Recovery for a Multi-Event Day

By Peg Labiuk | 03/08/13
Recovery for a Multi-Event Day

We’ve teamed up with Marilyn Trout, certified USA Cycling Elite Coach to answer Voler Newsletter List members’ training questions. You can view her coach profile at Send your cycling inquiries to Marilyn, and for a limited time, if yours is selected to be answered in our Training column, Voler will send you a $20 gift certificate that can be used towards any purchase from the Voler Store at To submit your inquiry, e-mail her at, and type “Voler Training Question” in the subject line of the e-mail.

The following tip is a reprint of an October 2010 question submitted by Voler E-Mail List member Larry O., and was answered by Peg Labiuk (nee Peggy Maass), a colleague of Marilyn Trout, and a certified NCCP level 3 coach with a career in international road and track racing. She is a World Championship medalist, World Record holder, U.S. Olympic Team member, former British national team coach and Kreb's Cycle co-founder (British Columbia, Canada).

Recovery for a Multi-Event Day


Back in May you wrote about using cold water and ice for recovery after a hard ride. That tip really helped me this summer. Taking that a step further, should I use this cold recovery method for a multi-event day? In other words, if I have two competitions a few hours apart (like time trials) should I use ice therapy in between for recovery? Or, should I just stretch and stay loose?

Larry O.

Dear Larry,

Good thinking about this specific situation.  The rule of thumb is that you need 6-8 hours to recover from light aerobic activity.  Since you are racing at a higher intensity than that and with less time between events, I think it’s best to treat multi stage days as if they are one long race.   

The intensity of your competition is the key in deciding how to spend the time between events.  Since you would have created lactic acid in your first stage, engage in active rest to minimize the after effects.  A lengthy warm-down of easy spinning is your first priority.  This could be followed by gentle stretching to re-lengthen muscles and keep them limber.  Not only are you clearing from the previous damage, you are priming for the upcoming race.

Close on the heels of relaxing the muscles is the importance of replenishing fluids and muscle glycogen.  As mentioned in a previous answer for Bill about recovery techniques (Aug. 2010), the first 20 minutes post exercise is the best window for uptake.  Luckily for us, we can eat, drink, and ride at the same time.  (Most of us can anyway.)  So, your warm-down ride should also be a moving buffet.

I would still use cooling, as in your ice therapy, to get body temperature down, but not to bring the body temperature lower than warm-up temperature.  You don’t want your body to get chilled or go into shut down mode.  You do want to stay out of the sun and avoid more fluid loss via perspiring.  Perhaps a cool shower would be better than actually icing.   If that’s not available, use cool water and wash cloths on your neck and wrists.  I use a mix of rubbing alcohol and witch hazel to clean off race grime.  Keep a bottle of the mix in your cooler.

Finally, finding a place to relax mentally would be fortuitous.  The sooner you can put the previous hard effort behind you and prepare for the new one, the better.  Just as you have a plan for the physical recovery and nutritional replenishment, you should have a plan for mental preparation.  Develop a routine to use breathing and muscle control to relax and refocus on the next task.  Visualize your next success.

Coach Peg

Good resources: One study published in Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise (1) found that active recovery immediately after the event encourages recovery and reduces muscle lactate levels faster than complete rest.  After hard intervals, one group rested completely while a second group exercised at 30 percent intensity between intervals. The active group reduced blood lactate levels faster and could achieve a higher power output throughout the workout.

Another study (2) found that adding low intensity exercise to the rest period after competition did not decrease an athlete's physical recovery and actually had positive effects on psychological recovery by improving relaxation.

A third study found active recovery encouraged lactic acid removal and and helped speed recovery. (3) The general theory is that low-intensity activity assists blood circulation which, in turn, helps remove lactic acid from the muscle. Low-intensity active recovery appears to significantly reduce accumulated blood lactate and speed muscle recovery. However, all agree that more study is necessary to establish a clear answer regarding the best way to recover from intense exercise. 

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