You did it! You finished that big goal event. The one you weren’t sure you could even do. The one you spent months preparing for, making sacrifices here and there to ensure you got the work in. Maybe it was a long-distance triathlon, marathon, gravel race, or trail ultra. Whatever you did, you’re awesome! But, now what?
What most would call post-event recovery, coaches refer to it as a “transition phase”. Recovery makes it sound like everything after a big race is just physical. Realistically, if you did the training, you shouldn’t be too demolished after an epic race. But if you’ve put your heart and soul into a big goal, there was a lot of mental load (stress). Then there’s the load on your family or work life, too. That said, we generally break a transition phase into three parts:
This is the most obvious. Take a day off. You earned it. Your body needs time to heal and rebuild whatever you broke down during your event. This process can take as much as a couple of weeks, so don’t throw yourself immediately back into high training loads. We generally give our athletes two weeks to do whatever they feel like, or don’t, as long as they keep it short and low impact. If you feel like doing nothing, do nothing. If you are super jazzed, keep your training short and low impact. Runners should likely lay off running for a week since it’s the hardest on the body. We’d caution you about doing more than a couple of weeks of pretty much nothing, as it’s super easy to drop all those good habits and routines you created while you were training hard. Keeping your routines intact will help get you back on track once you’re back to training.
Typical recovery tactics like light massage, ice, compression, etc., can also accelerate recovery. But don’t go crazy beating your muscles to death with a massage gun because they’ve already been through enough!
I saved this for last, but the number one thing you can do post-event to speed up the recovery process is to hydrate well with electrolytes and get your body some protein and carbs! Get the body back to baseline quickly, and it will have the resources to start rebuilding immediately.
Part of going unstructured for a bit is also taking the mental load of training out of the equation. Use the extra time to finish some of those household chores you’ve been putting off, but also use that extra brain power to reflect on how far you’ve come since you started your journey. Don’t waste a second on why you’re not where you want to be. Instead, start thinking about other milestones that will get you closer to your big-picture goals. You don’t have to pick the next big event or challenge immediately. Instead, think about what you enjoyed most from the last several months of training, and lean your plans in that direction!
It’s easy to finish an epic event, check the box, and wipe your hands with the sport under the premise that it just took up too much of your time. Keep in mind, ultra distance events are not the only option in endurance sports. There are plenty of short running races, sprint tris, and bike events to allow you to have a goal and not require you to train like a part-time job – and they’re just as much fun! You need to examine what kind of weekly training time rebalances your life. If it was sustainable in the thick of your training, great! But for many amateur athletes, a powwow with your significant other can recalibrate your training availability. Then you can begin to set realistic goals for available training time. Everyone’s happy!
Dale Sanford is the co-founder of BPC Performance, Inc. and has been coaching endurance athletes all over the world since 2009. From first-timers to world championship competitors and everything in between. Dale is also BPC’s bike fit and movement specialist. He is an avid triathlete himself, earning USA Triathlon All-American honors and qualifying for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships. You can catch up with Dale @bpcperformance, bpcperformance.com, or listen to the Coaches on Couches Podcast.