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Recovering from a marathon

Brom Hoban

Completing a marathon is a great accomplishment, but it does exact a toll on the body.

Delayed onset muscle soreness, referred to in sports medicine as "DOMS," tends to peak two days after a marathon. Many runners on the rebound from Sunday's 26.2-mile event may find they can barely step off of a curb without wincing.

Prolonged endurance exercise such as marathon running produces cellular damage to muscle fibers and muscle membranes. But that's only part of the picture. While moderate exercise tends to boost immune function, severe exercise, such as running a hard marathon, causes a lowering of immune function in the first 24 hours after the race.

In his book "Lore of Running," Dr. Tim Noakes notes a higher rate of respiratory infections in runners following a hard marathon effort. And he also points out that the weeks following a marathon are a prime time for runners to develop injuries, especially if they attempt to return to a full training load too soon.

The body has a remarkable ability to recover, though. And there are a number of things that you can do to help. First, get plenty of rest, as in adequate sleep. That's when the most muscle repair happens.

Continue to take in plentiful fluids. Some people think the importance of fluid intake is limited to before and during the race. But restoring your electrolyte levels and rehydrating is an important part of recovery.

Ice, not heat, is the ticket to post-marathon muscle repair. Many runners would like nothing better than a hot tub to ease those aching muscles, but elite runners take ice baths. Evidence suggests that ice baths help the cycle of recovery by flushing blood through damaged muscle membranes, while conversely a hot tub soak may actually prolong muscle soreness. If you don't have the mental fortitude for that, try ice massage, as it will help speed recovery too.

And don't forget to take it easy.

Elite runners are usually rearing to go after a few days off. But they train differently, and recover more quickly. Doug Kurtis, who won the Austin Marathon in 1994, is known for the amazing feat of running more sub-2:20 marathons (76) and winning more marathons (40) than anyone else. Kurtis achieved those numbers by often running a marathon a month. He claimed that he was able to do that because he recovered very quickly, but he is the exception, not the rule.

Generally speaking, you should take at least two days off after the marathon, followed by a few miles of gentle jogging each day for the rest of the week. Running expert and bestselling author Jeff Galloway recommends not working back up to long runs for at least three weeks and not racing even a 5K for at least a month.

By then, you'll be ready to set your sights on new goals, like the Statesman Capitol 10,000 on April 11.