How much time we take off after a race depends on a number of factors:
Is it the end of your season or do you still have other races you are doing?
Was the race an “A” race, “B” race or “C” race?
What is your fitness level?
How long have you trained (training history)?
Many triathletes and runners race multiple events throughout the year, and we have to prioritize which races are most important. If you are training for a full Ironman distance race and do a 70.3 6-8 weeks out from the full, then recovery will be different than if the 70.3 is your “A” race. Additionally, we look at fitness level and training history. The athlete who trains 20 hours a week and completes a 70.3 in 5.5 hours will require less recovery time than the athlete who trains 10 hours a week and does a 7 hour 70.3. Also, seasoned athletes who have a history of racing multiple times throughout the year know their bodies better than the first-timer who just completed a distance for the first time.
You also have to take into consideration how hard you raced and the conditions you overcame. Races requiring medical attention after the race will require a longer recovery period than those where there was more “in the tank.”
With all that in mind, here are some general timeframes for determining the recovery required after a race:
Sprint Distance Triathlon
Recovery from a Sprint distance triathlon typically takes 7 to 10 days. Athletes should take the day after the race as a recovery day, then resume easy workouts on day 2 or 3. You can return to normal training 7 days after the race to ensure full recovery, assuming none of the previously mentioned situations apply.
Olympic Distance Triathlon
Recovery from an Olympic distance triathlon typically takes 10 to 14 days under ideal circumstances. Again, take the day after the race as a complete recovery day. On days 2 and 3 you might do EASY spinning on the bike or walking in your neighborhood. Your heart rate should not leave recovery zone during these efforts. On day 4 you can start slowly with some easy swim, run, or bike but keep it short (up to 30-45 min). By day 10 the trained triathlete can resume normal training to prepare for the next race.
Ironman 70.3 Triathlon (or Half Marathon)
Recovery from an Ironman 70.3 triathlon or half marathon usually takes 14 to 21 days. As with the Olympic triathlon, take the day after the race as a complete recovery day. For the 70.3 and half marathon distances, on days 2, 3 and 4 you can do EASY spinning on the bike or walking in your neighborhood. Starting on the 5th day post-race, begin easy workouts with swims less than 1 hour, runs less than 1 hour and bike workouts less than 2.5 hours. Full recovery from this distance can take 14-21 days and normal training can then resume.
Ironman 140.6 Triathlon (or Full Marathon)
After a full-distance Ironman or a full marathon, it can take 3-4 weeks to fully recover. Athletes should take 7 days off, except for very easy active recovery (walking, stretching, easy spins). On the 8th day you can begin easy workouts with swims less than 1 hour, runs less than 40 minutes and bike workouts less than 2 hours. At day 21 post-race, assess how you feel and resume normal training once you feel fully recovered. Especially after a full Ironman, don’t rush your recovery – for some people it can take up to 3 months to feel 100% physically and mentally.