7 tips for a fast Ironman Recovery

How long does it take to recover from an Ironman race? Scour the forums and there are loads of opinions on how long you should wait between IM races (some say 6 months, some say 9 weeks, some pros have done back to back IM races 1 week apart). Do a google search for “Ironman Recovery” and there are plenty of articles out there with loads of advice about what to eat, when to do what etc. etc. Many of these articles are written by sports scientists and coaches who are probably better qualified than me to talk about the theory of our sport. So what qualifies me to share yet another opinion? Well, I have recovered successfully from several Ironman races. In fact recently, I have done 3 Iron distance races in 10 weeks:

Ironman Switzerland July 10th (11:02), then 3 weeks later…
Vineman July 30th (10:18), then 7 weeks later
Challenge Henley Sept 18th (10:28)

Obviously everyone is different, but for me 3 weeks is enough to recover. I did no real training between IMCH and Vineman, I just tapered again during the 3 weeks (1 week recovery, 1 week short efforts to sharpen, 1 week rest).

For the next one I had 7 weeks, which meant I could actually do some training in between:

1 week rest (8 hours)
1 week build (14 hours)
2 big weeks (training camp style, 23 & 22 hours)
3 week taper

In this case I was able to handle a reasonable training load of 14 hours after 1 week, and a high training load in weeks 3 & 4. So what are the secrets to good recovery?

1. Prepare well
If you are well trained, your recovery will be faster. The main cause of muscle damage is the run, so having some decent mileage in your legs will limit the soreness. Biking fitness is even more critical though, because this is where you spend the longest part of your day. I know several athletes who never ride much more than 4 hours on their weekend training rides. That’s not enough. My usual long ride is around 6-7 hours, and is at least 5.5 hours. This will enable you to start the run less fatigued, but it will also limit the total stress of the day. If your training rides are only 4 hours long, then an Ironman bike leg is going to feel very tough.

2. Get your race nutrition right.
If you run out of carbs during the race (aka “bonking”), this will impact your recovery after the race. Keep well nourished and you’ll race better plus recover better. Try to eat straight after the race if you can (I usually can’t). Make sure you take in a lot of protein. I always have a protein shake after my race, sometimes two.

3. Eat a lot of protein.
My 2 shakes after the race give me around 70g protein which is key. Continue taking in protein for the whole week, at least 2g per kg of bodyweight per day. I like to take in 3g per kg per day. In the week following a race I eat whatever I want, provided that I take in my 220g of protein every day. Most sports scientists will tell you to eat a lot of carbs for recovery, but they are thinking in terms of glycogen replacement  which will enable you to do a hard workout again. Your goal is not to do a hard workout, it’s to recover from muscle damage. Protein is what will help you to do this. Carbs help too but not if you don’t eat enough protein. I eat eggs /egg whites for breakfast, lean meat for lunch and dinner, plenty of veggies, plus 2-3 protein shakes throughout the day.

4. Get active
Although tempting, don’t sit around doing nothing in the days after your race. Some type of active recovery will get blood & oxygen flowing to your muscles which will speed recovery. I generally avoid running and stick to light swimming & cycling. A 20-30 min light session every day will get you recovered faster than being a couch potato. Do some stretching each day, and I really love using my triggerpoint grid roller.

5. Sleep
Try to sleep more than usual. This will enable the release of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) that will aid your recovery. Avoid sugars before you sleep, they will stop HGH secretion. Try to add in a short nap during the day if you are able to do that.

6. Lots of water
Drink, Drink, Drink as much as you can (within reason). This will help to flush toxins from your system which will get you back on track quickly. Also make sure you eat foods rich in anti-oxidants which will complement your water guzzling (my favourite antioxidant food = blueberries)

7. Plan your next race.
Once your IM race is over, your massive goal is now over, your purposeful training is done. This means that you might feel lost and without purpose. Book your next race.  Personally, I book my next IM race, but then also something sooner like a local half marathon or 10k. I really enjoyed doing my IM races so close to each other because it meant that I had to be on form once, and then just capitalize on that form for the other 2 races.

So in conclusion – Ironman recovery can take a lot quicker than you think! Good luck and speedy recovery!

