Essential Sports Nutrition

8/14/17

Feeling flat post race - embrace the recovery


It felt so good to be back on my tri bike for a structured training session with Karel on Saturday. It took a full week for my legs to feel full again after the Lake Logan half Ironman as I was left with a "flat" feeling in my legs for several days post race.

Here's how my week of training went after the race:

Sunday - AM 90 min EZ road bike spin on the Swamp Rabbit Trail w/ my friend Meredith
Monday - PM 90 min EZ road bike spin on the Swamp Rabbit Trail w/ Karel
Tues - AM 3000 yard interval swim w/ Karel, PM 30 min outside EZ run with Karel
Wed - Day off (private camper in town)
Thurs - AM 90 min skill focused ride on tri bike (private camper in town)
Friday - AM 40 min treadmill run
Sat - AM 3.5 hour ride w/ a 20 min strong effort at 2 hours followed by a 30 min treadmill run w/ a 20 sec surge every 5 minutes.
Sun - AM 11 mile long run w/ a 6-mile interval run on the track. Late afternoon 2800 yard interval swim.

With my big season race approaching in just 4 weeks, it was critically important that I was respectful of my body during the recovery of this race. Although my muscles felt recovered by Wednesday, I was sleeping great, eating well and my motivation was high to get back into training, come Thursday, I could tell that my legs were still empty. They just didn't have that "pop" that I was hoping for.
Because the recovery from this half Ironman was a bit longer than what I have experienced in the past, I contributed it to my big training load at Lake Placid and then going into Lake Logan a bit fatigued. Although this was all planned, the unknown was how long it would take me to recover from the half Ironman. 



After a race, most athletes are eager to get back into training because the endorphins are flowing and the excitement of racing brings a lot of motivation to work on weaknesses and improve strengths. While this can be viewed as a positive, it is important to respect the recovery process as feeling "flat" is one of the worst scenarios to push through if you are seeking performance gains. Because most athletes will be able to tell when muscle soreness has subsided (you no longer feel the ache in certain body parts), it is important to be mindful of the "flat" feeling that is often ignored after you ease back into training. Because it's natural to have waves of high and low energy when you are progressing through your development, we must embrace that you will be low in energy following a race but the goal of recovery is to regain the energy that was used during your race so that you can continue to build fitness going into your next race. If you ask your body to push through the "flat" feeling soon after a race and it's likely that you will dig yourself a deep hole that will be tough to get out of - in other words, you may end up overtraining, getting injured or feeling stale and burnt-out for the rest of your season. 

Here are some of my tips to help you embrace the recovery phase and to be overcome the flat feeling post race:
  1. Don't rush back into training by being strict with your training. While it's important to exercise to help with blood flow, don't put too much pressure on yourself that you have to be diligent with checking off your workouts. Adjust workouts so that they assist with recovery.
  2. Don't worry about losing fitness by not rushing back into training. You'll gain fitness when you let your body properly recovery so that you can push hard again.
  3. Don't be hard on your body. Avoid the tendency to rush back into training because you worry about gaining weight or because you feel "fat". At the same time, don't restrict food just because you are not training as hard/long. Respect your body during recovery by focusing on a balanced diet to help with recovery.
  4. Prioritize sleep to help with recovery. While you may be use to sleeping 6-7 hours per night, your body may need 9-10 hours to help your body heal from the damage that occurred on race day. Don't sacrifice sleep for an early morning "recovery" workout.
  5. Resist the temptation to train in a group setting as this may cause you to push harder than you should during the recovery process.
  6. Continue to use sport nutrition during your workouts, as well as fueling before/after your workouts as this will help protect your immune system.
  7. Don't isolate yourself from things that make you happy, like friends, family, pets and your children. Get outside and surround yourself with people who make you feel happy, healthy, alive and energetic.
  8. Focus on a feeling, not a metric. While you can use power, speed and heart rate to give you some awareness of what your body can do in the moment, you will know when your body can or can't push through a given effort. Certainly, if form is compromised, don't push through fatigue.
  9. Address other contributing factors that may be affecting your post race "flat" feeling, like hormones, poor sleep, poor appetite, life/work stress or a difficult race experience.
Although pushing through fatigue can help boost performance, it's important to be strategic with the timing of when you train when tired. Understanding that a race will deplete your energy levels and will compromise your muscular and cardio system, not to mention the added stress on your hormones and bones as you are asking your body to give its best, the goal of training is to improve your fitness so that you can perform on race day. Embrace the recovery and respect your body so that you can stay healthy and well, as you train hard, throughout the season.