You ache, right? Your arms feel as if they're made of jelly and your belief in the existence of your legs is based solely on the fact that you can stand up and move around, gingerly. Every time you complete a triathlon, the aches and pains are to be expected, but don't let them put you off your next cycle of training or another race. It's easy to recover, stay in great shape and be ready for the next challenge if you follow these simple tips from our expert coaches and athletes.
Go for a spin
"After a long race, one of the best sessions to do within a few days is a short spin on the turbo," says coach Rick Kiddle (www.rickkiddle.com). "Do 20 minutes and don't worry about your heart rate. Then stretch and follow this up with a swim later in the day."
Hit the pool
Most coaches and triathletes recommend swimming as the best way to recover, but be sensible. "Nothing more than a float in a general forward direction, using rest periods at the wall to stretch," says Ironman triathlete Catriona Morrison (www.catmorrison.com). Swimming is the best form of active recovery because it's non-weight-bearing, so it won't damage your joints.
Walk on water
Actually, run don't walk with some aquajogging. "It's great for loosening your legs and mobilising tight hips and glutes," says Kiddle. "And while it can help recovery, it can also improve your running in the long term."
Use a treadmill
"Don't run for at least a week," says coach David Tilbury-Davis (www.physfarm.com), "and when you do start again, use a treadmill because it's so much more cushioned than the road, and therefore a lot easier on your joints."
"Fatigue is mental as much as physical, especially after a long race," says Tilbury-Davis. "Break your recovery into short-, medium- and long-term goals. In the short term, relax and recover; in the medium term, do something that will help you both recover and aid your training, but that also gives you a different objective, such as an off-road race or a fell run. Your long-term goal may be to do the same triathlon in a year's time and beat your PB, but you have plenty of time to work toward that."
Wait for a massage
"I wait three days after a race before having a massage," says triathlete Ayesha Rollinson (www.ayesharollinson.com). Tilbury-Davis agrees that this is a sensible approach: "If you're dehydrated after a race, whether it's because you've not taken on enough fluids, it's particularly warm or you sweat a lot, your body may suffer from a lack of electrolytes, which can increase muscle soreness. In these circumstances, an immediate post-race massage can cause additional microtrauma to the muscles." A massage can work, of course, especially if it's a cool day or you are well hydrated, so listen to your body.
"A race will never be a recovery session for anything," says coach Steve Lumley (www.steve-lumley.net). "But targeting a sprint-distance race shortly after an Ironman or longer-distance race can act as a mental refresher as it gives a different perspective to training." In fact, triathletes can often put in good performances in shorter races after focusing on longer distances - you should have a very good aerobic base and, once recovered, can reap rewards from a little bit of higher intensity. "Ensure that you are recovered from the longer race first and perhaps look for a sprint triathlon three to four weeks afterwards," says Lumley.
...or go long
If you've just done a sprint or super-sprint, it's a good idea to target a longer race as part of your recovery. "Some longer, easier swimming should help recovery - this might be the first step after the race," says Lumley. "Try a couple of sessions where you aim to swim further than you did in the race and build towards 1500m. The same goes for the bike, but listen to your body and recover fully before you start to increase the mileage."
Have a rest
"Once my athletes have finished their main race I recommend a midseason break of a week or two," says coach Fiona Hoare (www.thetriathloncoach.com). "During this period I suggest you just do what you want and tick over gently. Your body and mind need a rest and hopefully you'll come back raring to go and be fully recovered for the rest of the season."
Try something new
"I always want to stay active after races," says professional Ironman athlete and coach Anne Fallows (www.physfarm.com). "It's too hard to just stop and do nothing. I'm always up for trying new sports - my favourite post-Ironman activity so far has been a tandem skydive. OK, it didn't involve much activity on my part but it got my adrenaline going, which is one of the things I miss most when not training." Fallows has also tried wakeboarding (think waterskiing crossed with snowboarding), rollerblading and rally driving. Next on her list is sphere rolling, which involves rolling down a hill in a huge inflatable ball.
"If you go to a race such as Challenge Barcelona," says Tilbury-Davis, "you can race and then recover for a week by relaxing, taking in the sights and swimming in the sea." What more motivation do you need to enter?
Share the burden
"Try a bike/run session with a twist," says 2008 World Junior Duathlon Champion Sophie Coleman (www.sophie-coleman.com). "Go with a partner but share one bike between you. The idea is to take it in turns to run and ride, which also enables people of different abilities to do a session together, even if it does result in a fight for the bike by the end. You could make it a bit more of a challenge by adding in an orienteering element - whoever is on the bike has to navigate."
Not on the high street (you risk being arrested), but for the purposes of swimming. "Any chance for a cool dip in a lake or sea - preferably a late-night skinny dip - I'm there," says Fallows. "It has definite physical benefits and is more fun than an ice bath."
Stop sniggering at the back. Because of the intense training demanded by triathlon, sex is often neglected, which is a bad idea for a relationship. "Sex after a race is one way of making things up to your partner - not to mention what's in it for you," says Fallows.
Shop till you drop
The power of retail therapy should not be underestimated. "Ditch the running shoes and hit the shops," says Coleman. "You're on your feet and walking around - which is active recovery - and trying on clothes counts as a form of transition practice." Which might be pushing its usefulness a little too far, but triathletes do love the latest kit, after all.
Have a relaxing tipple
Tipple being the operative word. There is plenty of research to suggest that red wine helps to prevent coronary heart disease. "That was sold to me, and whether it's true or not, it sounds good," says Fallows.