How Do I Know When I’m Ready to Race Again?
You shouldn't race again until you're fully recovered from your last one - but what does that look like? Dr. Cory Nyamora outlines the physical and mental signs of recovery.
As endurance athletes, we spend hours, months and years training for events and racing. We are usually passionate, driven, and dedicated to our sport and the structured and organized lifestyle associated with it. Depending on how much we train and race, it may be difficult to take a pause to see if we are actually giving ourselves time to fully recover before registering for the next event, putting our minds and bodies through another structured, intense training block.
How many races can you do within a season? The answer will vary from one athlete to another; remember that everyone is different. Your life circumstances, time to train and recover, health and abilities, stress levels, work/life balance and other commitments all play into how much time you actually need to recover, thus determining how many races you can reasonably do. Our sport should enhance your life, rather than take a toll on you.
The recovery timeline looks different for every athlete. A professional triathlete may recover from a race faster than an age-grouper, and a sprint-distance racer will be able to bounce back faster than someone who has done a half-iron triathlon. Because of that, saying “you need X amount of weeks to recover” is not always the best advice. Instead, look for the physical and mental signs of recovery, and take these into account before you register for your next race.
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Physical Signs of Full Recovery
You should feel rejuvenated and rested physically. Ideally, you’ve had a few weeks off from intense training, had some massages and body work, done other physical activities that have given you a physical and mental break from running, swimming and biking. Basically, your body feels ready and rejuvenated when you are doing your activities again. You will actually feel like it’s easier to run, swim and bike after you’ve rested.
Your coach may also ask you to track certain metrics for signs of physical recovery. This data collection may require technology, like heart rate variability, or it may be as simple as keeping a journal of how much and how well you’re sleeping.Section divider
Mental Signs of Full Recovery
There are many signs that you are ready to register for a race and get back to training again. You feel excited, driven and ready to get back out there. You actually miss the structure or intensity of training and all that you get from this sport. You’ve had time to think about your goals for the next race, and you are clear on why you are doing what you are doing. You don’t feel burned out or unhappy when you think of training or racing.
One note of caution is to always prioritize physical recovery. Sometimes our minds can push us to get back quicker than we are ready for. We may mentally think we are ready to train and race because we are worried about losing fitness, feel insecure about our training plan, have a hard time settling into recovery or are working out more psychological issues through our sport. In many of these cases, we end up overtraining, suffering from recurring injuries due to the lack of recovery time or because we are training and racing too intensely. If this is your case, please make sure you talk to a coach, therapist, or find a good source of training advice that encourages healthy rest and downtime. Any successful athlete rests a lot and pays attention to their bodies and reputable sports science.
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How is recovery different from sprint triathlon to 140.6?
Your recovery time will differ based on the distances you are doing. For shorter sprint events you will typically need less recovery time than if you’ve just completed a half-iron distance triathlon. The longer the distance, the more time you’ll need to recover?
It may be tempting to jump in quickly to registering for your next race after any long training period, because you have spent so much dedicated time training and racing. You might feel like you should capitalize on the fitness you already have. Or perhaps you feel down or depressed in the weeks after your race as you recover from the intensity and structure of exercise. These are all common and normal feelings to have after a race, but they’re not good reasons to hit the “register” button right away.
Additionally, if you had the race of your life, or on the other hand, had a poor race performance, you may feel compelled to jump in right away to either replicate the exhilaration or fix what you think went wrong. But don’t! It’s important to have the downtime to recuperate physically and mentally and get a break to do other things.Section divider
What should I do to recover post-race?
As you recover from your race, I strongly encourage shifting to a less-structured workout schedule with a goal of simply processing your accomplishment as you go for a hike, do an easy swim, or join your friends for a yoga class. This reflection time is good for taking stock of life goals and race goals, allowing the seasonality of the sport to take its course. It also allows your body to heal and recover. In that sense, you’ll be able to do even better the next time you race, since you will no longer be physically and mentally exhausted. The more you race, the better you’ll be at recognizing the ebbs and flows of training to allow rest and recuperation to kick in.
For the weeks post-race, it’s best to help yourself with recovery so you can get race ready by doing physical activities that feel good – massage, sauna, hot tubs, relaxed walks, unstructured swims, leisurely bike rides, or other sports you enjoy. Also, take time to journal, meditate, read, tend to your relationships, and immerse yourself in more relaxing, peaceful activities – or some of the other things you might have missed while training. Make sure you are eating and sleeping well, and nurturing your body and mind in whatever ways help you feel renewed. You’ve been training and working on a pretty structured schedule, so it’s important to work in more lightness, ease and relaxation in order to gain the mental and physical benefits of what you just put yourself through.
Without reflection, down time and rest, it’s easy for endurance athletes to get caught in just doing the sport because that’s what you do, vs. being strategic and intentional and aware of why you are doing what you are doing. Rest and recovery allows not just physical healing of your body but also allows you to have clarity about the benefits of the sport for you, and helps you become a better, stronger, happier athlete who is self-aware and able to pay attention to what your body and mind need in any situation.
Dr. Cory Nyamora is a licensed psychologist and endurance sports coach. He is the founder and director of Endurance – A Sports & Psychology Center, Inc. a company that provides endurance coaching and psychological services to athletes of all ages. He provides trainings for organizations and athletes on topics related to the intersections of sports, mental health and overall wellness.