Crossing the finish line after running 26.2 miles is exhilarating – and exhausting. While you likely spent months planning and training for the big event, you may not have given much thought to what happens after the big day.

Each marathoner’s post-marathon experience differs slightly, but what first-timers are often most surprised with is the psychological impact of finishing the race. Sure, you expect to be sore. You probably also realize you’re not going to be continuing your training routine at the same intensity as you were for some time. But you may be left feeling like you’re not really sure what to do next.

If this is all new to you, here are some things you might want to know about the post-marathon period.

Stay on your feet and keep walking

You don’t want to sit down right after the race because your leg muscles need your blood to keep pumping. This is important to remember if you want to avoid leg cramping, stiffness and excessive soreness.

Eat and drink something

You need to drink fluids and eat foods that will start restoring what your body has lost, and the sooner you can start doing that, the better. Carbohydrates help rebuild glycogen stores, protein helps promote muscle repair and foods rich in antioxidants, such as colorful fruits and veggies, help repair tissue damage that happens during the marathon. Drinking sports drinks with electrolytes right after the race helps replenish the potassium and sodium that your body needs for normal nerve and cell function. Continue to drink lots of water in the days following the marathon.

Rest

You may feel exhausted, or you may not. Either way, your body needs some extra rest for a few days following the race. Add an extra hour to your regular sleep routine if you can or treat yourself to a nap.

Return to activity slowly

You won’t be ready to run long distances right away but you shouldn’t sit around doing nothing either. For a few days after the race, go for a walk, a slow jog, a bike ride or a swim to keep your body moving. It’s also okay to take a day off. As you feel up to it, you can start increasing activity duration and intensity if you want. Just keep in mind that your body probably needs about two weeks to fully recover from what it’s been through. Doing too much too soon can result in injury.

Realize that you may be a little down in the dumps

Most first-time marathoners expect to be elated after tackling such a monumental feat. But when the race is over, so is the goal that you’ve been working towards for so long. It’s normal to feel a bit down because you no longer have something to plan for, train for and look forward to. But if you find that crossing that finish line was worth the work you had to put in to get there, you’ll likely be setting your sights on a new goal before long!

Sources:

http://www.runnersworld.com/race-training/life-after-262

http://abcnews.go.com/Health/body-run-marathon/story?id=30449614

http://running.competitor.com/2013/09/training/the-importance-of-recovery-after-a-marathon_59478