Yeay, summer and the triathlon season are finally here.
All of a sudden the sun is shining and social media is flooded with pictures and stories of PB’s, podium places (and that’s just the SWAT athletes), as well as tales of disappointment at failing to hit goals.
Regardless of the result, after A race(s) everyone needs some recovery time.
I recall a phrase from many years ago which is perfectly apt, “The next step after a peak is always down.”
The question that I get asked regularly at this time of year is, “How long should I recover for?”
My answer, as you probably guessed is …. it depends!!
Let me elaborate. This is what it depends upon:
- Length of race – Longer races, not just distance but also duration, require more time to recover. You’ll see in my recovery advice below that you’ll need 4-6 weeks to fully recover from an Ironman, and maybe 7-10 days for a sprint.
- How hard you raced – The deeper the hole you dig, the longer it takes to get out.
- How much the race took out of you – In addition to how hard you raced, extreme environmental conditions can have a more marked effect on your body and thus take longer to recover from. Think particularly extreme heat or cold.
- How stressful your taper was – This is often overlooked. If you lived a quiet, monastic existence in the lead up to the event, sleeping well and minimising stress, you’d probably recover a lot quicker. In contrast, a taper that’s filled with travel, stress of work deadlines, family issues, or even battling with injury will all add to your post race recovery time *Long haul flying adds to this so factor it into your prep if travelling to another continent for your race, or if travelling for work in the weeks before the race
- How long you prepared for the event – Once you cross that line you aren’t just recovering from the race. I know of many who have trained for upwards of 9 months for an Ironman event. Not only is that physically challenging, it also takes a lot of mental energy. You are recovering from this as well.
- Your fitness on starting the race – If you are in peak condition, and had a ‘quiet’ taper, then you’ll absorb the stress on race day better than someone who turns up unfit, overweight, and stressed.
- Your age, gender, body type – Older athletes, more muscular athletes, and male athletes seem to need more recovery than athletes that are younger, less muscular, or female.
As you can see, it’s very individual and even for the same person, recovery may well be quite different from one race to another.
There are some constants.
—>>>You might be a ‘superhuman’ but you are still human, not a machine.
—>>>If you don’t recover well enough before beginning the journey to your next event, it will catch up with you at some stage.
Finally, here are some ideas for recovery, how long you might need for different race durations, and what you can include.
Sprint events (7-10 days) Low volume and low intensity training for the first 3-4 days (drills & MAF HR work), then add in some short efforts. A normal recovery week might be enough if you are disciplined.
Standard (7-14 days) Try a very easy week (low intensity/low volume) of unstructured activity, followed by a normal recovery week.
1/2 distance (Ironman 70.3) (14-28 days) Two weeks of low intensity/low volume as unstructured activity (as opposed to a planned session), aiming to complete a normal recovery week from days 14-21. I generally advise no running for the first 10 days, but lighter males and females can start sooner.
Full distance (Ironman 140.6) (21-42 days) My minimum prescription is 28 days, with no running at all for at least the first 14 days. In those first 2 weeks it’s all about just being active, along with some non-triathlon activities. Certainly it’s unstructured and unplanned. After 14 days add in some very light running (on grass) with the aim of being able to complete a normal recovery week from 21-28 days.
Some other questions which arise are:
What happens if I have a race during the recovery period?
This isn’t what I would recommend if I were your coach, but if the die is already cast then you have to plan the best recovery you can. It’s possible to race 2-3 sprint or even standard distance races on consecutive weekends, as long as the training between is minimal and for recovery maintenance only. I know of athletes who race Ironman events on consecutive weekends and they get to the finish. I’m not entirely sure how their performance would differ if they focussed on just the one race. I also know that they need far more recovery after race 2 and that often they crash and burn at a later stage, sometimes getting a viral illness which takes longer to recover from.
When can I start hard training again?
This is very individual. If you truly listen to your body, heed the messages, and are honest with yourself, then you might be able to start easy training a bit sooner. The cue signal for most athletes is when muscles are no longer sore. However, there are 11 systems in the body and they all recover at different rates. So while your muscular system might be ready to start activity again, your central nervous system or your endocrine system may still require more time. Using Heart Rate Variability (HRV) will help, but you need to build up a baseline first. Ultimately, it comes down to whether you have this urge to train for reasons other than performance and health. If you do, then take your time. Let your body tell you when it’s ready, and enjoy a longer more rewarding triathlon career.
Feel free to comment or post questions.