Post Ironman triathlon Recovery – Do You have a plan?


Those amazing words tumble through your mind. The legs are tired and you are walking backward down stairs. For the first time in months you didn’t have to get up early.  The adrenaline may still be going through your system and you awoke early, yet there are any workouts to be done. No more pushing through the fatigue.

Now what??

Here are a few tips to help you past the finish line:

  • Capture the moment. Re-capture the race in writing. Document the highs and the lows. Be thorough. Create a shutterfly (or something similar) album of your race photos. Place your finisher photo in a frame. Celebrate your achievement with family and friends. You’ve earned it!
  • Give back to those who have supported the training process. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. But it’s time to honor family and friends.
  • Don’t sign up for another race in the first 2 weeks following an Ironman.
    The first week you feel euphorically amazing. However, this is a temporary “high” and a common mistake is to look for the starting line again.  Resist the urge, stay in the moment, monitor the body and work on a plan to recover.
  • Recognize Post Ironman Depression is very real.
    When you crossed the finish line, your goal was achieved. The past 8+ months have had a singular purpose. The starting line of an Ironman event consumed your eating and sleep habits, apparel choices “what-to-pack- for –the-day-so-I-can-workout”, vacations, friends, and the general schedule. Body soreness & fatigue have become normal.  Again this question may roll through your mind, “Now What”?
    First, you are not alone.  Most first time and many experienced Ironman athletes go through this emotional challenge. It’s okay and expected.  The challenges- have a plan to fill your schedule with other passions.
  • It is time to reconnect with family, friends, work and other interests. Triathlon, especially long course, training is very consuming but there is a balance in life with those that don’t “train”. Evaluate what has been put on-a-back-burner and re-acquaint those items or relationships.
  • Give yourself permission to recover. The fitness gained won’t leave in a couple of weeks but it may feel like it. Remember, you “peaked” for the Ironman race and tapered training. After the race, this is called a transition phase.
  • Create a recovery plan – this will help feel re-purposed. Below are suggestions:

Immediately Post Race:

  • Find your recovery shoes and put the tired, hard working feet in the air. If you have compression socks – absolutely.
  • Nutrition: Many athletes are not immediately hungry. That is ok but likely you are dehydrated. Begin drinking fluids but with up to 15g recovery carbohydrate and some but not more than 7g of Protein in the first 30min. Chocolate Milk is a staple. What did you use in training? For your body’s metabolism, the race continues beyond the finish line.
  • If you can take an aspirin without health concerns – it can help.

The first 24 hours:

  • Ironically, sleep may be disrupted. The adrenaline takes time to leave.  That is okay and plan to keep your feet elevated. Naps are encouraged
  • Nutrition: “Graze” is the key phrase. There may be residual GI distress so many small meals are suggested. Here are a few nutrition goals to consider in a plan. (to be dispensed throughout the day)
    1. Protein daily intake: 1g/kg body weight. (kg = 2.2 lbs)
    2. Carbohydrate – Focus on soluble fiber. Why? Soluble fiber attracts water and forms a gel which slows the emptying of the stomach. This aids in rehydration and assists with stabilizing insulin.
      Sources include; oatmeal, oat cereal, lentils, apples, oranges, pears, oat bran, strawberries, nuts, flaxseeds, beans, barley, peas, blueberries, cucumbers, and carrots.
    3. Especially early in the day, avoid insoluble fibers. They may be added as the day progresses. These include: whole wheat, whole grains, wheat bran, corn bran, couscous, brown rice, bulgur, zucchini, celery, broccoli, cabbage, onions, green beans, dark leafy vegetables, raisins, figs, and root vegetable skins.
    4. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Continue with recovery fuel early in the day.

The first week:

  • Training:
    1.   Leave the technology off. No Garmin, power meters, time clocks, or anything else that measures performance. If you are doing anything, go by “feel” and keep it really easy
    2.   Time to cross train. Mat yoga, Pilates, elliptical, stretching are all okay.
    3.   Swim – as you feel like it but with limited volume and intensities. Simply just “float” in the water.
    4.   Bike- easy spins only of not more than 30min – if you ride
    5.   Run – Nada, Zip, and Zilch. That means leave the running shoes alone. A couple short walks are okay.
  •  Nutrition:
    1.   In training, your Carbohydrate intake was likely 300g+/day. Time to really back off that number. Remember, you’re training requirements are not the same so you don’t need the same amount of fuel.
    2.   Protein: Maintain at least 1g/kg of body weight. Depending on gender, age, and conditioning, that number may increase.
  •  Psychological:
    There is a mental shift to acknowledge. I’ll reference the euphoria and depression mentioned above. The highs and lows combined with fatigue can be a challenge. Acknowledge this as normal and work a plan to fill the  time normally spent training with naps, time with friends, doing projects, etc.

The Second Week:

  • Training:
    1.   It’s important to do 30- 45min of activity 3x in the week. You may feel “flat” or in other words, you can’t “push”. That is okay and expected. This will return.  It doesn’t have to be swim/bike/run. As a matter of fact, I still caution a quick return to Swim/Bike/Run. However, since those are primary sports, I’ll address them below.2.   Swim – You can return to your routine but limit volume. If you were swimming 5k/workout 3x/week. Maybe only swim 2.5k/workout with a lot of drills. And short fast speed efforts. Example: Repeat sets of 3 x 25yds (m) Fast with 1min rest between sets.
    3.   Bike – In general, a couple easy spins of not more than 45min but add quicker, short efforts to help the neural fatigue recovery. An example: 50% or only 2min Tabata spinning sets. Or 4 x :30 seated efforts / :30 rest done every 10 min of a 30min easy ride.
    4.   Run – later in the week, a couple easy jogs but on soft surfaces and not more than 30min in duration. Avoid concrete if possible. I suggest drills and active movement patterns.  No hard fast efforts.
    5.   Strength – NO heavy lifting and NO high velocity patterns- that includes cross fit workouts. In general, working with mat exercises, fit ball, bosu ball, and stability discs are all acceptable and will keep you well within the goal of neutrally re-integrating the body.

The third & fourth week

By this time, adrenaline & euphoria have subsided. Physical and mental recoveries are well underway.  It is likely you will feel “normal” in daily activities by the end of the third week.  Workouts may still be underwhelming. That is okay, it is time to create a plan moving forward and share that with a support network.  Depending on that goal, you it is okay to add and subtract from your network. Caution is given with return to volume in training. Intensities should still be very short with ample recovery.

Regardless of your Post – Ironman aspirations, remember your amazing accomplishment. Taking the time to recover physically and mentally is key to your athletic development and overall health.  Limit the urge to return to structured training quickly. There will always be another triathlon race – no rush. This is your journey and triathlon is a wonderful sport that offers many options.

Cheers to continuing success!

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