I was going to title this ‘Ironman Race Recovery’, but as I was writing the notes for it I realized that the advice here is just as relevant for any end of season or A-Race.
Recovery is so important to give yourself a physical, mental and emotional rest. It is also a great time to pay some attention to those around you rather than yourself and/or your training partners.
I have been coaching for many years now, and prior that I was either coached or writing my own programme, so I have seen all sorts of different race recovery methods, and tried most of them myself. Some have worked, some haven’t. The way your recovery pans out depends on a number of factors, but certainly experience in the sport, how much damage the race did, how long your build up has been going. Here are some of my experiences, and what I have I seen with some of my athletes.
Let’s refer to Ironman here, as Ironman New Zealand has recently passed and a lot of the Foot Traffic Coaching athletes have found themselves with buckets of time on their hands and just wanting to fill that gap with a training session…..but mean old Coach isn’t letting them do that, and no one wins an argument with me around this topic. If you could see some of the posts on our private members Facebook group as I was arguing with some of my athletes about sneaking a run in you would be in stitches – Funny but also serious.
“Time heals all”
You have just finished an Ironman. Your body is likely to be deficient in sleep from months of early mornings and probably late nights. Your muscles ache and body parts are probably chafed. Your Cortisol levels are through the roof and you are depleted in important micro-nutrients. Your significant others don’t know you, however your dog probably still does as that’s your favoured jogging partner. Why would you want to go out and increase these negative factors?
One thing I find happens is I like to sleep, not necessarily during the day, which is a good thing as I have work to do, but I sleep heavy at night, and really struggle to get up in the morning. While this is happening I respect the fact that my body is screaming out for some ‘me’ time. If you neglect these signs you’ll be on a slippery slope to Adrenal Fatigue and other serious ailments. Do yourself and your partner a favour, don’t set the alarm for 5:00am, infact don’t set it at all, have a sleep in and enjoy it. If you are having trouble sleeping and are waking often through the night then that is also a sure sign that you are far from fully recovered. When I find myself waking up naturally and closer to the usual time I would awaken for training then I know I am ready to start introducing some training again.
I also find that often I come down with a sore throat, a sniffly nose and maybe a cold sore, another sign that training has placed me on the edge and my immune system has been struggling for a long time. If you find this too rather than training eat a good piece of steak and a pile of salad, you’ll be better for it.
Another thing I recommend is not to plan any training session or event in the weeks after a key race. You want to know that there is nothing nagging at you to get up and get training. I recently completed two Irondistance races in two weeks (Challenge Wanaka and Ironman New Zealand). Whilst I wouldn’t recommend this for an Age Group athlete, and I certainly won’t do the double again, I found the time between the two races wasn’t too stressful as I knew there was another event to get up for in two weeks time, so I never actually stopped moving. If I didn’t have Ironman still to go I would have been straight into full recovery mode. Instead the day after Challenge Wanaka I went for a short spin, the day after that a 90 minute walk and continued this for the rest of the week. I was still motivated to keep going through to Ironman NZ. However as soon as I finished the second race I knew there was no other race in the immediate future for me, so I rewarded myself with a full 10 days away from exercise. Now I am in the second week after Ironman and I have only gone for a very easy one hour spin, a swim and a short jog. I am ready to look at reintroducing some regular light aerobic training again, but certainly nothing over Aerobic Threshold for at least a further two weeks.
Keep in mind that Ironman NZ 2016 was my 16th Irondistance race, so I have had a fair bit of experience in the sport. For someone having just completed their first one I would recommend keeping things unstructured and VERY VERY light for a further 2-3 weeks, and only looking at consistent training when all factors have been addressed – sleep patterns, body weight normalized, even have some blood tests to see if you remain depleted in any areas. If you carry any muscle damage or inflammation through to your next training cycle you are likely to be more susceptible to injury.
Your next peak races are still a long way off and don’t forget this. The temptation to get stuck into training too soon, whether it’s because you are buzzing about the next season, or are scared of losing your fitness, can feel quite overcoming. But please, give yourself that initial full rest to give you body the recovery that it needs and take the stress off your coach (trust me, your coach knows if you have been lying about your lack of exercise). You need patience and trust in your body’s ability to heal itself given the time to do it right.
Foot Traffic Training Lab Subscription members have access to all our database training plans. We have a number of different Post Race Recovery Plans which you can easily slot into your training calendar to help guide you through this difficult phase. To sign up click here.