When to work out post-marathon

Tier 3+ trainer and RunCross instructor Miriam Wasmund on how to stage a smart comeback.

There’s a reason a finish line is often used as a metaphor for the conclusion of a particular journey—it is the ultimate endpoint. Unfortunately for marathoners, says Miriam Wasmund, a Brooklyn-based Tier 3+ trainer and instructor, “while you are through the longest and most grueling part of the process, your work is not done.”

On the one hand, a race should be viewed as the pinnacle of a training calendar, the shift from the on-season to the necessary (but often neglected) off-season. “We become our strongest during the ‘healing’ process,” says Wasmund (who is a multiple-time marathoner and endurance cyclist). “If you can understand this to be a key opportunityinstead of an inconvenience, you stand to absorb all your hard-fought effort and come back even stronger, setting the stage for even better training cycle in the future.”

Instead of jumping right back into a workout routine—or conversely, becoming a couch potato for a week—Wasmund illustrates how to strike the perfect, recovery-optimizing balance. Below, in her own words:

Within the first 24 hours:Get your legs and feet up every hour or two for 15 to 25 minutes at a time to get that regenerative blood flowing. An ice cold bath will help reduce swelling and DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). Address cravings thoughtfully and conservatively—don’t slow your recovery digesting an entire cake! Protein, healthy carbs, electrolytes and water should be all part of your meals during this first week of recovery. Choose omega-3-rich wild salmon and flax seeds; antioxidant- and electrolyte-packed cherries and dark berries; combos of fast-acting carbs and proteins like skim milk and Greek yogurt; muscle-repairing chicken, turkey and steamed edamame; potassium-packed bananas; turmeric and black pepper, which have been shown to be powerful in fighting free radicals, aiding in damage repair and drastically reducing inflammation.

Within the first 48 hours:Begin gentle stretching/self-massage/foam rolling—addressing trouble areas with calm breathing and firm but manageable pressure—and continue alternating between easy walking and periods of elevating your legs and feet. I also swear by topical Arnica gel; this homeopathic remedy has a long history of use to treat the aches and pains associated with high-performance training.

Within 72 hours:The adrenaline has worn off and DOMS is in full effect; some post-race blues maybe lurking. While it is still fresh in your mind, focus on what went right in your training and in your race and write it down. Also you may make note of what was challenging but don't dwell on it—no race is perfect.

After the first 72 hours:Frequent rest will be needed, which includes getting a lot of restful sleep at night. Try light walking one day, an easy swim the next, restorative yoga, or a light spin on the bike, but go easy. Combined with lots of water, you are on your way, but no running yet. Staying active will help flush out residual toxins and keep circulation and elasticity in the muscles and joints. Also it's time to consider getting a massage or a professional stretch, or braving that ice bath.

Six days post-race:After 6 days of rest, stretching, self-massage, hydration, good quality nutrition, restorative daily movement and hopefully a cold bath or two, it is finally okay to go for that easy, slow shake-out run. Leave the watch at home— just feel your legs under you.