How long does it take to recover from an Ironman race? Scour the forums and there are loads of opinions on how long you should wait between IM races (some say 6 months, some say 9 weeks, some pros have done back to back IM races 1 week apart). Do a google search for “Ironman Recovery” and there are plenty of articles out there with loads of advice about what to eat, when to do what etc. etc. Many of these articles are written by sports scientists and coaches who are probably better qualified than me to talk about the theory of our sport. So what qualifies me to share yet another opinion? Well, I have recovered successfully from several Ironman races. In fact recently, I have done 3 Iron distance races in 10 weeks:

Ironman Switzerland July 10th (11:02), then 3 weeks later…
Vineman July 30th (10:18), then 7 weeks later
Challenge Henley Sept 18th (10:28)

Obviously everyone is different, but for me 3 weeks is enough to recover. I did no real training between IMCH and Vineman, I just tapered again during the 3 weeks (1 week recovery, 1 week short efforts to sharpen, 1 week rest).

For the next one I had 7 weeks, which meant I could actually do some training in between:

1 week rest (8 hours)
1 week build (14 hours)
2 big weeks (training camp style, 23 & 22 hours)
3 week taper

In this case I was able to handle a reasonable training load of 14 hours after 1 week, and a high training load in weeks 3 & 4. So what are the secrets to good recovery?

1. Prepare well. If you are well trained, your recovery will be faster. The main cause of muscle damage is the run, so having some decent mileage in your legs will limit the soreness. Biking fitness is even more critical though, because this is where you spend the longest part of your day. I know several athletes who never ride much more than 4 hours on their weekend training rides. That’s not enough. My usual long ride is around 6-7 hours, and is at least 5.5 hours. This will enable you to start the run less fatigued, but it will also limit the total stress of the day. If your training rides are only 4 hours long, then an Ironman bike leg is going to feel very tough.

2. Get your race nutrition right. If you run out of carbs during the race (aka “bonking”), this will impact your recovery after the race. Keep well nourished and you’ll race better plus recover better. Try to eat straight after the race if you can (I usually can’t). Make sure you take in a lot of protein. I always have a protein shake after my race, sometimes two.

3. Eat a lot of protein. My 2 shakes after the race give me around 70g protein which is key. Continue taking in protein for the whole week, at least 2g per kg of bodyweight per day. I like to take in 3g per kg per day. In the week following a race I eat whatever I want, provided that I take in my 220g of protein every day. Most sports scientists will tell you to eat a lot of carbs for recovery, but they are thinking in terms of glycogen replacement  which will enable you to do a hard workout again. Your goal is not to do a hard workout, it’s to recover from muscle damage. Protein is what will help you to do this. Carbs help too but not if you don’t eat enough protein. I eat eggs /egg whites for breakfast, lean meat for lunch and dinner, plenty of veggies, plus 2-3 protein shakes throughout the day.

4. Get active
Although tempting, don’t sit around doing nothing in the days after your race. Some type of active recovery will get blood & oxygen flowing to your muscles which will speed recovery. I generally avoid running and stick to light swimming & cycling. A 20-30 min light session every day will get you recovered faster than being a couch potato.

5. Sleep
Try to sleep more than usual. This will enable the release of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) that will aid your recovery. Avoid sugars before you sleep, they will stop HGH secretion. Try to add in a short nap during the day if you are able to do that.

6. Lots of water
Drink, Drink, Drink as much as you can (within reason). This will help to flush toxins from your system which will get you back on track quickly. Also make sure you eat foods rich in anti-oxidants which will complement your water guzzling (my favourite antioxidant food = blueberries)

7. Plan your next race. Once your IM race is over, your massive goal is now over, your purposeful training is done. This means that you might feel lost and without purpose. Book your next race.  Personally, I book my next IM race, but then also something sooner like a local half marathon or 10k.

Vineman Prep

It’s just 3 weeks after Ironman Switzerland, and my next one is the Vineman on Saturday 30th July. It’s not an official Ironman branded race, but it’s the same distance (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run).

