Leadman & Ironman: Part 3 – The Recovery

In the third part of my series on the Leadman Epic 250 race format – 5km swim / 223km bike / 22km run – we’ll talk about recovering from the race itself – covered in Part 1, which went really well for you all because you listened to my advice in Part 2 as well. With the first bit of real training in the books after Ironman Texas, which fell on pretty much the same relative date as Leadman Epic 250 Las Vegas did in 2011, I’m ready to do a little comparison. In general, my estimation – supported by various anecdotes and stories of blood tests and other metrics – is that it takes about six weeks to fully recover from an Ironman. Now, you obviously can get back into training well before then, but it takes about six weeks to really recover and be back to 100%. The other triathlon rule of thumb which works okay – though which I think tends to underestimate a bit, especially if you go hard – is that it’s one day per mile you run. That would make it 26 days to recover from an Ironman, which is still a lot, though obviously only about four weeks. If you use that same rule of thumb, you get two weeks for a Leadman 250, which matches up pretty well – based off my single experience – with what it takes. And that was from Las Vegas, which was murderously hard. 
But really what I noticed most was less the time difference, but more what it was that I felt I was recovering from. I actually rode my bike the day after Leadman 250. Why? I don’t know. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But the day after that, I basically lay in the fetal position all day and had some “toilet issues.” And then I spent most of the next two weeks sleeping or wishing I was sleeping. I had to do the Tour of California TT the Friday after the Leadman, and that went well for about four minutes. Then I wanted to die, which was unfortunate because I still had about 31 minutes left to go.  After that TT, I then basically slept all day for just over a week. It was two weeks where I was just laid up. But, interestingly, it wasn’t really that my muscles were sore. There was none of that hobbling backwards down stairs because of pain in your legs that is so bad that you can’t sleep. Nope. It was my “system” that was tired. My legs felt pretty much okay, until I asked them to TT. But I was tired. Really tired. At least, I was really tired for two weeks. And then I bounced right back into pretty full training and felt pretty good. 
The road back from Texas has been different – though not so different from previous Ironmans. With another full year of good training in my legs, it seems that the soreness goes away faster each time I do an Ironman. At least the stab-you-in-the-legs soreness that makes you hobble instead of walk. This is good because it makes traveling after a race easier. But there’s way more deep muscular fatigue. Overall, I felt less “tired” – as compared with Leadman – but more sore; or, perhaps more appropriately, the soreness:tiredness ratio had a much bigger soreness component after Ironman. This made me a bit antsy and otherwise led to some bad decisions. But we’ve been over that. Leadman probably would have been better in terms of keeping me quiet… 
Getting back into training since Texas has been slower than after Las Vegas last spring – though it hasn’t exactly been apples-to-apples with more travel than I would have liked post-Texas. But still, after two weeks of exhaustion in 2011, I was back and ready to roll. I got right back into training, and knocked off a fantastic five weeks of training – mostly running – in June that really was the beginning of my taking my run to the next level. I’m sure it took more than those two weeks for the big fitness boost that comes from a long race of any kind to kick in, but I certainly felt much better and much fresher, especially considering that at just a shade over nine-and-a-half hours, the Leadman Epic 250 Las Vegas was certainly my longest race by a pretty fair margin. With an easier overall course – and much easier conditions expected – the Bend race should be much shorter, so I expect a much quicker turnaround from that. I think it took longest to recover from the 20 bottles – yes, TWENTY – that I drank on the bike in Vegas. Along those lines, after any long race, making sure to get some probiotics is a great idea. All that sugar and fluids really does a number on your digestive system. Of all the things to focus on during recovery, my own personal opinion is that getting your digestive system back on track is number one. 

With Leadman, the classic recovery methods like ice baths, massage, active compression (like my fancy NormaTec boots in the picture), passive compression (tights), etc – things that I think you need to be more cautious of during training because they can attenuate the training load – all are going to help, but I think you’ll find that the big thing is really getting your system back in order, which means – first and foremost – your digestive system, because you just spent the better part of the day living on sugar and totally flushing your digestive system. It’s a long race and it’s a tough race, but – in terms of muscular damage – it’s not nearly as bad as an Ironman. That back half – and especially last 10km/6mi of the run – are brutal in an Ironman. And with Leadman, you just don’t have that. But that’s both a good thing and a bad thing. On the plus side, you’ll feel better sooner. But on the minus side, you’ll feel better sooner. 

If triathletes weren’t the typical A+ personalities that they almost inevitably are, this wouldn’t be an issue. But what happens all too often is that as soon as people are able – and often even before – they start training hard. I know of folks going for runs the day after Ironman. That’s a bad idea. For sane people – or at least more sane people – Ironman is usually debilitating enough that people can’t run – or even hobble quickly the next day – and the majority (I hope) of people don’t try. But with Leadman, even yours truly (who is admittedly not sane at times) decided to go for a ride the next day.

And I think that’s my caution with a race like the 250 – you’ll feel better before you are better. So, take those two weeks really easy. Get your probiotics. Sleep. Eat “clean” food (stay away from sugar). And rest. It’s a long race no matter how you think about it. But if you’re sensible, you should be back rolling with a great fitness boost from that long race before very long.

If that sounds appealing to you, you can register for either the Epic 250 (what I’ll be doing) or the 125 in Bend, OR on Sept. 22 for only $125.00 (that’s only $0.50/km for the 250!) using the code LEADMANRAPP here: http://www.leadmantri.com/
Hope to see you there. Feel free to fire off any questions using the form at the right or using the comments section of this post.

5 thoughts on “Leadman & Ironman: Part 3 – The Recovery

  1. I think you could, but I'm not sure it's what I'd recommend. In the other order? Much more a yes. But doing Ironman first? That's a lot harder on the body.

    Why not just do the 125?

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  2. Dude this is a great series and very helpful. Unfortunately I didnt get to read this until I was on the plane home from Bend but I am glad I caught the recovery read in time. Thanks for putting this out there!

    I totally agree with the training also… Most triathletes should print out that paragraph about swimming to become a better triathlete and post it somewhere they can see it every morning! I had a running injury so focused on the swim/bike more which naturally helped and I felt fine on the run with little run training.

    I also feel the same with the recovery – muscles are not that sore but it is a big load on “the system”

    Thanks again and hope to see you out there.

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