Recovery tips from race to race

Last Saturday was my first triathlon of the season and first race since the 2013 Ironman World Championship in October.

If you are a Trimarni follower, you know that the foundation of our philosophy lies in training smarter to train harder in order to reach success faster. But we also believe that if you want to train hard, you have to recover harder.

Recovery can be challenging for many athletes after a race. Some athletes struggle to physiologically recover from the damage that has been done through racing whereas other athletes struggle mentally to respect the body with rest after a race.

It's very difficult to predict how an athlete will recover from a race because there are so many factors that come into play. Even for myself, I find myself recovering differently from every race, every season.

What can affect your recovery after a race?

-Health and fitness status going into a race
-Weather and terrain of a race
-Race priority
-Race distance/intensity
-Diet/hydration status before a race
-Fueling strategy during a race
-Pacing strategy during a race
-Timing of the next race

It's likely that you have a few A or high priority races planned on your racing schedule this year and perhaps a few tune-up and/or lower priority races.

For Karel and myself, we have 3 top priority races this year.

In 4 weeks - St Croix 70.3 - A race (Karel and Marni)
4 weeks after St Croix 70.3 - Raleigh 70.3 (Karel only)
8 weeks after St Croix 70.3 - Ironman Austria (Karel and Marni) - A race
2 week mid-season break/visit Karel's family in Czech Republic
10 weeks after Ironman Austria (22 weeks from this weekend) - Ironman Wisconsin (Karel and Marni) - A race. Goal is to reach our season peak at this race and race the best we can and try to race our competition in order to 2015 Kona qualify.

As a coach, I try to be as involved as possible in the planning of my athletes racing season to ensure that the races are carefully thought out as to when they occur, what distances they are training for and any other variables that could affect their race day performance. It's incredibly easy to register for a race for all you need is a credit card and maybe the approval from your family or boss. But when it comes to logistics and timing of races, the stress can mount if an athlete is only considering the training investment needed for the upcoming race season.

Here is a blog post I did on planning your race season. 

When you consider the natural stress of training on the human body, just imagine the impact on the body, both physically and mentally on race day. At Trimarni, we try to  minimize racing "just to race" and to instead, give every race a priority as to the purpose of the race. Karel and I carefully think about the courses, dates, locations, competition and logistics of every race on our schedule. We knew that in order to peak properly for IMWI in September, we needed to lay out our entire season before it started (on Training Peaks - Annual Training Plan setting) to ensure that we periodized our training properly (got faster and stronger before we went longer), that we had adequate time to prepare for every race on our schedule, that our life would not conflict too much with our races and that we could afford the races that we choose and most importantly, we discussed the importance of making sure that we built in time from every race on our schedule so that we could properly recover from every race.

We really enjoy seeing our athletes save their best performance for race day and not leaving it all out on the "training" course when no one is watching. We instead want our athletes to make the investments when no one is watching and to minimize the withdrawals. In other words, we love when our athletes "cash out" when it counts on A-race, race day.

We want our athletes to consider the stress that it takes to prep for a race and also the stress that occurs during a race. Because we can not expect to peak at every race or chase a PR every time we stand at a starting line, it's important that if you are gearing up for a race (of any priority), you consider a few important tips as to how to properly recover from the race so that you can have the best season possible with your amazing body.

1) You can't train if you can't recover - Many times I hear athletes boast about how great they feel 2-3 days after a race and get back into training (especially intensity/volume) too soon. To ensure that your body is recovered enough after the race so that your "feel good" moment is not short-lived, I recommend to always give yourself a mandatory 7 days to recover from every race. What you do within those 7 days will vary from athlete to athlete and race to race but when it comes to rejuvinating, recovering and resting, don't rush this time. Seriously - you can't give yourself 7 days to recover from a race after you spent 3 or 4 or more months to prepare for your race?
Keep in mind that not only does the body gain fitness when it recovers from training but also with racing. And you can't gain more fitness if you aren't consistent with workouts. No matter how fast or slow you compete in a race, your body is going to experience damage. The more experience you have as an athlete, the better you (should) know your body and how it responds to racing stress. Think of the 7 days after a race as a time to avoid poor results in training just to go through the motions. My suggestion is to keep the training load light and flexible for the 3-7 days after a race. Active recovery without time goals (ideally an hour or less as you ease back into training) should be included in the 3-7 days after a race (ex. swimming, biking and further out from the race, form-focused running on a soft surface). I also recommend gadget free during this time. For the first two days after a race, restful sleep and getting your diet back to "normal" are more important than waking up at 5:30am the day after a race for a recovery swim.

