Sunday, October 19, 2008

Back-to-Back Ironman

Question: I just finished Ironman Hawaii and I’m signed up for Ironman Arizona in a few weeks. They’re six weeks apart. I had a decent race in Hawaii but I’ve gone faster. I’d like to have a good race in Arizona. Is it possible? – F.C.

Answer: That’s a tough one. Several years ago I used to say that an athlete should only do one Ironman in a year. But then I coached so many triathletes who insisted on doing two in a year that I changed my mind. They proved to me that it could be done by healthy, well-experienced athletes without breaking down physically or mentally. It seemed reasonable, however, to separate the races by at least 12 weeks to allow for recovery and the rebuilding of fitness.

Then along came a few more athletes I coached who wanted to do Ironman Canada and Ironman Hawaii which are usually separated by about six weeks. With a few individual exceptions, they did quite well with two closely spaced races. Then there are triathletes like Joe Bonness and Petr Vabrousek who have made careers out of several closley spaced Ironman races year in and year out. So now I believe almost anything is possible if the athlete is experienced, fitness is high coming into the first race and he/she is not prone to injury or illness.

Getting back to the gist of FC’s question, successfully training for personally competitive, back-to-back Ironman races depends on several issues:

* How fit you were coming into the first race. The higher your fitness was relative to your all-time fitness, the better the second race is likely to be. (Just a quick reminder that
WKO+ software may be used to quantify fitness, or “CTL” as the software calls it.)

* How experienced you are at the Ironman distance. Having done several Ironman races means you know what it takes for you to have a good race the second time. This usually means long workouts, hill training and tempo sessions.

* How hard you pushed yourself in the first race. If you did it just to finish and didn’t try to find the limits of your fitness then you should bounce back fairly quickly. But if you gave it all you had then having a second race of near the same quality is unlikely.

*How quickly you recover. No matter how hard you pushed yourself in the first race, if you typically recover slowly then set your goals relatively low for the second. You may well need four of the six weeks between IM Hawaii and IMAZ to shed the fatigue before you are able to return to something approaching your normal Ironman training routine. That would likely preclude having a fast second race.

* How motivated you are to train hard again. If you are mentally wasted after the first race and just aren’t stimulated to get back into training again then you are better off just forgetting it.

* How high your goal is for the second race. The higher your goal, the more likely you are to be disappointed. Before setting a goal you should review the previous bullet points.

Again, for most athletes it’s not generally a good idea to do two Ironman races spaced so closely. But you may do fine with it depending on the variables listed here.

Good luck!


At October 20, 2008 3:59 AM , Blogger JeanVW14 said...

Hi Joe.

Thanks for the post. Timing couldn't be better.

I hear what you are saying about the back-to-back IM's, but what is your opinion about back-to-back Half IM's? They are obviously considerably less taxing than the full monty, so a better recovery might be possible.

The situation is this: I have the opportunity to race half IM's on the 14 Dec and 18 Jan(i.e. 4 weeks apart), and I'm playing with the idea at the moment. I'm somewhere between taking the first as a well catered training ride in prep for the 2nd, rather racing the Olympic distance event for the first and then racing the 2nd, or racing them both.

The second question that comes up is how would the weeks be periodised to compensate between the 2 races?

I'm thinking:

14 December - Race
Week 1 - R & R
Week 2 - Build 2
Week 3 - Peak
Week 4 - Race

Do you think this is possible, or am I just kidding myself here?


At October 20, 2008 6:34 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Hi Jean--I think you can race both with no problems since the first would be a 'workout' as you suggested. I doubt if you'll need a full week of recovery afterwards if you train through it. Otherwise, your plan looks fine. Good luck!

At October 20, 2008 12:41 PM , Blogger Eric Jelinek said...

How about a Half Ironman 4 weeks out from an Ironman?

I want to do the SOMA half in Tempe on Oct. 26th as a training race then RACE Ironman Arizona on November 23rd. Any potential problems here???
Eric J.

At October 20, 2008 1:08 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Hi Eric--See Jean's question above and my answer. Also, the variables I discussed in the blog post would still apply.

At November 23, 2008 3:05 AM , Anonymous Dieter Vanmoortel said...

Hey Joe,

Your books have helped me a lot since I started triathlon. For next season, I want to do 2 IM's with ten weeks in between. First race-goal is to run a good marathon, second is to have a good overall-time. Planning I have in mind is the following :
3 workout-weeks
3 workout-weeks
taper & race

should I spend those workout weeks doing big volume workouts, to build up again after first IM, or should I prepare for the second with intenser workouts?

Probably this depends largely on my personal profile, but as this is the first time I'm doing two IM's back to back, I was hoping on some advice.

At November 23, 2008 7:34 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Hi Dieter--These are very dificult questions to answer. Even when I've coached someone for a long time thjis i a hallenging qyestion to answer. I'd basically have to go back and run through the bullet points in this post.

What's unique about your situation is that you are planning to swim and ride well below your capabilities in race #1 and finishing with a quality run. If it was either of the other two you were going to work hard on I'd say it would not be a huge problem to come back 10 weeks later with a quality race effort. But the run is the sport most likely to leave you sore and depleted. But you probably have good reasons for this.

Your plan may work well if you come out of the first race with no problems and you usually recover quickly.

I'd suggest tapering only the run before the first race for the full 3 weeks. You might keep the bike and swim normal until the week before that race. Then follow your 10-week plan. I doubt if you need a full week of recovery in those rest weeks. 5 days will probably do it.

Good luck!

Good luck!


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