Recovering from Ironman

(Originally posted on September 14, 2011)


Recovery is one thing most athletes don’t get right.  If we participate in endurance events, odds are we are slightly Type A or like to push ourselves (even the slightest bit).  Recovery is a very important part of that process yet we don’t always put the same value on it as we put on hard workouts.
If you are coming off of an Ironman race you want to do everything you can to keep your body healthy and strong.  Below are some things you can do to help enhance your recovery and get yourself back to good!

  • Put on dry clean clothes (warm clothes if necessary)
  • Immediately rehydrate and continue sipping on water for the next week! (But you already do that, right?!)
  • You want to consume 2-3 g of CHO per kg of body weight in the first 30-45 minutes of your race completion (175lb person = 240 g of CHO = 960 calories from CHO, or 120 lb person = 110 g of CHO= 440 calories of CHO)
  • You want a ration of 4:1 on carbohydrate to protein calories taken in (there are recovery drinks you can purchase that are in that ratio)
  • You may not feel like eating or drinking but it is vital that you begin the recovery process!
  • If post race massages are offered go get one—but don’t sacrifice replacing your carbohydrate stores to sit and wait in line
  • If you are experiencing cramping when you finish, go to medical to get an IV or drink an electrolyte drink (chicken broth can work as well)
  • If you are okay to walk/move at the end of the race gently stretch your body

  • 2-5 days after your race your body may feel ‘hungrier than normal’
  • Eat 8-10 g of CHO per kg of body weight in the 24 hours following the race, then lower to eating 5-6 g of CHO per kg of weight over the next 5-6 days.
  • Include as many antioxidant foods as possible
    • Ironman / endurance events put a lot of oxidative stress on our body creating many free radicals. Push the antioxidants in order to clean the body out
  • Increase foods that contain iron
  • Fish oils/Omega 3 fatty acids are important as well—eat fish & leafy greens!
  • After about a week cut your caloric intake back down to what you’d normally eat out of season. Odds are you are done with your season so you won’t require the same amount of energy each day that you previously did
  • Get a massage!
  • Swim day 1 or 2 after the race
  • No structure needed and no speed or intensity should be included–no paddles or fins
  • Use a variety of swim strokes
  •  Swim easy, use this as an opportunity to increase range of motion in stiff joints
  • 1,000-2,000 m is okay you don’t need to swim long!
  • Cycle day 2 or 3 after the race
  • Keep intensity very low
  • Ride flat, easy course and keep relatively short until days 6-10
  • If this was your first Iron distance race I suggest you don’t run 1-2  weeks because of all the damage you’ve done to your body. If you have years of durability built up as a runner or multiple IM finisher then 4-5 days is probably sufficient.
  • Avoid hills both up and downhill running
  • Keep duration short; 45 minutes is good enough
  • Keep the effort light and easy, no speed work should be done
  • Do not run 2 days consecutively until you’re almost to two weeks recovery
  • If the race you are recovering from is your last race of the season, I would suggest not running for a few weeks to let your body fully heal
Let the majority of your recovery workouts be swimming and cycling (running technically can’t be recovery because it’s an ‘impact’ exercise—but that’s for another blog entry)

After my first Ironman, I was so disappointed in my time that I wanted to ‘get to work’ making myself faster but I had to take time off according to my coach. I was worried I’d gain weight, lose my fitness, and just get lazy.  In all honesty, you may gain 2-5 lbs after an Ironman race and after training is done—just don’t let your eating go crazy.  You will lose the fitness you had but you can not be fit ALL YEAR ROUND.
As far as the lazy part, you earned it.  Enjoy the fact that you have accomplished such an amazing goal by celebrating with friends you have not seen (all year maybe!). Enjoy sleeping in. Take the kids to the zoo. Shut your body down for at least a month…you need the recovery.  Participate in unplanned physical activity like playing catch with the kids, go for a family bike ride, roller blade! Pick something you’d traditionally not do in season and DO IT just make sure you’re not stressing your body out more than you need to (i.e. taking up Crossfit after you’ve just completed an Ironman is probably not the smartest idea).
Female & Older Athletes Note: It takes longer for females and masters athletes to recover.  Take this into consideration if you live with a younger or male athlete.  Listen to YOUR body and know your next season will be better and less prone to injury if you let your body HEAL UP!

The hardest part of Ironman recovery is the mental stuff I think.  Crossing the finish line in an Ironman is a high unlike any other. Unfortunately those few seconds of elation are quickly followed by high emotion, physical pain, and sometimes depression that the event is over.  You may have an experience where you scrutinize your race thinking you could have done better. You may analyze the race results to see where you finished. Where you could have possibly beaten someone else. Let it go.  You accomplished a great feat. Be grateful for finishing healthy and in one piece.  Many things can go right or wrong in an Ironman focus on what went right.  If you have a vacation planned or a special activity to look forward to, it may help alleviate some of the ‘now what’ feeling.

One of my coaches said until you’ve hit your fourth or fifth Ironman you still don’t really know what you are doing. I find that each time I have done an Ironman I’ve gotten something wrong, learned a lesson, and used it the next time I raced.  Don’t put undo pressure on yourself.

YOU ARE AN IRONMAN…now grab a beer and watch some football…