Thursday, September 27, 2012

Ironman Recovery Experience

It feels good to finally be back at a normal training load. Not ironman training load, of course, as I don’t think I’m going to miss the 5-8 hour brick workouts every weekend anytime soon, but a good cycle with threshold run workouts, bike intervals, and speed work in the pool.

I wasn’t back here right after the race, though. It took a lot of rest, because I was just plain tired after the race.

I still feel a bit of lingering fatigue, but my legs are up to speed again, and after a few weeks of careful low-level training, I’m back at my normal paces for all workout types.

And THAT’S what really feels good. Having conquered that line between resting and losing fitness. I wasn’t sure if it would mean doing nothing, or if it would mean going back to a huge training load almost immediately. Thankfully, my coach helped with all of that, and here’s how it wound up playing out in the month after IM Louisville.

Day 0 (race day): Race for 14 hours and 12 minutes. Cast aside wheat intolerance issues and eat six pieces of pizza after crossing the finish line. Take an ice bath. Go to bed around 2:30 am.

Day 1: Wake up at 5 am, start packing. Stand in line for about an hour to get a finisher’s jacket and eat breakfast #1. Eat breakfast #2 90 minutes later, then breakfast #3 before heading to the airport to get back to DC. Nap on the plane, swim 1500 yards to flush out the legs and wind up irritating the silver-dollar-sized blister on my right foot.

Day 2: Back to work, making the commute in flip flops because none of my shoes fit on my swollen, blistered feet. Begin possibly ill-advised 4-day juice-based diet. No activity beyond walking to and from the metro station. Fall asleep at 9 pm.

Day 3: Attempt to put on shoes in the morning. Fail. Curse the vegetable juice I have for lunch. Walk 2 miles in the wretched flip flops to do errands. Swim 1800 yards slowly at night. Spend an hour propping my legs up against the wall to un-swell them.

Day 4: Decide that green juice isn’t terrible for breakfast, realize that I’m obviously going insane. Continued failure to wear shoes thanks to pain from the gigantic blister. Contemplate going for a walk at night, still-stiff legs protest. Instead, prop legs up against the wall for more un-swelling and then sleep.

Day 5: Coach’s schedule calls for a 45 minute spin on the bike “if I feel like it.” I didn’t feel like it, but since I could finally get shoes back on, I DID feel like going back to the gym for some light work on the elliptical and core exercises in the morning. Registered for IM Mont Tremblant 2013, then walked home from work with mostly un-swollen legs.

Day 6: Decide that juice makes me hungrier than no food at all. Swim 2500 meters at master’s practice, which was just enough time to show off my IM Louisville cap to everybody. Walk around 5 miles on my totally un-swollen feet and legs in the evening, then collapse in bed because even though my legs have started coming around, my body is still beat.

Day 7: Coach’s schedule calls for a 1 hour bike “if I feel like it.” Nope. Don’t feel like it. Walk 6 miles round trip to the Dupont farmer’s market, buy cheese. Nap.

Day 8: Meet Rachel for an easy 25 mile bike ride on Beach Drive, mostly to show off my IM Louisville jersey (see day 6, there might be a theme here). Come home and nap. Legs fully functional on the ride and after, but residual exhaustion remains.

Day 9: Swim 2500 yards easy. Nap.

Day 10: Run 3 miles easy. On a track. This is possibly the easiest way that one could do their first post-IM run.

Day 11: After the oh-so-long 3 mile run, wake up with legs almost as stiff as they were the day after the race. So much for being all better and able to run. Walk home from work to loosen them up. Then nap.

Day 12: More showing off the IM Louisville jersey on another bike ride. Get blood test results from the doctor’s office, along with a slew of ridiculous dietary restrictions. Throw temper tantrum. Then take a nap. Apparently ironman recovery turns you into a toddler.

Days 13-14: Swim a little, run a little, bike a little. Remain slow in all disciplines with massive leg fatigue, stiffness, and soreness returning during any and all attempts at running. Try to figure out how to eat almost no carbohydrates per medical advice.

Days 15-18: Begin multi-city week-long business trip. Run on hotel treadmills at an easy pace, lift weights again. Get flack from all my colleagues for “not eating enough” at business dinners, then change the subject to modeling failure modes of digital control systems at nuclear power plants, which is always good for starting a fight and removing focus from my plate.

Days 19-20: Interval session on the bike after almost no sleep coming home goes better than expected. Depart for aquatics national convention. Literally fall asleep during several sessions.

Day 21: Home from the convention. Sleep deprived and hungry, go for a 2 hour bike ride and come home crying. Recovery not yet complete 3 weeks post-race.

Days 22-25: Resume a relatively normal workout schedule, with a side of some medication I have to take for roughly a week that makes me even more angry than normal. Do a normal threshold track workout and speed work in the pool. Continue to attempt ridiculous dietary recommendations. Mixed success.

Day 26: Spend 3 hours riding my bike on a mountain. Nap.

Days 27-28: Nap more. Swim more. Nap more. Run more – including a real, honest long run. Nap even more.

That brings us to the beginning of this week. And at this point, I’m back on a normal Olympic-distance triathlon/half marathon training schedule, which makes sense, because that’s what I’m training for this fall. Obviously, as I’m not ironman training, those 6+ hour bricks aren’t  coming back anytime soon, but key sessions – long bikes and runs, speedwork, weights - are all back. And finally, my training peaks schedule is no longer loaded with “THIS IS OPTIONAL, ONLY FOR FUN” and “FOR RECOVERY ONLY, DO NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT GOING FAST.”

So my N=1 experiment reveals that recovery sufficient to return to training for moderate-length endurance events takes 3-4 weeks from the finish of an ironman. Clearly, everybody will recover differently, and it might take you months, especially if you had injuries going into the race. Alternatively, you might be one of those (crazy) people who does these things back-to-back weekends. Whatever camp you fall into, be smart about it and have a plan that supports your goal, which could range from “doing a marathon in 6 days” to “not moving from the couch until March.”


  1. I hope your non-training related issues are okay. and that the crazy diet goes away. No carbs? Yikes.

  2. I am still blown away by a. how you time for this and b. how you workout on such a crazy diet your doctor has you on. I would be doing squat on that. you seriously blow my mind

  3. POSSIBLY ill-advised juice diet? Indeed.

    This is why I "recovered" for three months.

  4. You had me at cheese.

    And I would have starved to death by day 4 of the juice diet.

  5. OMG I hate veggie juice, especially with beets in it! Also IM gear FTW!

    Also, I think it took me about the same to recover. I am feeling more normal this week.

  6. 4 days of hardcore juicing? Can you give us a little sample of what kind of juices you had to be partnered up with?

    I usually run out of juice ideas after the 3rd meal.

    1. I just drank a bunch of V8 and fruit juices. It was boring...