“A” Race Recovery—A Few Tips For Handling Coming Down From Your Big Race
After finishing Ironman this summer, I wasn’t as wrecked as I was afraid I’d be. And honestly, the first time I did one, I shoved myself back into cyclocross practice two days later (OK, that was a mistake). But I’ve also done races—weirdly, shorter ones like a marathon—and seen plenty of people (ahem, Peter) post-stage race. Your body is beat up and you’re exhausted. But now what? You want to recover, but you’re not a pro. You have a life to get back to. And you have work to do. So, let’s talk about the art of recovery for the normal person. I’ve talked about this before in relation to Ironman, but I wanted to broaden it a bit and think about how we’ve managed to recover from other major events, especially as the offseason looms (or is here) for most of us.
Have your assortment of snacks—some healthy, like good recovery drink mix—and others, the indulgences you know you’ll want, like chocolate milk or chips. I wish we had known this after Trans-Sylvania Epic a couple of years ago, but I ended up hitting convenience stores on a crazed hunt for snacks and supplies for Peter post-race. Often, you don’t realize how exhausted you’ll be, and having a bit of prep done goes a long way. (And it beats being that guy, staggering into the grocery store covered in sweat and sunscreen and general grossness.)
I wrote about this for Bicycling, but seriously, if you feel like total crap post-race, get in the damn shower. If you finished a stage race, take an extra long one and really get all that grime off, shave your legs or whatever it takes to feel fully human again. I promise you that you will feel 20 times better almost immediately. In any day-long race, you’re just so covered in sweat and sunscreen and spit and all the other fun stuff like Gatorade, and while that might not be what’s making you nauseous, at least if you’re clean, you’ll feel a lot less like laying on the bathroom floor (ahem). Lay in the shower if you must, but get clean.
The morning after Ironman, my body did not want to move. So, naturally, I moved it. The first bit of walking we did sucked big time, but after a few minutes, the walking really started to help loosen everything up. I think had we skipped the 12,000 steps we put in on Monday, the rest of the week would have gone a lot worse. It also helps get your digestive system back on track, and I do think it soothes your nervous system more than taking a day of total sloth on the couch. (Even if the day after is a travel day, make it a point to walk in the airport, walk at rest stops, etc.) I think for stage races like BC Bike Race, this is a huge thing—your body has been going nonstop for a week and you’re tired, but you’re likely to be a lot more sore if you don’t move at all the day after it’s all over.
Again, we’re not all perfect with mobility. This is where having a quick yoga routine that you do on the daily really helps. I love mine, and I found that having the routine already in place made it automatic to do it—so if you haven’t already started doing a few minutes every day, start well ahead of your event. You muscles say thanks! (I have a post coming soon on doing yoga every day. It’s something I recommend in the off-season so you’re in the groove of stretching regularly when you do start up base training again!)
Even if your stomach is feeling a little F-ed (mine definitely was post-Ironman), you shouldn’t take the day after Ironman off of eating, especially not in the morning. Instead of a full eggs-and-potatoes breakfast that sounded like THE WORST THING EVER, I mixed up some collagen powder into ginger-turmeric tea for a stomach-settling protein boost. That helped get me moving a little bit, so an hour later, I was able to eat a more normal breakfast and get back on track. You burn thousands of calories racing an Ironman, so in my books, a day of eating whatever the hell is totally reasonable. But don’t extend that for too long! In fact…
In the Week After, Reset
OK, what I just said about eating whatever? After a day, tone that down. You might still be super hungry and that’s just fine… but focus on filling up on healthy foods, heavy on the anti-inflammatories and the clean proteins. You don’t need a milkshake every day for a week. And you did just spend a year of your life getting into your fittest shape ever, so try not to lose those gains by eating 5000 calories per low-exercise day of pizza and milkshakes. Some fun snacks = great. Too many fun snacks = say hello to a grumpy, puffy midsection. (You obviously can’t stay at race weight forever, of course, but you also don’t need to gain back those 10 pounds in the first week post-race.)
Whatever your A race was, no matter how it went, if you put in all the training to get there, then you deserve a week of *active* recovery. After Ironman, we went camping in Fernie, BC, and so I did a ton of big hikes and slow runs, plus some yoga every day. It was enough movement that I felt great, and was using that endurance base for something really fun, but it wasn’t so brutal that I felt cracked. Plus, TBH, my toes were so wrecked that regular running for the first couple days was too jarring. Hiking was a little more reasonable.
OK, bask a little. You earned it. If that means a couple of extra date nights with a spouse who’s been ignored for a few months because of training, or a ‘sick day’ so you can stay home with your kids/dog/self, make some time for what will make you psyched.
Treat Yo’ Self
Smartest thing we did before Ironman? Booked a massage for the day after we would be getting home. Words cannot describe how amazing that felt! I highly recommend it, especially if you’re traveling home and have a long drive or flight—the massage makes some of that travel stress and tightness disappear.
Now that the adventure is fresh in your mind, take some time to write out a few journal entries/race reports/letters to your future self with thoughts about how the race went, what you would do differently, and what you want to do now. It’s easy to forget that you really didn’t enjoy the race itself after you’ve had some time to bask in being done with it, but maybe the long distance event left you craving some sprinting instead. Take note of that, and in a couple weeks, come back to it so you can plan your next goal event or the rest of your year with a better idea of what you really want.