Vineman Swim Course in Russian River, Sonoma

Fortunately IMCH is fresh in the mind so I can make a few tweaks and experiment with some changes. I feel pretty relaxed about it, so I’m going to go out a little harder this time and see how it goes. The general plan is as follows:

– Swim: start faster and avoid the masses. Luckily Vineman starts in waves so there are fewer people than the 2200 in Switzerland.
– Bike: aim for 215 watts average (at IMCH I aimed for 190W and averaged 204W), not sure if this will translate into a better time since Vineman is mainly rolling hills, no long flats and no long downhills, also no bad uphills.
– Run: take on more nutrition, and try to stick to 5:00/km then go faster if I feel good

I definitely want to go under 11 hours, but I think Switzerland (11:02) is a faster course so it’s difficult to tell what will happen. Basically I’m going to put in the effort that would give me a 10:30 in Switzerland, and hope that it turns out to be only 30 mins slower in the Vineman…

Looks like we will have great weather (84F, 28C). I’ve pretty much done nothing since Ironman Switzerland, except for a few open water swims in Hawaii last week, so either I’ll be well recovered or have lost some fitness… but I don’t think I’d lose much endurance in a few weeks… I’ll soon find out!

Post-Ironman Power Test

Today I did another power test, 6 days after Ironman Switzerland. The purpose of this test is to compare it to my pre-Ironman power tests and gauge my recovery. The test is a standard power threshold test, where I warm up for 10-15 mins then ride as hard as I can for 30 mins, taking the average watts for the 30 mins as my threshold at power. For more info on testing protocols check out Joe Friel’s blog post on setting zones.

I started training with a power meter in June, so I only have 2 previous power tests to work with:

June 18th:  261 watts – after a heavy week and not recovered
July 2nd: 272 watts – after 2 weeks taper & 1 week before IM CH, fully recovered

So the goal today was to see if I was anywhere close to the 272 watts, that would tell me if my state of recovery was similar to what it was 1 week before IM (272 watts). Surprisingly, I managed 282 watts, which implies that I was a complete slacker during the Ironman race and should have raced harder… or it could mean that the IM race somehow made me fitter in one week and that my recovery plan is working well. Perhaps an alternative explanation is that I need to practice doing these tests, and they will get more accurate over time. However I have been doing this type of test for many years to get my heart rate zones, it’s just the power measurement that’s new.

date avg power avg HR distance
June 18, 2011 261 – splits 155 17.97
July 2, 2011 272 – splits 155 19.98
July 16, 2011 282 – splits 156 19.55

 

You’ll notice that my average speed was higher during my July 2nd test. This is probably due to it being slightly more windy today, plus I was wearing my normal helmet and not my aero helmet.

Either way, the good news is that it means I’ll be ok to race Vineman (Ironman distance) on July 30th. Bring it on!



Ironman Recovery

Here is my Ironman recovery plan. I’ll let you know if it works well or not.  This is the 5th day since the race and I’m feeling about 90% recovered now. I need to recover fast because I have another one in just over 2 weeks from now (Vineman). My main areas of focus for a quick recovery are 1) to ensure that my nutrition during and immediately after the race are well planned & executed and 2) to consume a high protein diet in the days following the race.

Protein time

Protein time

1. Ensuring my race nutrition is well executed.

I seldom lose weight in a long race, making sure I consume enough carbs but also some protein during the race. For IM Switzerland I used the bike leg to consume a lot of nutrition: in the first 40km I drank 750ml of electrolyte, 750ml water, 2 x gels and a bar. Thereafter I had a gel every 20-30 mins, which is the frequency that works for me. I also consumed about 2L of coke and another 2L of water. On the run I find it difficult to eat but I managed 1 or 2 gels per hour and energy drink at every station. Once I finished, I had about 4 cups of the Powerbar recover drink. I tried to eat but I just wasn’t hungry. About 2 hours later I managed to eat a cheese burger.

2. After the race: eat lots of protein

in the days following the race, I aim to eat as much protein as possible in order to aid muscle recovery. I don’t focus on carbs since the goal is not to replenish glycogen stores, but to repair damaged muscle. Despite what people may say, you don’t need a high carb diet to repair your muscles. I aim for over 2g  of protein per kg of body weight per day, so for me the goal is 150g. To get there without eating a whole lot of meat, I supplement with protein drinks, egg whites and amino acids.

3. Training: don’t do nothing

I try to do some light exercise – “active recovery” for at least a week. This means swimming, and very easy running / cycling. This gets the blood flowing to your sore muscles, delivers oxygen to them and will help you recover sooner.

Anyway, that’s just the plan, I’ll let you know if it works out for me! So far I’m feeling good, I’m aiming to do a power test tomorrow morning in order to gauge how recovered I actually am.

[update: power test went well, 10 watts higher average power than my pre-IM test]