On Sunday, July 9, 2017, Germany’s Sebastian Kienle claimed the Ironman European Championship in Frankfurt with an impressive sub-8-hour performance (7:41:42). We asked Kienle and his coach Lubos Bilek about post-race recovery and the first 168 hours after the finish line.
1 hour after the race
What happens right after the finish line and why?
KIENLE: Depending on the result, there is a lot of stuff to do, interviews and so on… I try to drink a lot also because of the doping control so that I could get it done quick. During the waiting time for doping control I try to have a protein bar or a protein shake. I have to force myself to have that after all the sweet stuff during the race.
BILEK: After a big competition like Frankfurt or Hawaii in which an athlete places near the top, the athlete doesn’t really have the possibility to start their recovery in the right way.
There’s media interviews and thanking the audience. The NADA inspector stands behind the athlete and he has to go through the doping control. In this high-pressure situation the only thing the athlete can do is to drink enough water so that he can pee for the doping control and try to supply energy and egg-white for the muscles. After that he goes back to the media again. But there is no time to really eat something and zero time for the recovery.
What are the most important aspects of post-race recovery?
- Hydration. Optimal would be something with a good mineral content, also cooling is important after a hot race like Frankfurt to help the body to bring back core temp to normal.
- Have something to eat, something easy to digest with a protein cab ratio of 1:2.
- Keep moving if possible to not completely shut down processes in the body.
- Cooling. Especially important after a long-distance race.
- Rest. Even if you can’t sleep, lie down legs up.
8 hours after the race
What happens during the first 8 hours after the finish line and why?
KIENLE: Light massages, still plenty of fluids and more rest.
BILEK: About 4 hours after the finish, a top professional finally manages to get to his hotel room to take a shower and rest for a couple of minutes. Some physiotherapy would be desired at that time. Than he will eat (mostly quite unhealthy because the head needs that to switch off and enjoy life). Towards 21.30 the professional must come to the finish line again, which means recovery suffers with all the appointments.
24 hours after the race
What happens during the 24 hours after the finish line and why?
KIENLE: If you can, I would suggest going for a walk to keep the system running and the blood flowing. A massage is a good thing to keep blood flow going.
BILEK: After all the appointments after the competition the athlete will go to bed around eleven. In most cases they only lie there unable to sleep. Most people don’t believe that and think that you fall asleep immediately after such a day. That’s not the case. The body and the head are running on full power and don’t let the athlete sleep. If the athlete can sleep for 4–5 hours, they can be happy.
What types of recovery activities do you do?
KIENLE: Aqua jogging, walking or hiking, e-bike tours.
BILEK: The athlete tries to find a bit of quiet, usually with family, to recover mentally. A massage is good for the body.
What is the first night’s sleep after a race usually like?
KIENLE: Usually very bad. Your body is still full with adrenalin and is handling a lot of stress, so I try to get a good nap later during the day.
48 hours after the race
What happens during the first 48 hours after the finish line and why?
KIENLE: Easy activity to keep system running and more high quality protein to help the body to repair micro traumas in the muscles. Now the body is ready to sleep as well, so lots of sleep.
BILEK: After the awards ceremony on the day after the competition, the athlete goes home and the relaxation and (mental) recovery can begin. The faster the head recovers (after the pre-competition and competition stress), the faster the body also recovers. If the result was good, the athlete’s happy and if the athlete’s happy, mental and physical recovery is easier.
Is there a time when you go through the race with your coach? When does it happen and what types of things do you analyze about the race?
KIENLE: Usually a quick analysis directly after the race and then a real analysis 10 days after the race.
BILEK: I make the competition evaluation some days after the competition – if the emotions have returned to normal. In my opinion, only after than can you make a good analysis.
168 hours (7 days) after the race
What happens during the first 7 days after the finish line and why?
KIENLE: Now you can start to do more activity again, I prefer to ride my e-mountainbike with my wife or go for hikes. It’s not only important for physical recovery but also mentally.
BILEK: In the first week after an Ironman my athletes don’t do any real sports. They will go in the water (more to splash than to really swim), take easy walks, drive an e-bike. No training! Recovery is most important. It’s best if the athlete is with their family, at home or on a short holiday, where people don’t know them and they can enjoy peace. I find that mental relaxation after an Ironman is more important for a triathlon professional than the physical recovery.
How long does it take a pro triathlete to recover after a long distance triathlon?
KIENLE: I start with normal training again 10–12 days after the race.
BILEK: Usually we pick up normal training after 3 weeks. To recover and get ready for the next competition, the professional needs up to 6 weeks.