’s your own blood, the chances of rejection or infection are extremely low.

PRP is an awesome option for those who need a boost with their stalled marathon recovery. But it’s far from the only advanced regenerative medicine option at our disposal. For example, we also offer:

  • MLS laser therapy: This incredible technology uses specific wavelengths of light to stimulate intra-cellular activity. Light, after all, is a form of energy, and when light is focused properly, your cells can use that energy to fight inflammation, repair torn tissue, and quickly relieve pain.
  • SoftWave Acoustic Wave Therapy: If you’ve heard of shockwave therapy before, this is sort of like that—except much better! Like older forms of shockwave therapy, it “tricks” your body into thinking it’s been injured, triggering a rapid healing response. However, SoftWave does not need to actually damage your cells to do this, and by using unfocused shockwaves it can generate a larger physical field at a lower intensity, increasing comfort and safety.

So if you’re still struggling weeks after your marathon has finished—and it’s keeping you from getting back to your favorite activities—stop by one of our offices and let us help. Our treatment options can help you stay ahead of the game and get back to running, training, and enjoying life!

  • Myers Park: (704) 334-8682
  • South Charlotte: (704) 542-8253