With the New York City Marathon just two days away, runners who have been diligently training for months may be physically ready for the four-plus hours they will spend on the course. But when it comes to having a successful race day and seamless recovery, there are a few additional strategies worth putting into effect. “Now is the time to prepare for the race a little differently,” says Toby Tanser, Head Coach for the New York Flyers and a seasoned pro with more than 40 marathons under his belt. (This Sunday, he’ll lead a team of 64 runners for the charity Shoe4Africa). How you eat, sleep, and even manage your anxiety in the days before the big race can affect your performance—as can the way you treat your body in the hours immediately after crossing the finish line. For a well-rounded approach, we’ve asked Tanser along with New York City physical therapist Michelle Rodriguez and regular marathoner (and fashion stylist) Kate Young for their best advice.
From the benefits of pre-race meditation to when and where to get the best post-race massage, here’s everything you need to know to make your body feel like it was born to run.
From now until the race, do your best to mentally and physically relax. Creating a marathon playlist and packing your gear in advance will keep you focused without stressing you out. According to Rodriguez, running should be kept to a minimum—peaking at three miles a day. Instead, spend time slowing down your thoughts with Gyrotonics and meditation. “On race day, you will have a lot of nerves,” she says. “Something that helps you hone in your breathing and take control of your excitement will keep you from starting too fast and petering out.” Once you’re calmed, sleep is of the essence. “I tell my runners that sleep is like gold,” says Tanser. To avoid a panic-stricken night before the race, lay out your gear in advance, and ask another runner to call you as alarm-clock insurance. To store additional energy, Tanser advises staying hydrated, eating plenty of carbs, and avoiding an unforeseen stomachache by sticking to basic meals. “Don’t try a new restaurant just because you’re in town,” he advises, noting that after so much training, it’s not worth the risk. “I suggest pasta with meatless red sauce the night before. It’s simple enough.”
Immediately following the race, stay warm with a ten-minute walk, start hydrating immediately, and replenish your body with food. “I usually reach for the bananas at the finish line,” says Young, but Tanser says it is not the time to ignore cravings. “Throw the diet out the window. Your body is asking for what you’ve pulled out of it, whether that’s a burger or cheesecake.”
Once you get home, take a bath. According to Rodriguez, “There are two schools of thought,” when it comes to soaking: Epsom salt or ice. Though Young prefers a warm (not hot) Epsom variety, which encourages your body to absorb the sodium and minerals you lost on the course, ice baths will immediately soothe throbbing muscles and promote a speedy recovery. Rodriguez admits, “Getting someone to sit in a bathtub of ice is tough, but anything that’s cooler than your own body temperature will decrease the inflammation.” Or, even simpler, you could dip into the chilling water from your knees down.
To reduce the severity of stiff limbs, Tanser coaches his team on the importance of 30-minute walks for a few days following the race. “Keep active, but don’t do any pounding.” To increase circulation and flush out metabolic toxins, cycling on zero resistance and swimming is also recommended. “It’s a great time to try something other than running—you might find great cross-training potential.” Once your muscles are warmed up, Rodriguez suggests enjoying a nice, thorough stretch. “Focus on the calves, quads, and hamstrings, but avoid any yoga more strenuous than restorative yoga.”
While you might be aching for a massage, Tanser, Young, and Rodriguez all share the opinion that you must wait at least a day after the race before having someone knead your knots, though Tanser believes that three to four days after is best. “There is so much lactic acid in your muscles after the race, a deep tissue massage will just move it around,” says Rodriguez. Instead, opt for a light Swedish or a sports massage. Young sings the praises of Keren Day’s active release massage at Eleven Eleven Wellness Center “It’s equal parts pleasure and pain,” says Young. “The massage is excruciating, but when she’s done you feel totally normal again.”
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