Determining Your Race Recovery Time

At least once a week during summer months I get a note asking: How long should it take me to recover from my race? It's a great question.

The first question I ask is: What sport did you race? People typically recover faster from a three-hour cycling road race than they do from a three-hour running event.

Triathlon recovery from a three-hour event falls between cycling and running. While some people prefer to use miles logged in the race as the measuring stick for recovery, I use race time.

Race time is just one factor to consider when determining recovery time. The time it takes to fully recover from a race depends on many factors, some of which are outlined later in this article.

When I refer to full recovery, I insinuate that you are recovered from the race completely—so that you can do a race-quality training session or another race with no residual fatigue or affects remaining from your last event.

A quick guide to estimate race recovery time follows:

  • Cycling Races: one to three days per hour of racing
  • Triathlon Races: three to five days per hour of racing
  • Running Races: four to six days per hour of racing

With the quick guide as a place to start, you can further refine your recovery estimate by considering factors that affect race recovery. How fast an athlete recovers from an event depends on several factors before, during and after the race. These factors are relative to each sport and the individual athlete.

Take a look at the Modifiers for Race Recovery chart. The chart lists factors that affect race recovery in the left column. In the last three columns are descriptions for the ranking values. As you make your way through the list of Factors Affecting Race Recovery, note how many times you score a ranking value of each one, two and three. The best score possible is 15. The higher your score, the more your recovery will be affected in a negative manner.

Modifiers for Race Recovery

Ranking Value
Factors Affecting Race Recovery 1 2 3
Before the Race
1. Age < 40 40-60 60+
2. Level of conditioning High Medium Low
3. Nutritional status Great Average Poor
4. Taper and rest Great Average Poor
5. Athletic experience in the sport >10 years 5-10 years <5 years
6. Life stress (family/job/personal/travel) Low Medium High
The Race
1. Sport Cycling Triathlon Running
2. Distance of the event (also related to athlete ability) Short Medium Long
3. Racing intensity (relative to that particular race distance) Using it as a training day Medium intensity All-out, highest average speed
4. Nutritional practice (fueling/hydration) Great Average Poor
5. Course Easy Moderate Difficult
6. Weather conditions (temperature/humidity) Perfect Okay Bad
After the Race
1. Nutritional practice (fueling/hydration) Great Average Poor
2. Life stress (family/job/personal/travel) Low Medium High
3. Type of workouts done in the days following the event (intensity/duration) Easy/Short Moderate Fast and/or Long

To use an extreme example, an athlete completing a two-hour triathlon, with all factors in the number one column will likely be fully recovered in about six days. If that same athlete has all factors in the number three column, full recovery from the race may take as much as 10 days. Scoring all factors in the number three column is also a signal for a high risk of injury or illness.

When heading into your next race, make a good effort to control some of the factors listed on the chart. By controlling the factors that you can control before, during and after the race, you can expect a faster recovery.

Gale Bernhardt was the 2003 USA Triathlon Pan American Games and 2004 USA Triathlon Olympic coach for both the men's and women's teams. Her first Olympic experience was as a personal cycling coach at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale's pre-built, easy-to-follow training plans. For more information, click here. Let Gale and Active Trainer help you succeed.

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