So You’ve Run a Marathon? Read Our Top Tips for Quick Muscle Recovery

Still smarting from 26.2 miles of athleticism? Here's a new trick to speed up the recovery process.

5 Minute ReadEducation by Jessica Lacey

08.11.21 (Updated 19.02.24)

If you were one of the 33,000 runners taking part in the 50th annual New York Marathon yesterday, treading the tarmac from Staten Island to Central Park, you’re likely reading this in a post-euphoric come down. Or maybe you’re still buzzing? Either way, you’re a certified hero. Those months of intense training and focus finally paid off and now you can get your life back. If only you could get up the stairs…

‘Monday after marathon syndrome’ - a well-known phenomenon in the world of competitive running when, 24 hours following an event, all that athletic prowess comes to a grinding halt. It’s why those in the know have a secret weapon called Pre-hab. “Months before your marathon race day, you need to plan for how your body is going to respond and prepare yourself for sore muscles, ensuring your movement capability is the best it can be,“ advises Chris Stanton, Performance Master Trainer at Third Space London. “The more stress your body finds itself in, the more limiting the range of the joints and that’s when injury issues occur.”

Having a fail-safe, post-marathon plan is the key to quickly repairing muscles that have been overstretched and being able to walk again. “It’s a case of plotting out the whole journey,” explains Stanton. “Elements of recovery and sleep are the foundations of all my clients’ training strategies. Without recovery and sleep, your body is in a state of continued layer of stress and you’ll always be running on fatigue, so you’ll never be able to complete the volume or intensity required to progress long-term.” Having recently himself completed a Double Ironman which ended in a back-to-back marathon, he’s proof that his methodology works.

How to aid muscle recovery after a marathon

Following any marathon, you’re going to have some aspect of trauma to the body and muscle damage from putting yourself through extensive effort. So, what you do in the hours, days and weeks following a big running event, is crucial to your body’s full recovery in the fastest way. Chris lays out his proven framework for treating sore muscles and joint pain following your marathon experience.

  • Keep walking
    Despite all the celebration and emotion, don’t stand still. Keep walking around so you don’t seize up. If lying down later in the day, do so with your legs elevated above your heart.
  • No stretching
    Stay away from stretching. This sounds contradictory but you’re creating further stress on the body. It can be up to three weeks before I allow my clients to stretch.
  • Cancel that massage appointment
    In the days following a marathon, your muscles are simply not ready to be worked intensely or have blood flow vigorously driven through them. Trust me, it can do more harm than good.
  • Sleep, drink, eat. Repeat
    24-48 hours after a marathon, you’ll be experiencing sore muscles so you want to prioritise sleep, hydration and nutrition. The body is so intelligent, it will start to repair itself if you allow it to.
  • Low impact exercise
    Once you’re pain free, then you can focus on mobilising joints. Still not stretching them but returning to some light effort. De-load the joints through mild workout such as swimming, letting the water take the weight so you’re maintaining blood flow to the joints and muscles to get that movement back. Cycling can be beneficial because the ankle and knee are moving through a controlled range and you’re seated, so blood can flow but the intensity is shifted down. I use the analogy of a pond versus a river; ponds are still and have a build-up of thick algae whereas rivers are where you see life generating from the flow. Your body has gone through a lot of stress, returning to running can wait for at least ten days after an event, depending on your motivation.
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The light fantastic: the healing powers of infrared for muscle recovery

Infrared is the latest word in fast muscle recovery. The technical name for this process is Photobiomodulation, whereby energy from a specific laser light source can be taken in by human cells and used to regenerate them. Medical papers show proof of LLLT (Low-level laser therapy), such as infrared, stimulating cells in muscles to accelerate soft-tissue healing and regeneration.

In addition to this, continued use of near-infrared light, (one frequency closer to visible light than infrared), has been independently proven to increase muscle mass post-intensive training whilst reducing inflammation and oxidative stress within muscle tissue.

The recovery benefits of infrared sauna

Sports injury specialists have been using laser light therapy for decades for quick muscle recovery after workout but now it’s a treatment we can carry out ourselves. Infrared saunas are gaining in popularity as an injury prevention method; reducing inflammation, healing tissue damage and rebuilding muscles. Increasingly found in health clubs and the homes of both elite athletes and high earners. Sunlighten UK reported a boost in sales of their infrared saunas following research that infrared saunas build bone density, support metabolic function and reduce excess body fat.

The at-home laser for quick muscle rehab

For those with more low-key dwellings that don’t perhaps boast a west wing, a leading new handheld laser could well be the answer. A world-first, the LYMA Laser is a proven near-infrared, coherent laser light diffused 25,000 times across a 3cm lens that’s safe to use yourself and no bigger than your average torch. Designed for such coveted cosmetic benefits as wrinkle-reduction, pigmentation lightening, and scar tissue rebuilding, in recent months the LYMA has turned the cosmetic industry on its head. However, the LYMA laser has also shown promising real-life results on joint pain and bruising.

How the technology was discovered may give rise to an additional use for this device. Dr Paul Clayton Chief Scientist at LYMA, visited a physiotherapy clinic in Germany where a patient was undergoing LLLT treatment to rebuild cartilage in his knee after suffering significant injury. This treatment was proving highly successful and it was only when Dr Clayton noticed the skin on the patient’s treated knee looked twenty years younger than that of the untreated knee, that he realised what a cosmetic triumph this technology could be. The LYMA laser’s 500 megawatt laser beam is the same power as the one being used in that clinic and, given daily use, matches the LLLT administered professionally for quick repair of muscle injury and joint pain. Perhaps the future will see us all treating our sporting injuries from the comfort of our own sofas? As long as we don’t sit still for too long, obviously.


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