Marathon race week recovery

This is part of a series of posts I’m doing this spring focused on marathon training. To get these “Marathon Monday” posts in your inbox, sign-up here!

Guest blog post by:
Dr. Josh Glass, CCSP
Georgia Sports Chiropractic; Team USA Track & Field Olympic medical staff

My coach at the University of Georgia frequently told our cross country team, “the hay is in the barn” as we neared the Championship season. Well, if the “hay in the barn” is the cumulative fitness from all the miles of training, pre-race week recovery is how you allow your body to take full advantage of that fitness.


Recovery during the pre-race week is even more important


I often tell runners that recovery includes everything you do from when you finish one run until you do the next one. Recovery during the pre-race week is even more important because your body is in its final stage of recovering from the cumulative effects of months of training — especially when you’re getting ready for a marathon.


Here in the real world, you have to do it yourself


When I work with the USA Olympic Team, we have a staff of medical doctors, sports chiropractors, athletic trainers, massage therapists, sports psychologists, sports nutritionists, coaches and managers to help the team with all the things that go into the athletes’ recovery week. Here in the real world, most of us have to do these things ourselves.


These are a few of the ways that marathoners of all ability levels can get the most out of their pre-race week:


Give your body the raw recovery materials


The majority of your body’s regeneration occurs while you’re sleeping: it’s where you get the most bang for your recovery buck!


More sleep is better, especially deep sleep, as opposed to napping. Going to bed earlier and sleeping in a bit later for the week before the race will allow more time for cellular rebuilding and pay big dividends on race day.


Regeneration takes place during sleep, but the building blocks for that regeneration come from the food you eat. The pre-race week is not a time to change your diet drastically, but it is the prefect time to be smart about what you eat.


Don’t change drastically, but be smart


Stay away from junk: fatty/fried foods and sweets are not good fuel for you body. Stick with fresh fruits and vegetables and lean meats. These foods give your body the best chance to recovery fully before the race.


Staying hydrated each day the week before the race is essential for a good race day. The best plan is to sip water throughout the day. Stay away from alcohol and other drinks that lead to dehydration. Use this week’s training runs to practice your race day hydration: drink on the run to get good at it.


Get your body ready


Relaxed and lengthened muscles will have greater blood flow while you’re sleeping, allowing more oxygen and nutrients to be delivered and more waste products to be eliminated.


Keep up your normal stretching routine, but do a little extra to help your muscles recover this week. A complete stretching session after each run or cross-training workout, and an extra round in the evening, will ensure greater recovery.


Use shorter holds for your stretches if you’re not warmed up, ideally taking a hot shower or bath before.


Sports massage and sports chiropractic each help to significantly accelerate and maximize your body’s race day potential.


Combined effect is a lengthened, efficient stride


Sports massage will help align and normalize your muscle and tendon fibers. Sports chiropractic will restore and balance joint range of motion by releasing ligament adhesions that have formed from all the miles of training. The combined effect of these treatments is a lengthened and efficient stride, which is crucial for any successful race day.


Get your mind ready


Stick to your training plan. Be very careful not to over-train in the final days by going too fast or too far. You’re in great shape, but if you are not careful, you can ruin your race. Having a coach to keep you on track is great, but if you don’t have one, make sure you are careful each day. I’ve always looked at the taper week as part of the reward for all that training, so embrace the easy runs.


You have done all the work that you can, stress and worry will only negatively effect your pre-race week. Try to limit the stress from family, work and other areas. Don’t let it derail your diet, hydration, stretching, and especially sleep!


In short: make a plan for your week, write down the important variables you need to control, and then do it!


Race day is supposed to be the fun part, and getting there fully recovered helps make sure you can enjoy it.


About Dr. Josh Glass, CCSP
Dr. Glass is a sports chiropractor specializing in the treatment and prevention of athletic injures, and in the application of peaking and recovery programs for sports performance optimization. He has served on multiple Team USA Track and Field medical staffs, including the 2012 London Olympic Games. He treats runners of all ability levels at Georgia Sports Chiropractic in Atlanta, GA.