Would you look at that…two weeks to go until we are descending upon the House of Mouse for Princess Half weekend! *hears the cheers*
My time with this here PHM Survival Guide is drawing to a close. We only have one episode left to cover pertinent information regarding the event, so let’s not waste any time! This episode will cover the post-race aspect. What really happens when you cross the finish line? How do you go about recovering, physically and emotionally, from such an event? How long should you wait until you’re back into a normal routine with your fitness?
Got your snacks? Great! Let’s go…
Princess Half Marathon Survival Guide, Episode VI: Return of the Post-Race Blues…What Happens to You Physically and Emotionally After Your Race
Note from Christina: I ran across an article on p. 52-53 in the Dec. 2015 issue of Runner’s World titled, “Congrats! Now What?” by Bradley Stulberg. This episode will be pulling a great deal of information from that article, and I must give credit to him for writing and researching it. In fact, this episode will have several citations from other sources. Being a researcher, and knowing plagiarism is bad, I will cite my sources along the way.
You’ve crossed the finish line, received your medal(s), and you’re walking to the gEAR check tents, sweaty, tired, yet incredibly elated. YOU DID IT. You seriously did it! **happy dance**. You trained your ass off and made it all the way to the finish. You’ve earned the right to wear your “I Did It!” T-shirt and to blast on social media pretty pictures of you wearing your medals. Any time you’ve completed an athletic feat, you’ve earned bragging rights for days.
Also, you’ve earned a shower and a very long nap.
Before naptime though, here are a few things to keep in mind during the first 24-hours of your race, courtesy of Stulberg (p. 53):
–Refuel, refuel, refuel. The first 24 hours post-race is what you’re going to be aiming for with regard to protein intake. You just put your body through an incredible test of endurance. The water, Powerade, bananas, and recovery boxes you’ve received at the end of the run are designed to replenish critical elements in your body that you’ve lost through exertion and sweating. Electrolytes, potassium, and sodium are way up there, along with sugar and protein. While I don’t suggest sitting down to a four-course dinner immediately afterwards, getting some sort of food into your body—especially protein and carby foods– is key for muscle recovery. (Stulberg quotes Corey Hart, a doctoral candidate and physiologist from the Univ. of Utah, as suggesting to “frequent snacks that are high in carbs by also contain 25 to 30 grams of protein” [p. 53].) Fruits are a fabulous way to refuel. Bananas, pineapple, and papaya are just a few examples of post-race happy foods: bananas have potassium, and tropical fruits contain bromelain and papain which have anti-inflammatory properties to speed up post-race recovery.
-While it’s great to relax—after all, you’ve earned it!– you definitely should continue moving around to some degree. It’s not great if you immediately get back to your hotel and flop on the bed without stretching. Lactic acid buildup is a real thing, and you won’t be able to move well after. You can go at a snail’s pace here, and compression clothing is your friend! I typically walk a park (EPCOT) after the half, just to keep things somewhat loose. I stretch and rest as I see fit, and let my body do its own thing. I wouldn’t recommend an action-packed day immediately following the race, as you will end up being more counterproductive in your healing.
-MAKE SURE TO CELEBRATE! Remember what I said about taking the pictures and smiling and being all happy and stuff? This is the time to do it. Neurologically, you’re going to be riding a high for quite awhile; your dopamine and serotonin levels will be through the roof. Be sure to bask in the fact that you completed your mission, reflect on the positive points during your race, and celebrate with friends. Wear those medals as long as you want to. It’s great walking the parks the days after…you’ll find runners wearing their medals and their t-shirts. Many will be offering their congratulations to you. Make sure you pay it forward, especially if you see a princess that might be lonely and doing the weekend solo!
-If you have problems sleeping, that’s okay. As aforementioned, you’ll be riding your post-race high for awhile. Once your body does start coming down from it, feel free to cuddle with your blankies and Mickey plushie. You deserve sleep.
Okay, so that covers the first 24 hours. The next window to you’ll encounter is the next 1-3 days. What happens?
-Stulberg mentions, “Active recovery expedites the body’s natural repair processes by delivering more oxygen and nutrients to the muscles” (p. 53). This is the time to walk about. I traditionally head to Magic Kingdom on Monday during PHM weekend and stay all day. I look like a penguin waddling about, but it really helps with recovery.
-You may be temped to go get a massage to alleviate the pain and tightness. It is advised that you wait a few days before receiving one. Stulberg quotes Hart, “You want to let your muscles heal, and deep-tissue massage can cause muscle damage” (p. 53). Your body is going to be transforming itself internally in the days and weeks to come. If you insist, I would suggest a light Swedish massage that isn’t too taxing on the body. (I don’t know about you, but when I get a deep-tissue massage, it’s like I just put my body through a marathon; it’s really sore for a few days after! Again, that’s just my opinion.)
