The Truth About Ironman Recovery

Beneath the hype that is Ironman, there’s a cold and brutal truth that will slowly chip away at your soul. It will test your patience, your fortitude and your waistline.

It won’t be during training.

It won’t come race day.

We’re talking post-race, people.


Naively smiling, not aware of what lies ahead.

It’s a sad and vicious truth that no one warned me about and now I need a therapist, or other Ironman friends, to console our achy iron hearts.


Immediately after Iroman, I did everything my coach and every article I could find said: I ate, I showered, I rested, I got in short walks, I took two weeks off COMPLETELY, I then got sick, and soon moved to a different state. Look at me, star student!

Around three weeks, I was back at it, but with no specific plan in sight other than to stay active. I started doing some boot camp classes, I went trail running, I went for shorter runs and then I completely crumbled.







My first world problems left me in a tizzy as I emailed my coach, texted and tweeted friends, and even asked a few pro triathlete friends if this was normal. Their responses weren’t what I wanted to hear:




And the doozy…


Six to eight weeks?! What?! (*Disclaimer: yes, yes, everybody is different. So take it for what it is). Their estimated Ironman newbie recovery time broke my anxious heart as I felt as if I had already given my body ample time to recover. Now you’re telling this adrenaline junkie that it will take upwards of two months? I already went through three months of waiting and physical therapy this year!

But if I step off my endurance-addicted soapbox and really think about what just happened, you understand why and feel ridiculous for being “that athlete.”

This Triathlete Magazine article explains it the best:

“…from an internal perspective, completing an Ironman is a bit like sitting on a sofa for 12 hours and aging two decades. In other words, the changes the body undergoes in 12 hours of extreme exertion are similar to some of those that occur in the body over the course of two decades of non-exertion, as a result of normal aging. Fortunately, though, those years are restored to you within a few weeks. Then it’s time to start thinking about tickling the reaper again.”

As I sit here, ready to “tickle the reaper” (that sounds inappropriate), I have to quell my urge to go all out, to take each run one at a time, and to not completely question my physical abilities. I need to remember, and give thanks, for what my body just went through because although it feels like a lifetime ago, it really wasn’t.

With a marathon and big goals right around the corner, I’m looking forward to sharing my training approach and new running-specific coach with you.

Happy Running!

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21 Responses to The Truth About Ironman Recovery

  1. Katherine says:

    At first I read this as, “Ironman recovery requires that you move to a new state” and I wasn’t sure if that’s ever for me, hahah. Sounds like you’re doing the right things. It’s also good to keep in mind that everyone is different. There could be first-timers out there who have been recovered for weeks, and first-timers who will need 3 weeks more than you. The road and the POOL!!!! :) will always be there when you’re ready to get back into things.

  2. erin says:

    So this is what I have to look forward to in three weeks! 😉 Can’t wait to hear about your training approach + coach! I’m thisclose to registering for the CIM!

    Also, I’m reading Swimming to Antarctica, too! So good. I think swimming 2.4 miles sounds far, but 21 miles, in the ocean, in the dark?!

  3. Layla says:

    This is all temporary! I’m sure you recover faster from a marathon now than after your first one. And I bet your first, shorter swim left you a lot more exhausted than longer swims later after more experience/training. Don’t forget that you had NEVER done an Ironman before. Sure, you’d done the distances, but that’s kind of like running 20 miles one day and six miles the next, and expecting that recovery time to be the same as after a marathon.

    You went full-speed for 140.6 miles with no rest in between. Then you had more rest than you’d had in years (well, not the emotional rest, what with the move and all). Your body is trying to find its true north again. And when it does, you will feel like a million bucks. You will be fast, you will be unstoppable, and you will be excited for the PR’s ahead. And you’ll still be an Ironman.

    Hang in there, my friend. You’ll be ready for the marathon. I said so. :-)

  4. Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I never really knew how long you were supposed to rest after an Ironman. 2-3 months? I feel like I’d go crazy, but you never know. For me, resting is a hard thing to do. I look forward to your upcoming posts about your post Ironman journey.

  5. JenJ says:

    Two decades? Wow. You looking great for that, girl! 😉 But seriously, it sounds tough but you’re doing the right thing. And remember, after every break we tend to come back stronger, fitter and faster.

  6. Maria Simone says:

    The good news is recovery from your second and subsequent Ironmans won’t take as long 😉

    Enjoy this down time – it’s important not only physically, but mentally. Let your body heal, and you’ll come back even stronger next season.