2) Recovery tools - If you are willing to make an investment with your body to compete in a race, be sure to make another investment in recovery tools. I recommend a massage 2-3 days after a race and be sure to stay hydrated. Epson salt baths are encouraged as well as compression in the 3 days after a race. You have no  room for excuses if you have 110% Play Harder gear to wear after the race. Be sure to be mindful of how often you sit after a race. Although naps or extra sleep are encouraged, be careful of driving for long periods, sitting at work for a long time or any other times when you may find yourself trying to ignore aching joints, muscles and tendons from being sedentary. Remember, the body likes to move but at the same time, it doesn't have to break a sweat or have a high HR every time you move. I highly recommend stretching twice a day (the time is up to you) for the 3-4 days after a race (although you should be stretching anyways, on a daily basis). Be careful not to over foam roll, over stretch or over massage any hot spots but also be mindful of any "hot" areas that may need to be addressed prior to getting back into structured training.

3) Be patient - I hear this more in IM athletes after a race, but it's very easy to say that you "feel" recovered in the 5-7 days after a race but when in reality, there could be/ is still damage in your tissues. I encourage you to ease back into training slowly by just focusing on yourself and your own body. I prefer to pass on group workouts the week after a race for the tendency to push harder than if I was alone. However, social workouts where others are also not training, can be a great way to enjoy moving your body with minimal stress. Also, keep the intensity and volume low and do not expect a lot from your body. I promise you that your body will recover but it all depends on your health/fitness before the race, how you "raced" your race and your own ability to recover. As you allow your body time to recover after it allowed you to race, use your free time (that is not spent in your normal weekly training routine) to catch up on chores/shopping/cleaning, grocery shop, relax or to do something that you have been wanting to do but couldn't find the time.

4) A rested athlete performs well - I see a lot of athletes who do not meet their own personal expectations at a race, trying to get back into training too quickly after a race because of terming the race as unsuccessful. Rather than convincing yourself that training hard immediately in the days following a race will boost your fitness, reflect on what didn't go well in the race. Remember that you can't peak and PR at every race so perhaps unrealistic expectations were made for this specific race, the conditions were not ideal, you had extra stress in your life, you didn't pace your race well, nutrition didn't go well or you did race to the best of your ability with your current level of fitness. There are also athletes who do extremely well at races and feel overly excited and confident to get back into training. Just like the athlete who is frustrated with his/her racing performance, even the "successful" athlete needs rest. One of the biggest problems that comes from rushing into training too quickly after a race is getting sick (or feeling run-down) around 10-14 days after a race....when the immune system finally gives up. Additionally, if the body is not rested, the risk for injury, burn out and sub-optimal performance is at an all time high. Not sure about you but I thrive off consistency so the more I rest, the better I train.

5) Reset your mind - For most of the Trimarni training plans, we allow around 12-16 weeks to properly prepare for a race. Balancing training with life requires a lot and we know that every athlete has a breaking point - physically and emotionally. Post-race blues as well as other emotions that can fill your mind after races should be taken very seriously. For the athlete who feels she/he is invisible and sets out to race hard at every race has a high risk for mental breakdown at some point in his/her racing season. It's important that you take care of your mind after a race and reflect on the past journey that you were able to experience with your body, friends, training partners, etc. to prepare for your race. Regardless if you were training for a 5K or sprint triathlon or an Ironman or marathon, you devoted a lot of time, energy, money and effort into your accomplishment and the emotional commitment to your race can bring on a host of feelings after a race. It's important to do your best to keep these emotions positive. In my recovery period after a race, I don't take my eyes off my short and long term goals. No matter how the last race went, I know that I have the potential, drive and passion to always become a better, smarter and physically/mentally stronger athlete. I encourage you to celebrate the milestones of every race and to give yourself breaks throughout your season to recover your body and mind before you train for the next race.