FULL-DISTANCE RACES IN A SEASON
Despite the physical and time demands of long-distance racing, with the proper timing and mindset, racing two full-distance races in a season can actually be a good plan. The first race typically provides a solid learning curve and great training stimulus in terms of training, tapering, hydration/nutrition preferences and mental preparation. With lessons learned, the successes and failures of the first race can propel athletes to a superior performance in the second event.
There are, however, some fundamental requirements. Timing is key. The generally accepted notion among coaches and experienced triathletes is that the two events should be at least three months apart. Jeff Symonds, one of Canada’s top long course racers and a multiple Ironman winner, says, “My coach, Jasper Blake, is a strong believer that if you are planning to do two Ironmans, you are better having a short time (three to four weeks), or a long time (around 12 weeks) between them. The reasoning is that if you have only three to four weeks you can chill and recover in between and still take advantage of the fitness from your previous Ironman. With a longer time between, you can take the proper time to recover and then build back up. With a medium turnaround, however, it is difficult to properly recover and then build your fitness back up in time.”
In addition to the timing requirement, athletes need to commit to taking close care of themselves in terms of recovery and overall health. Such measures can include massage therapy, yoga for joint mobility, and regularly scheduled rest weeks. “Physically respect that recovery window,” warns Symonds. “I like to
not have a set training schedule for the two weeks after an Ironman. I just do whatever feels good and seems like fun. I also schedule a couple of appointments with my physio in the two weeks post Ironman. It is no secret that Ironman races beat you up, and I want to make sure that I am coming out of the recovery time as healthy as possible. A great physio can also give you feedback on how your body is recovering that is not influenced by how fired up you may be to do the next one.”
As part of the recovery window, Symonds recommends including some fun into the training. He recalls a time after his first Ironman in Los Cabos, Mexico several years ago:
“The race went really well and I had the option of staying in Los Cabos for a few extra days and sitting on the beach eating tacos and drinking Corona’s. However, I was so fired up thinking about my next race that I decided to keep the Spartan lifestyle rolling. After about a week and a half I found my will power wearing thin, and it took at least a couple weeks to come back. Beach time, tacos and Corona’s don’t seem like an integral part of training, but trust me, sometimes they are.”
Another factor influencing success is ensuring the focus is on one Ironman at a time. “Every Ironman requires your undivided attention,” says Symonds. “Even if you really want to qualify for Kona, it can be tough to execute your qualifier if you are already thinking about the next race. Of course, I think about Kona qualifying when I plan my season, but during my qualifier race day I am not looking a single minute past that finish line.”
To ensure you learn from the first experience, make detailed notes during your post-race rest days about what went right and what went wrong. Consider both race day and training blocks, as well as nutrition and hydration strategies. This information is vital for success in the second event. “When I raced Ironman Canada and Challenge Penticton four weeks apart in 2014,” says Symonds, “I remember thinking it was awesome because I already had my nutrition plan written out and knew exactly where to put Vaseline in my shoes.”
In terms of actual training, immediately following the first race allow three to four days of no training and limited activity. For the next 10–14 days, only perform recovery-oriented workouts with nothing over endurance pace. From that point, gradually build back into lactate threshold work over several weeks to return to pre-Ironman levels of volume and intensity.
If the first Ironman was a struggle from an endurance/energy perspective, volume should become the main focus by adding additional two-to-four-day, high-volume training blocks. If endurance/energy levels were solid, but speed was an issue, then instead focus on slightly higher intensity with more lactate threshold interval work and some two- to-four-day blocks of lactate threshold work.
Above all else – even overriding the structure of your training schedule between the two races – is the need for flexibility. There is no way to predict the impact of your first Ironman in terms of bodily fatigue, recovery time, self-motivation and physiology. Listening to your body and providing any necessary supports will benefit you greatly as you head into the next long course event.
Comox Valley’s Kerry Hale is a regular contributor to Triathlon Magazine Canada.
LEFT Jeff Symonds at Ironman Canada 2014