    Woop! Woop!

  7. Gah!! I have heard that recovery is a total beast! I can barely handle the marathon recovery time (usually 2-4 weeks for me)… I don’t know if I would survive that long of a recovery! Can you see my excuses piling why I can’t do an Ironman?? 😉 But – was it worth it? Hang in there, you’ll be at it soon AND you can always think in your head IM AN IRONMAN. How’s that for motivation. Yeah, maybe I will someday do that Ironman.

  8. discorunner says:

    I am with you! I am not even 2 weeks into recovery from IM Lake Placid and the anxiety is already driving me crazy….but seeing as I tried just an easy indoor spin yesterday and woke up way sorer than I think I should be (and in new strange places!), I am feeling like recovery is kicking my butt. But I will just keep looking at my finish line photo and remind myself that I am an Ironman! And maybe take some more naps. :)

  9. Kara says:

    I’m struggling with this too! Although I’ve only been “recovering” for a little less than two weeks. I did an easy run a couple days ago and my legs definitely didn’t feel ready – it felt okay, but not great. I am paranoid that my pants are getting tighter already, haha. Maybe that’s from the excessive beer consumption :) Hang in there!! You are already such a strong athlete – I have no doubt you’ll come back stronger than ever!

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  11. Amanda says:

    I have this issue with recovery after a mere marathon. So I guess I am a wimp :) But after a marathon, it takes me at least a month to feel back to normal. It’s not surprising that it will take you two months to recover from an IRONMAN! I am training for a Half Ironman for next year. We’ll see how long it takes me to recover from THAT,

    You’ll be good as new, shortly! I can’t even tell you to have patience because I’m also an adrenaline junkie and patience is a difficult word even to type!

  12. Oh gosh. “Tickle the reaper.” Kudos to you for even being able to type that. That explanation of what an Ironman does to your body is crazy to think about! I hope you’re able to keep recovering quickly. Also, thanks to all this motivation and inspiration and following your journey for so long, I finally signed up for a half ironman! I’m doing it November 10th at Rev3 Florida!

  13. elizabeth says:

    This is a great post! And of course a great reminder to be patient with recovery (or injury for that matter!). Congrats on your Ironman! Elizabeth

    • Dionatan says:

      Thanks Julian, Tremblant has done a great job here & I am looking forrawd to the race. Nigel Gray from NRG who is coaching me had a training camp in Tremblant in June of this year. You can check out his website & or email him to see if he will be doing the same next year.

  14. Alisa says:

    Let’s talk November 18th :)

  15. Kristen says:

    We spend so much time focusing on the “main event” we forget what comes after. I remember after some big races even feeling emotionally drained. You put so much time and energy into it – it becomes your life and then all of sudden it is over and you have this void that needs to be filled.

    I know you are now easing into marathon training and I am sure your body will thank you for the rest you allowed it. :)

  16. Erin says:

    I found that breaking your toe during the Ironman is a great way to force yourself into at least 4 weeks of non-running recovery 😉

    Its 8 weeks post-CDA and I’m finally finding my mojo. I have an Oly this Sat and a Sprint this Sun (yes, back to back) and I’m really curious to see how much pep my step will have.

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  18. steena says:

    I Googled “Recovery time after Ironman” and stumbled up on this post :)
    Yup, I’m having those first world problems right now. I’m getting ANTSY!!
    Thanks for the insight and the tidbit from triathlete magazine!
    Hope you’re recovered by now :)

  19. Brice Gyurisko says:

    I too just stumbled onto this page. Wow, 2-3 months!!! I completed my first Ironman a week ago and feeling like a slug not doing anything. Coaches did say recovery was longer, took 30 days last year after a marathon. Two to three months, again, wow. Thanks for insights, though still a bit depressing, lol.

  20. Sarah says:

    Okay–so I am a halter — I did the half Ironman in New Orleans April 19th — I felt pretty good after– ran a couple times the First week back. Second week ran three days -even 8 miles –Third week I was out all week with bacterial infection (throat and ears). The first two weeks I was hit with stomach issues. The bacterial infection (throat, ears) the third week, and now the fourth week I am back to stomach issues. HELP–If this is what I should expect please let me know–feel like I am going crazy– I do teach public school so I am in a germ pool all day long!
    I went to the doctor and she said my heart sounded great –I am anemic now (no I have not started taking iron pills yet)– but all else is good. Please someone tell me if I should expect this after a half Ironman—

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