Many of you are starting into the meat of your racing season, which can mean lots of races on the calendar. The challenge to hitting good performances at more than one or two of them can be not so much about gaining more and more fitness, but rather making sure you are fresh and recovered from a previous race if the next one is close. What close means is going to depend the distance of each event. So let's take a look at a few scenarios and give some guidance on how to recover well during your racing season from race to race.
Recovery Starts Before The Race. This is one of the least understood issues about recovery from a triathlon. It is not just what happens after you race in the days or weeks that follow that will either lengthen or shorten your recovery period, but also what you do in your pre-race preparation. A race is a huge demand on the body, even a sprint triathlon if done at your top capacity. If you go into a race tired from training, dehydrated from not attending to your fluid intake in the week leading up to your race, under-rested because of lack of sleep or just plain stressed from life, the race itself can push you over the edge that causes you to get sick, injured or to end up just plain and simply burned out.
This described me in the first few years of my career. I thought I was fairly invincible with my training so I did not back off enough in my tapers and as a consequence always raced with residual muscle breakdown that had not fully repaired from my daily workouts. I underestimated the amount of time I needed to sleep to really be fully charged going into a competition. And being the procrastinator that I am, I usually ended up sleep deprived because I didn't plan ahead with my prerace equipment and packing needs (see our April newsletter for tips on a checklist of what to have with you for racing). The result was that post-race I would be slightly injured, burned out with no energy for a few weeks rather than just tired for a day or two, and I often got a little sick. All of these things kept me from training for the next race, so of course to make up once I did get my feet back under me I would over-train to overcompensate for the days I missed, which of course put me right back into a state where instead of a few easy days of recovery after an event, it would take weeks again.
So the takeaway lesson is that if you have multiple races in a short period of time, go into each and every one more rested than you feel you need so that your recovery afterward is strictly going to be from what you did in the race rather than a compounded recovery period that is from over-training and racing.
Active Recovery. One of the best ways to recover post-race is to do active recovery. Sitting around may feel like what you want to do (and there is a place for just chillin' like a villain) but if you can do some very easy swim, bike and run workouts in the few days after you race this will flush out your muscles and will help the food you eat in those days target the areas that were just used a little more effectively. If your legs are super-sore as they usually will be after a half or full Ironman race, exchange the running for some easy walking until you feel the soreness is gone.
The worst thing for post-race recovery is sitting still for a few days. The soreness will go away, which feels like you are recovering, but your muscles will become like cement rather than recovering in a manner that keeps them supple. So even if you are doing your final race of the season and don't plan on much activity for a while, try to do active recovery for 3-14 days after your race as a way to ensure smooth working muscles before you put your body in dry dock.
Keep It Healthy. The tendency after a race is to splurge on all the vices you may have deprived yourself of leading up to a big competition. Unfortunately, for most of us that doe not mean we are going to gorge ourselves on a bunch of carrots. It's likely going to look more like teenager's junk food binge. However, all that great tasting stuff is going to be severely lacking in the nutrients that your body needs to recover and repair quickly. Go ahead and treat yourself to some of your favorite decadence, but also try to put in a base of good nutritious food and lots of plain good water along with it.
Wise Wisdom. On great rule of thumb is to make sure to give yourself one easy day for every mile you run in your race before you go out and do anything really fast or taxing. This is a great way to put the brakes on long enough after a hard race to allow your body time to recover before you add more muscle damage into the mix. Both good and bad races can leave an athlete with a tendency to go back at it hard too soon. A good race fills you up with so much enthusiasm that without this simple rule as a safeguard you may get back into the swing of hard training too soon. The frustration from a poor result can do the same thing making you want to go out there right away and train even harder than before so that the next race does bring the finish that you had hoped for. But either way, temper the fast stuff until you are in the clear with a day of easy training for every mile that you did in the run segment of your triathlon.