Fast forward to Tuesday or Wednesday after your Ironman. It's very likely that you're sitting on the couch, with your shattered legs on the coffee table, scratching your sunburned head as you try to remember your dog's name–which you've forgotten–because all you've thought about for the past 6-9 months is Ironman. Your former constant thoughts about training, racing, nutrition, transition bags, carbon aero widgets, and what-I-have-to-pack-for-my-workouts-tomorrow have now been replaced with a single, all-consuming thought:
What do I do now?
At Endurance Nation we have a lot of experience guiding athletes successfully through a critical, and often messy, four weeks post Ironman before they pick up the rest of the season. A proper transition is critical to make sure that your fitness is where you want it to be once you are done recovering.
Some of you are planning ahead for another 70.3 or Ironman event, some of you might have a marathon on the books for the fall, some of you (hopefully more than a few!) are ready to kick back for a bit and then begin training for next year. Regardless of your goals, a proper transition will make sure that you have recovered mentally and physically. This combination is a pre-requisite for being able to resume training, much less thinking, about a race. We have seen the harm that unguided athletes can do to their seasons — and their long-term health — through improper recovery. Follow our guidance to avoid those pitfalls and make sure you are positioned to take advantage of the fitness your Ironman race day brings.
The Big Picture
We highly recommend you have a very relaxed perspective on the first few weeks after Ironman. You are a real person living and working in the real world. You just finished an epic event. Preparation for that event required you, and very likely those important to you, to sacrifice a great deal. As a real person doing the real world thing, you owe it to yourself to take a BIG step back from the Ironman gig and reconnect with the other things that are important in your life: your family, your hobbies, maybe even your job! Basically, we prefer our athletes to have very few-to-zero formal racing events on the calendar through about eight weeks after their race. Better yet, the IM is the end of your season and there is nothing else on the calendar.
It's very common to experience a bit of a let down kinda lost feeling after an Ironman. Some have gone so far as to give it a name: Post Ironman Depression Syndrome (PIDS). Consider that you've had one date circled on the calendar for almost a year. That date has been the thing around which much of your life has revolved for a very long time. Chances are you spent a lot of time and energy thinking, planning, scheduling, preparing, eating, sleeping, cooking, and packing for your training. And now the date has come and gone, and there is likely no similarly epic event around which to focus your life. It can be a bit of a letdown but it's entirely normal and expected. Again, we recommend you reconnect with yourself, you family, your other hobbies, and generally explore your inner non-triathlete for a while!
Let's discuss how the typical age group Ironman athlete is going to feel physically after the race. Your experience may vary, but below are our general observations, having been there ourselves and guided hundreds of athletes through this post-Ironman period.
Solidly thrashed, legs extremely sore through Wednesday.
Likely feel much better, not so sore by Thursday. You begin to think you might be ok to join your buds for your normal Saturday ride, but you're looking forward to sleeping in on Sunday. It's been…a while since that happened.
Friday, you feel a bit more froggy.
Drop in on the Saturday ride and you instantly feel totally flat. First real effort and your HR skyrockets, your perceived exertion is all over the map. Very obvious this is way too much too soon.
Swim: If you wanted to, or needed to, you could probably pick up your “normal” Ironman swim schedule right away…if you wanted or needed to.
Bike: No cycling during the week. Maybe a VERY easy ride on Saturday, totally social, no geekometers or anything. Just enjoy not-training on your bike…looking around, finding a new route…but all only if you want to.
Run: Nope, no running – period. Too soon.
Week 2 Observations:
You feel much better but, if you push the pace in anything, you will still feel flat.
This flat feeling will very likely carry over through the weekend. Don't expect too much, if anything, from yourself this week.
Swim: You're definitely back on your normal swim schedule.
Bike: You're back to your normal cycling FREQUENCY, but not intensity. Maybe you do your normally scheduled ride(s) during the week (but nothing hard) and on your normal Saturday ride you test out the fast legs to see what's up. Don't be surprised to still feel flat.
Run: We recommend you don't run at all until this second weekend, almost two weeks after your race. Maybe Friday at the earliest. This first run should be very, very easy.
Week 3 Observations:
You're nearly back to your normal self by the end of this week.
We are still cautious with the run.
Swim: Your normal schedule.
Bike: Back to normal in terms of frequency, volume, and intensity.
Run: Back to your normal frequency, still light on the volume, and your first pre-IM flavor run is on the weekend. Yes, that's three weeks post race.
You're basically back in the training game. If you've followed our advice, you're likely ready to start rebuilding your fitness. Some of you still might not be mentally or physically ready to hit it again, and if that's the case please continue to stand down until you feel ready. There's nothing like some overzealous early season training to suck the fun out of training.
The Rest of Your Season
Now that we've laid out what to expect from your body, post Ironman, and our broad recommendations for how to work through it, let's lay out your realistic expectations for the remainder of your season. Consider:
You probably tapered 2-3 weeks before your race. Losing a bit of endurance but gaining through speed by allowing your body to fully recover.
You then drove it into the ground with a 10-17hr event.
You then took your time, smartly so, getting back on the training horse. You weren't fully back into the game until the weekend of the third week.
So, between the taper, the race, and the three weeks of recovery, you've done a good bit of detraining for about…4-6wks, depending on how you look at it. In Week Four you are now going to start rebuilding that fitness. For this reason, we encourage you to have the following expectations regarding racing. For races within:
Four Weeks: Frankly, waste of time and money unless it's something cool you want to do. You WILL have a tough day, unless you are a true freak.
Five Weeks: See above, but less so. Your mileage will vary.
Six Weeks: This is the absolute minimum time required to “maybe,” on your absolute best day, have a repeat performance of your Ironman. There is a reason why Ironman Canada, usually about six weeks out from Kona, is the last qualifier: six weeks is the minimum to have realistic expectations of maybe repeating your Canada performance. And we're not just talking about following up an Ironman with another Ironman. Six weeks is a tight turn for you to have a decent race at ANY distance. You simply have not had enough time to build your fitness back up.
Eight Weeks: You have a better chance of having a good, PR race…but it's still a tight turn. Eight weeks is the minimum amount of time we would recommend you schedule a race that you wanted to do well in.
Twelve Weeks: This is doable. You're back on your game and you can realistically schedule and expect to have an A-race with a PR potential experience.
Regardless of your post-Ironman path, don't lose sight of what you have accomplished. Take the time to recover physically and mentally and you'll be a better athlete — and human — because of it!
Would you like to see all of this laid out as a training plan? We've done just that, creating the Ironman Transition Training Plan eBook, and bundled it with some other great resources to create the the Endurance Nation Ironman Race Kit. The Kit includes: The Four Keys to Ironman Execution eBook, 6 x 30' preview videos of our Ironman Course Talks, and the Ironman Transition Training Plan eBook, a comprehensive guide for the “what now” questions rattling around in your head post race! The kit is FREE, our gift to you, as a demonstration of our committment to changing the Ironman training, racing, and coaching game!
Endurance Nation is the world's only 400 person long course triathlon team, with 20-30 athletes in every US Ironman this season. The team is closed for the 2009 long course season but you can sign up for our waiting list here.