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Home / Training / Long distance / How to recover from an Ironman

Chrissie Wellington explains how to recover from an iron-distance triathlon

The Four-time Ironman world champion shares her advice on how best to recover after an Ironman-distance triathlon…

Athlete toughing it out on the run leg of an Ironman race

If you’re currently preparing for an iron-distance race this year, then the thought of what your body needs post-race may not have crossed your mind yet. Well fear not, because four-time Ironman world champion Chrissie Wellington has the following advice on how best to recover…

Completing a long-distance triathlon has a profound effect on both physiology and psychology. Your muscles are broken, your immune system is shell-shocked and you’re probably in severe calorie and fluid deficit. No matter how fast/slow you are, everyone needs to recover properly from such an event.

Rest and recovery are not signs of weakness or failure. It’s essential to recharge your physical and mental batteries. Yes, you’ll lose fitness, but that process is vital to recovery and also to ensuring your long-term performance.

How long should your off-season last? I used to take around 4-6 weeks after Kona as my ‘downtime’. But it’s personal and is based on your previous training volume, fitness level, injury status, lifestyle and state of mind. I would loosely divide the 4-6 weeks into three stages.

Immediately post-race, have a few days off, with some light walking to loosen your legs. For the next week, do some easy, active-recovery activities to ‘de-train’ your body from the high workload. The emphasis is on the word ‘easy’ – don’t run. Swim, bike or hike if you want, but no hills and nothing that elevates your heart rate. And do no more than 45mins a day.

Also, forget strength work in the gym. If it hurts, stop. Actually, if you’re not enjoying it, stop. Combine this with light (self-) massages, compression wear, some really solid nights’ sleep, good food (ensure you consume enough protein and carbs) and rehydration with electrolytes.

Post-race blues

Please don’t be alarmed if, after this initial euphoria, you suffer an attack of the post-race blues. After many of my biggest victories, I felt an ensuing emotional slump – an aching void where my goal once stood. If you experience these emotions, know that it’s normal and will pass.

In this first week, start to look back at your season: assess the highs and lows and be subjective about evaluating your strengths and weaknesses. Honesty is vital. Use this evaluation as the basis of your training for the next season and beyond.

After the post-race active recovery, I actually took two weeks almost completely off and instead engaged in non-sporting activities with family and friends: theatre, music concerts, restaurants, lazy spa days. I did sometimes include some light hiking, yoga and maybe some swimming, but nothing to raise my heart rate. The key to these first and second stages is to drastically reduce the volume and intensity of training that you do.

How to beat post-triathlon blues

Mix it up

In the third stage start to do something physical at least every other day. Variety is the key here. Cross-training is great, or you might even want to try a new sport: rock climbing, tai bo, gardening – anything that will invigorate you, elevate your heart rate a little bit and get the aerobic system firing.

I wouldn’t do too much high-weight, gym-based, bodybuilder-type strength work, though. And if you experience triathlon withdrawal, there’s no harm in reintroducing swim/bike/run activities here. Eight hours per week is ideal: just keep it fun, unstructured and relatively low in intensity.

By all means indulge in different foods (and beverages). Don’t pile on the pounds, but a bit of weight gain will provide some extra padding for the winter months and give you fuel to feed off when training starts again. Now is also a good time to look at your equipment and make any changes. Have you always wanted to try a different make of pedal? Was your bike set-up causing you problems? Take advice from experts and use the off/early season to try these things out.

Most importantly, remember that post-race is your time to bask in the glory of what you’ve achieved. Yes, sport and training are important components in all of our lives, but so are rest, recovery, balance and perspective. So make sure the first few months after the race are characterised by large doses of these.

(Main image: Ironman)

For lots more long-distance advice head to our Training section

Profile image of Chrissie Wellington Chrissie Wellington Triathlon legend


Chrissie Wellington OBE is a retired, British professional triathlete and four-time Ironman world champion. ​ She held all three world and championship records relating to ironman triathlon races: firstly, the overall world record, secondly, the Ironman World Championship course record, and thirdly, the official world record for all Ironman-branded triathlon races over the full Ironman distance. She remains the world record holder for Ironman distance (8:18hrs). Chrissie won the Ironman World Championship in three consecutive years (2007–2009), but could not start the 2010 World Championship race because of illness. She regained the title in 2011. She is the first British athlete to hold the Ironman world title, and was undefeated in all 13 of her races over the Iron distance. She is the only triathlete, male or female, to have won the World Championship less than a year after turning professional, an achievement described by the British Triathlon Federation as "a remarkable feat, deemed to be a near impossible task for any athlete racing as a rookie at their first Ironman World Championships." Since retiring in 2012 Chrissie has completed countless endurance events, from cycling sportives, to marathons and ultra-marathons and even a cross country ski marathon or two! Chrissie was awarded a first-class degree by the University of Birmingham (BsC Geography) in 1998 and a Distinction from the University of Manchester (MA Econ Development Studies) in 2000. ​ Prior to becoming a professional athlete in 2007, she worked for the British Government's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) as a policy adviser on international development and also managed water and sanitation projects in Nepal. Chrissie now devotes her life to work to improve individual and population health and wellbeing, and specifically interventions to increase participation in physical activity. She is the Global Lead for Health and Wellbeing for parkrun and is committed to engaging people of all backgrounds, ages and abilities in parkrun events, thereby addressing the entrenched health and wellbeing inequalities that impact many countries across the world. Chrissie published her Sunday Times Best Selling autobiography, 'A Life Without Limits', in 2012, and her second book, 'To the Finish Line: A World Champion Triathlete's Guide to Your Perfect Race', in 2017. In 2021, she co-authored and published two fully-illustrated children's wellbeing storybooks with friend and former athlete Susie Bush-Ramsey entitled 'You're so strong' and 'You're so amazing', as a means of sharing messages about belief, trust, love, friendship, trying your best and embracing change. ​ A trailblazer at heart, Chrissie is often advocating for change. In 2014 she joined three professional cyclists in campaigning for and successfully creating a women’s race at the Tour De France. Chrissie was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2010 Birthday Honours and Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2016 New Year Honours for services to sport and charity. She was also named the 2009 Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year and has Honorary Doctorates from the University of Birmingham and the University of Bristol. Chrissie lives with her husband, former professional athlete Tom Lowe, and their daughter Esme in a small village in Somerset.