Dear Brad Beven,
I’ve been competing in triathlons since the mid to late 90s and have recently encountered a new and frustrating problem. I find it takes heaps longer to pull up from a race. Some Mondays, I can hardly get out of bed! I know it’s an age and wear and tear thing, but I was just wondering if you had any tricks of the trade (legal of course!) that you used throughout your career that help me recover quicker. I don’t want to be as tired this season as I was last!
The simple answer would be a youth elixir but if you or I had one of those, recovery after a race would be the last thing on your mind. Bottling it and making a gazillion dollars would be the top priority. Supposedly we are wiser as we get more “experienced” in life.
The upside of that is we train smarter and more effectively for a better result. Sure, it takes more planning and application but one attraction to the sport of Triathlon is the attention to detail required. It is a multifaceted sport by name and nature. For example, having balance in the three sports, training your weaknesses, and using your time effectively because it’s a multisport. All the issues involved with recovery come under this as well. Whether it is nutrition, or warming down, or even actual training leading into a specific event.
As we get older it’s easy to have an answer to that Boomtown Rats question “Tell me why I don’t like Mondays”. It’s because we don’t bounce back like we used to when we were young. Sometimes it is frustrating when I race some of the guys that are half my age and they don’t realize, as I didn’t, what extra burden the years add. There is definitely no sympathy from them, and I actually enjoy the extra challenge. It makes “dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s” so much more of an issue.
Training patterns or periodizing your training is very important to come up for a race. When I was racing full time, I needed to do up to 30 races a year. That is more than every second weekend year-round. There is no way that I could do that now but I’m also not silly enough to try.
Over the years my race count came down dramatically to a level where I would still have to prioritize the importance of each one such as Worlds, but I was able to apply base training, pre-race and post-race periods. As I said before, as you get long in the tooth this becomes more of an issue. You have to prepare for each one with a good background behind you. Winter training is essential to lasting the whole season and even then, you still need to top up the tank with mileage sometime during the race season to get the best results.
Every time you train or race at a high heart rate level when you are pushing your body to perform aerobically, you are eroding your base. When you don’t have any base, you will find you will get to a certain level, but you just can’t jump to the next one no matter how much you flog yourself. It gets frustrating and people think they must have to go even harder but without the adaptation of all the phases of preparation, your potential will never be realized.
Before you look at changing your approach to training, the first port of call is to make sure your health is on track. Whenever I have a feeling of continued fatigue, I always have a blood test to rule out any iron deficiencies or any other underlying health issue. The first time I based myself at altitude I trained just as hard if not harder than any sea level location. As a result of burning the candle at both ends, my iron levels fell low enough that I was sleeping twice a day and nine hours a night and still felt flat. It took a fair amount of wasted time to identify it and a lot of frustration going into the 1991 World Champs as one of the favorites. That’s just an example of identifying if there is a problem, not saying there is with you, and getting on top of as soon as possible. Maybe have a check up and go from there.
Recovery after racing is always an important but neglected part of pulling up better the next day. You should always warm down after any event to flush the legs and even a light massage is a great idea. I used to have to back up week after week in some of the racing I did. If I did ok in the competition, there was always the mandatory drug test that needed to be taken. So, after a couple interviews, I would have to sign something to say I was informed that I needed to do the test by a chaperone. He had to be my shadow until I “produced the goods”. The look on their eyes when I said I had to warm down and they would have to come along, jeans or no jeans, with clip board in hand. They were always very understanding but very short of breath and sweating bullets when we got back. Warming down is essential to recovering quicker. If you want a day or more off training after a race, take it not the next day but do a little light training the first day and then put the feet up.
Other options that you may be able to do is a hot Epsom salt bath or even cold plunging your legs in an ice bath. If you can’t access that, or couldn’t be bothered, jump in the ocean or the lake where you raced just after you have finished.
These are some ideas that may help but time marches on, it’s just how best you deal with it that counts.
Brad Beven OAM
Byron Bay Triathlon Ambassador
ITU World Hall of Fame
Australia Hall of Fame