Recovering From An Ironman Triathlon
It has been about three weeks since Ironman Texas, just shy of four weeks from Couer d'Alene 70.3, ten weeks from 70.3 Boulder, and twenty weeks from Ironman Kona. Yes, that is a list but don't tell me every single one of you have lists just like that. That is a fairly standard list that we can see on our training peaks and it is one that haunts us all. It is the list that gets you off your butt and makes you send your coach that lovely little note that you were ready to get after it. After three weeks, including one full week off one low key week and four days in Vegas, it was time to get back in the saddle literally.
Switching gears, from 140.6 to 70.3, and getting back into training after something big like crossing the finish line after Ironman is tough. During an Ironman your body goes through an extreme beating with your core temperature rising, burning 6,000+ calories, depleating your glycogen stores, blood volume shrinkage due to prolong and excessive sweating, mitochondrial and protein breakdown in the muscle, the list goes on and on. Now we spend 6-12 months training to help increase our bodies capacity to handle these physiological damages but that does not prevent them from happening. Recovering from these damages is 1) important to prevent injury and burnout and 2) a slow process, about three to four weeks.
If you have spent the time recovering properly after your big day you'll find that it is easier than you think to get back on the horse and ready to start training again for your next adventure. In my blog post 6 Tips for Beating the Post Ironman Blues I talk about how to avoid those post race blues in order to help make that switch from recovery to training again a little bit easier.
Today I am going to focus more on specific recovery practices for after an Ironman to help make the transition easier so that you are ready to get yourself back to training hard and prepping for that next race.
Take a vacation and spend time with family and friends Most of these races are in somewhere beautiful and because you have to spend time traveling anyways you might as well extend your stay and use that time to recover from your race in somewhere beautiful and fun. It is also a great chance to prevent you from wanting to get back on that bike or go for that run that you are so used to doing.
Use the down time to explore, spend time with family and friends that you didn't get to spend time with while you were training. They will appreciate it as well.
Give into the sleep that you need The first week after you may find yourself on a bit of a high and may not feel like you need sleep, but sleep is one of the most important pieces of recovery. Sleep helps produce natural hormones such as natural Human Growth Hormone (HGH) and cortisol which play a major role in muscle repair.
During an Ironman your immune system goes into overdrive working to help mitigate all the tissue damage ad inflammation occurring from the muscle damage from the race, resulting in your immune system being highly compromised and your body very susceptible to viral and bacterial infections. Sleeping helps to replenish this system and get your body back to fighting foreign invaders and keeping you healthy.
Plus lets face it we spent the last six months complaining about how tired we were and not having enough time to take a nap, well now we do so might as well take advantage of it.
You just expended thousands of calories of energy, this will take upwards of four days to replenish. So enjoy the bit of reprieve in order to restock those glycogen stores. It is also a time to let yourself have that burger, fries, and maybe nachos that you have been craving for so long yet denied.
Despite the ability to maybe indulge a little bit only allow yourself to do so for a short time frame. With the body not being used to the extra alcohol and/or increase in carbs it can prevent you from recovering as well as cause excessive weight gain that not only wil reduce energy but can really throw your mental state into a spiral. So after spending a couple of days indulging return to your normal clean eating schedule and increase the proteins and the healthy fats to help aid in the recovery process.
Get a Massage Similar to getting yourself moving a massage will help to flush the lymphatic system, blood system, and flush toxins out of the muscles and the body. Plus it feels really good.
Keep Moving After a race it is important to keep moving with something light as it helps to massage the lymphatic system as well as decrease the symptoms of delayed onset muscle syndrome (DOMS). Keep it light such as taking the dog for a walk, aqua jogging, or a stretch swim.
Be Easy on Yourself It takes about three to four weeks to fully recover from an Ironman but most likely you will be starting to get back into it a little before that, especially if you have a race coming up. When doing so remember that you are still recovering and you will have days that you feel like you can fly and other days were you can't even come close to the paces that you were previously nailing no problem. The speed will come back you just have to give it time.
Similar to a light massage compression helps to repair the lymphatic system. The pulsing mechanism of compression boots mimics the pulse of a muscle keeping this fluid moving and flowing to repair those muscles. You can also use compression socks to maintain pressure on your muscles helping to maintain blood flow.
Spend the time after your race to recover like a pro so that you can turn around and race like a pro!
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