-Continue basking in the fact that you completed the distance. For most, the post-race high is still running strong. For others, though, this may not be the case. Don’t try to ignore the feelings that are an result of having completed your race. Whether you had a great race or a not-so-great race, take the time to acknowledge what you’re feeling. This may be in the form of writing a race recap, posting pictures, tweeting, talking about it, whatever medium you’re comfortable with. After I got swept during the 2015 MCM, I wrote my recap for it. It was painful and I cried while writing it (it took me about two hours), but I came to terms about what I was internally feeling. In the days and weeks following, I used my story as personal motivation to finish the mileage when I went back to D.C. for the holidays.
How about up to a week after? Curious to know what happens? Read on…
-You’re going to be sore. You’re going to be sleepy. You might not want to get off the couch. Hart mentions that your hormonal system may be out of whack, especially if you’ve been training for extended periods for a distance (p.53). You naturally surpress the feelings of fatigue and exhaustion during your training period, and now that you’re done, it’s all rushing back. Don’t ignore this; maintain light activity levels so you can get all of your neurological levels back to normal.
–The Post-Race Blues. This is huge, and 99% of us will encounter this in some way, on some level. Any time you get built up for a huge event, whether it’s a race, wedding, baby, something…there’s a degree of preparation and excitement leading up to it. The pain of dealing with the, “What now?” feelings after are more painful than the physical pain. After you train and prep for so many months and your excitement crescendos into one event, the after-effect can have your feeling unfulfilled. Your neurochemical levels are returning to normal, and the high may be wearing off. I have found this to be especially prominent with Disney events; you’re already heightened by the perfect hyperreality of the Disney concept, and you may fall into what I refer to as “The Disney Effect”. (You get so engrossed and absorbed into the seemingly perfect atmosphere that anything that isn’t Disney is way below you. Returning to the real world is an epic letdown.)
You may be tempted to sign up for another race the minute you get finished with Princess weekend. If you feel like you want to, that’s great! (The post-race high does crazy things for some of us. I signed up for the Historic Half after PHM 2014 and that was three months away in May.) Just keep in mind that you want your body to heal properly, so don’t react on emotion and sign up for everything in sight. I’d focus on one that’s at minimum a month away; your body will still be retaining its muscle memory from this weekend, and you won’t lose any significant degree of fitness in the process.
We got you through the first week. What about the two or three weeks following?
-Your body is still repairing itself. Surprisingly. Even if you feel amazing and you want to have a hard workout, restrain yourself. After the WDW Marathon, it took about four days until my body felt fantastic. As much as I wanted to run again, I didn’t. I even asked Patrick, my fabulous running buddy who has run seven marathons, what the window of recovery would be for after a full. He mentioned around a month. I almost spit out my coffee. He talked about the internal changes your body goes through, and while you may feel loosey goosey and ready to run again, try not to. I resigned to the fact that I would be essentially resting a lot longer than I wanted to.
If you absoutely have to run or do any kind of workout because you’re going to go nuts, follow Patrick’s advice: “Check yourself before you wreck yourself.” Listen to your body and don’t push yourself like you would during your peak week before tapering. Gradually ease yourself back into a routine.
We’ve covered what happens physically and mentally to you after a race. This can be applied to almost any endurance event that you complete.
Now, with regard to PHM weekend-specific post-race stuff, there are several points to be made. Many people often forget that these things exist!
–Medal pictures in the parks. I’ve mentioned this before and I’ll mention it again. Bring your medals with you and head to the parks for photo ops! If you’re a legacy runner of any sorts, you may be carrying more than one medal. (I brought all six of mine last year to MK. I met new friends who were also GSC legacy runners; I shared my medals and they invited me to hang out with them. Meeting new friends is always a grand time!)
–Disney Springs/Downtown Disney Post-Race Celebration! There is post-race party over in DS/DTD after the PHM. Many restaurants and stores will have discounts for those sporting their finisher medals. Check the event guide for the specifics on these discounts and places of interest.
–MyDisneyMarathon.com: In the coming weeks, your results will be posted online, along with your finisher’s certificate! Print this out and hang it on your running wall. You’ve earned it!
–MarathonFoto: The photographers will be diligently uploading and tagging your photos in the days and weeks following the race. DON’T FREAK OUT IF YOU DON’T SEE YOUR PHOTOS RIGHT AWAY. There will be many hundreds of thousands of photos that will have to be combed through and uploaded. Adopt the pace of nature: be patient.
We now have reached the end of the Princess Half Survival Guide. I am so happy that you’ve come along for the ride and (maybe) learned a few things along the way! I’ve had a lot of fun writing, researching, and sharing my running/Princess experiences. I hope to meet some of you during Princess Half weekend! If you have any questions that I can answer between now and race time, let me know!
See you at the finish line!