Photo by Doug Waldron
In my new book, The Athlete’s Guide to Recovery, I include in the appendix a post-race recovery chart. This chart lists the number of days an athlete should plan to recover, based on the race distance and other factors (such as whether the race was an “A” race or simply a stop en route to another goal race). Based on a fantastic table that Olympic coach Gale Bernhardt designed, available on Active.com, the chart clearly lays out the effect of training, race plan execution, and post-race care on the length of your recovery.
Only time can heal the wounds that racing inflicts.
These life factors, which include your training progression, your daily stress, and your nutrition, play a critical role in your recovery. A foam roller or compression socks are not going to make up for deficient rest and stress management. But the most powerful factor of all is simply time. You must give your body time to repair itself, not only between workouts, but especially after a peak event like a long-course triathlon.
Only time can heal the wounds that racing inflicts. Physiologically, your body must repair the trauma done to muscles and joints, moving through a natural inflammatory phase that encourages tissue rebuilding. Come back too soon, and you’ll carry this inflammation into your next training cycle and grow more susceptible to injury. Psychologically, you need a break. Whether you are seeking to build on a strong race or to redeem one that didn’t go as planned, it can be tempting to rush back into structured training too soon. When you do, you are beginning the next cycle with a psychic deficit you’ll have to work hard to overcome.
After a big event, it pays to practice acceptance and to honor the time your body and mind will need off of structured workouts. Depending on your experience in the sport, this could mean anything from two easy weeks after a 70.3 event, to three months after finishing a 16-hour Ironman.
At this point in the year, as training ramps up and your peak race is still a ways off, this might all sound well and good. “Sure,” you think, “I’ll look forward to the downtime.” But when it comes, the temptation to resume training too soon—either out of excitement or fear of losing your fitness—can be strong. Light, short aerobic workouts, especially in the pool and on the bike, can take the edge off. Ultimately, though, you need patience and trust in your body’s ability to heal itself given the time to do it right. Plan these periods now, and you’ll be setting up great performances for your next training cycle.
Sage Rountree is a USA Triathlon Level 2 Certified Coach and author of The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga. Her latest book, The Athlete’s Guide to Recovery is now available for preorder on Amazon. Her extensive research and work with triathletes and ultrarunners have taught her to value recovery. She leads yoga workshops nationwide and presents regularly for USA Triathlon. Visit her schedule at sagerountree.com.