Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Ugly Side of Recovery

So, the big events for the year are over.  Most of my blogging is about the weeks leading up to a race, but this post is all about race day to race day + 30, and the things many of us go through after a race, most of which aren't as fun as racing, or training to race.
The Post Race Blues
After both my big events for the year I was a little down.  It’s very normal to feel this way, most athletes go through it.  It’s not about not meeting goals.  In my case I did what I set out to do.  It’s more about realigning yourself.  For months, you train for this huge event.  You balance your life to train for the event, eat so you’re faster, sleep to recovery from that training, and then…it’s over.  It feels a bit like the 10 minutes after Christmas morning as a child. 
One of the best things you can do to fight the post race blues is to have a plan.  Where are you going from here?  What’s next?  The time after a race is a great time to plan your next block of training, and your next goal. 
Also, be sure to celebrate your success.  Talking about your race with friends, writing race reports, or even blogging (like I am right now), are all good ways to keep these anticlimactic feelings in check.
Supersized Weight Gains
After a race that requires me to put it all out there, I gain a TON of weight.  This didn’t really happen to me until this year, which I attribute to this being the first year I possessed the strength to really push my body to its fitness limits.  I normally weigh anywhere from about 177-182 at racing weight.  Immediately after the 70.3 and the mary my weight jumped up to the 190-200 range.  My body fat numbers based on the caliper also jumped up.  The week after the 70.3 I was measured by the Bod Pod at ISU and it was crazy high as well.  Those numbers stayed very elevated for a week, and then after one night of many many bathroom trips, all was back to normal. 
The first time it happened, after the 70.3, I freaked out a bit and started eating at a caloric deficit.  Not only did this not help the scale number but it took over a month for me to be able to push on the bike at the level I was pre-race.  I saw the big numbers, reacted with my gut instead of my head, and the result was that I screwed up my recovery.  IMPORTANT:  The week or weeks after your big event are NOT the times to be running a caloric deficit. 
Constant Hunger
I do believe that fiber, fat and protein consumption all play a role in abating hunger, however another key contributor to hunger is the volume of food you’re eating.  If you are used to eating 4000 calories of healthy food a day in the build up to a big event, and then suddenly you no longer have those energy needs and you’re back to 2000 calories a day, you’re going to be hungry. 
Here are some ways I cope with this:
1.   Meet Your Energy Needs – Even if you have some weight to lose, the weeks after a big event aren’t the weeks to lose it.  Recovery comes first, and you can’t rebuild your body nearly as quickly when running a caloric deficit.

2.   Know Recovery Requires Energy – You might want to estimate your energy needs a little on the high side when recovering from a big event.

3.   Follow Your Cravings – Within reason, indulge your cravings and consider what they are telling you.  After my 70.3 I wanted red meat, which is very unusual for me because that’s a food I eat very rarely.  So, I ate some steak, and burgers once or twice.   This was likely a signal to eat fat, protein, or perhaps increase my iron.  After the Marathon I was craving leafy green vegetables and pecans.  Again, this may have been a signal to increase my fat and iron.  Either way, making sure my diet is high in protein, healthy fat, and lots of micronutrients like iron is a great way to speed recovery and fight that hungry feeling. 

4.   Volume - Focus on high volume, nutrient dense, low caloric density foods (plants).

5.   Get A Little Fatter – This is one of those do as I say things.  My history causes me to struggle with this one.   There is a body of research that shows it’s healthy for athletes to gain a little weight in the off season, and work back down to your racing weight.  I’m clearly not good at this, but I figured I’d put it out there anyway, for the sake of completeness.

Getting Back On Your Feet

That first ride or run after a big race might be a little rough, if not on your body, on your mind.  After racing at a fully tapered race pace, that first easy run might seem not so easy.  For a few weeks though, anything more than very easy, is probably going to hurt more than help. 
1.   The Day After - After a big event, I like to take at least one day completely off.  I will spend my time walking around, which helps keep loose and increases blood flow, hopefully minimizing soreness.  The day after my 70.3, Lana and I picked blueberries at a local farm.  The day after the marathon we walked the grounds of an art museum I ran through as part of the marathon course.  Seeing the sights at a destination race is probably the most fun way to keep active post race. 
2.   Start In The Water - I always start with swimming when I’m ready to train again.  Swimming is pretty easy on the body.  It’s the shortest of the three events in a triathlon, and I’m not a strong enough swimmer to really push that hard anyway, so it tends to be a pretty safe bet that an easy swim is a good first step back to training. 
3.  Run Last – I’ll add in some high cadence low effort cycling when I’m ready.  Running comes last.
4.   No Schedules – For the 2-3 weeks following a big event, I make all my training unscheduled.  I just do as much or as little as I feel like, when I feel like doing it, as long as it’s all easy.  This is as much for the mental break as the physical rest. 
5.   Avoid Threshold Work – It’s worth saying again, the goal here is to burn some calories, flush out all the garbage in your legs and arms, and get in some active recovery.  Work at, or near, threshold breaks things down more than it speeds recovery.  It’s best to avoid training at any real intensity during a recovery period.
6.   Clear those Nagging Injuries – So, it’s been a few weeks, I’m feeling fresh and my muscles don’t hurt or feel sluggish…but is that knee still bothering me?   You know all those nagging overuse problems you developed in a big build that you’ve been ignoring? This is the time to clear them out. 

Believe me, I don't have it all figured out.  I learned alot about recovery this season though, and this is some of the stuff that has really helped me.  Hopefully it might help you too. 



  1. Mike your blog looks great!!! I look forward to catching on it much more often!! :) Great posts!

  2. Great post Mike. The post-race emotions are a strange experience!

  3. Thanks guys! I'm finally in off season mode, so I'm trying to catch up on my blogging! I've missed it.