Racing two long-distance triathlons in a single season is attainable—here’s how.
More and more athletes are coming to us with the desire to compete in more than one Ironman triathlon in a single season. There’s the crew who want to qualify for and then race in Kona, but many others have simply been bitten by the Ironman bug and want to tackle more than one race.
Once you’ve done your first, doubling up can actually be beneficial. When Ironman triathlons are spaced several months apart, the first Ironman provides a great training stimulus that can propel you to an even better performance later on. Also, there are the practical matters of affording more opportunities to qualify for Kona, helping to refine your training and tapering preferences, and simply giving you more experience.
There are, however, a few requirements you should keep in mind when considering more than one Ironman in a single season. Your two races should be at least three months apart; four to six months apart would be even better. It takes three to four weeks to fully recover from the first Ironman, and you’ll want two to three weeks to taper into the second, leaving four to six weeks for productive training.
Beyond the timing requirement, you need to commit to taking excellent care of yourself. One Ironman is tough on the body; following it with a second can be disastrous if you’re cavalier with your nutrition, recovery and overall health. Ice baths, consistent massage therapy, yoga for joint mobility and regularly scheduled rest weeks are a must.
So, let’s say you’re going to start with an early-season race such as Ironman Texas or Ironman Coeur d’Alene and then race Ironman Wisconsin, Florida or Arizona—or Kona—in the fall. How do you do it?
If you’re shooting for a nine- to 12-week window between your first and second Ironman races, you don’t need to plan for a significant race in between. You can jump into some sprint races for fun, or maybe an Olympic-distance race, but your focus should mainly be on training. If you have 16–24 weeks between Ironman races, you’re going to want to schedule an Olympic-distance race or two, or a half-Ironman race about six to eight weeks out from the second Ironman.
Then there’s the training. Start with three to four days of no training and limited activity after your first Ironman, and only recovery-oriented workouts for the 10 days after that. Nothing over endurance pace. From there, gradually build back into lactate threshold work over two weeks to get back to pre-Ironman levels of volume and intensity.
Once it’s time to really get back into training mode, the specifics of your training should be governed in part by your experience in your recent Ironman. If you struggled in your first Ironman from an endurance/energy standpoint, you’ll want to focus on volume—across the board—by doing more two- to four-day high-volume training blocks. If your endurance/energy level was good in your first Ironman but you weren’t happy with your speed, then don’t worry about building additional volume and instead focus on “time-at-intensity” with more lactate threshold interval work and some two- to three-day blocks of lactate threshold work.
But what if your first Ironman was ideal? What do you work on then? A three-week block of lactate threshold-focused workouts is still a good idea, followed by a recovery week. Then you should really start working on speed with what we call OverUnder Intervals—lactate threshold intervals during which you surge to a pace/intensity level above threshold for one to two minutes and then return to your threshold pace/intensity, repeating the cycle three or four times before taking recovery time between intervals. Focusing on these efforts and VO₂max intervals for a three-week training block, followed by another recovery week, sets you up for a final block of race-pace work and your taper into your second Ironman of the season.
The most important key to success is not found in the structure of your schedule between your two Ironman races. The most important factor for success is flexibility. It’s very difficult to predict the impact your first Ironman will have on your recovery time, your motivation and your physiology. You have to listen to your body, give it extra support where it’s needed and maximize your strengths.
Chris Carmichael is the author of The Time-Crunched Triathlete and founder and CEO of Carmichael Training Systems, the official coaching and camps partner of Ironman (Trainright.com). Nick White co-wrote this article.