Multiple Ironman Events (In the Same Year)

Anyone with too much time on their hands or with dreams of getting to Kona have been confronted with the question “how much time between each event”. I hope to convince you that for most people, with another life, i.e. not a professional triathlete, and a desire to do a few more races over the years, that the shortest time possible (between events) is the best. This initially may not seem logical and in some circumstances, it is not. However, I do think it is the right approach for many and the idea is not often considered. There are risks, however.

There is certainly a limit on how close if the goal is to race your best at both events. I don’t know what that is but can’t imagine that it is less than 3 weeks. Just about the minimum time needed to recover. It is probably closer to 5 weeks, enough time to recover and then regain fitness. And if I were coaching an athlete with a chance to get to Kona, and do their best there I would probably make the qualifier event at least 8 weeks. This gives time for recovery, one maybe two long Bricks and some threshold efforts over the last three weeks. Be sure to write up a race report for yourself and if coached your coach. Include all the details so you can maximize the learning.

A short gap also requires a realistic evaluation of the damage you have done to yourself in the first race. It would be counterproductive to what I am preaching here to go do the second race in 3-5 weeks with an obvious injury, from the first one, that could set you back months if not years. The objective is to minimize the stress on the body. So you need to be willing to not race number 2. Which of course is why I think 8 weeks is the minimum for a qualifier.

From my own experience doing two IronMan events close together is it is not only possible but has worked very well for me. Twice I have found myself on the same plane heading to Cozumel with one of the top athletes from Colorado Ellen Hart having raced in Kona 6 weeks earlier. Both of us had the same idea. Use the fitness developed for Kona to attempt to gain another qualifying slot. It worked for both of us both times. I have done the same thing in Florida, when I was a lot younger, with only 3 weeks between races. The benefit, in this case, should be fairly obvious; we have reduced the necessary volume of training needed for the following year considerably.

There are two points I should make about this idea. Attempting to qualify for Kona make sense in races like Cozumel and others late in the year. They don’t all fill making a last minute decision, after looking at the competition, possible. Also, you may get lucky and find that the competition is not that strong or deep so that even if you don’t produce your best race it will be good enough (my case certainly when I all three times).

What actual difference it makes leads me to look at what I have done over the past 6 years. Here is what the years looked like comparing the number of weeks with more than 15 hrs of training.

2011: IM in May and October, 18 weeks
2012: IM in October and November, 15 weeks
2013: IM in October, 12 Weeks
2014: IM in August and October, 17 weeks
2015: IM in October, 12 weeks
2016: IM in August, October, and November, 20 weeks.

Baseline for training for one race was about 12 weeks of 15+ hrs of training, 2013. Spreading out the races got me to 18 in 2011. Adding a third race last year where they were all relatively close together and raised the number to only 20.

I am not fan of a sample of one and unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of good examples comparing other athletes who have a mix of the same kind of race seasons. However, Training Peaks (which I use for myself and my coaching) has several ways of automatically and easily creating an Annual Training Plan. So I created three plans as another way to look at the question. I set them up as follows.

A. Races in May and October about a 20-week gap
B. Races in August and October 9 weeks apart
C. Two races at the end of the year in September and October 4 weeks apart

Input to the plan included 16.5 hrs per week average and assuming the athlete was already a strong (as defined by TP). TP and ran the plan from the end of October in the previous year thru the October race.

In these scenarios, Training Peaks had the following number of weeks over 15 hrs (my arbitrary definition of a big week), 24, 21, 18. I did make a manual adjustment to the ATP with 4 weeks separation. TP had the athlete doing two 16hr weeks right after the first IM in September, not realistic for most athletes, other than perhaps professionals.

The difference in the number of big weeks, between the 20 and 9-week gap is not that great, 3, weeks. But 6 weeks between the two extremes certainly is. The other thing to think about is that if you are in this sport for the long haul that 3-week gap is going to get more of your attention as time progresses. In 10 years that’s more than half a year of big weeks.

Besides the pounding, there is another thing most of us need to consider. You love the sport but you do have another life and taking a few weeks back to spend with the family seems like a good idea, assuming you are allowed to do more than one IM a year.

One last thing to add, a shout out to a friend and D3 athlete Steve Nabity. Steve made it to Kona this year, his first and got derailed by a stomach bug, 22 pit stops later he did finish late in the night. I sold him on a go in Cozumel. It did not work. One slot, finished second. He did have a great race, however, confirming that good races are possible close together. He was just not as lucky as I was with the competition. He is not giving up and I have a strong suspicion that he will be racing beside me again next October.

Life, the part not swimming, biking and running, will often dictate when and if you can do multiple IM events in one year. But if you are determined to do so do what you can to minimize the annual training volume to give Life as much time as possible. Summing up, here is what to think about:

+ At least 3 weeks between events. A bit more is better.
+ Make sure you recover properly, 2 weeks low-intensity training after 1st race.
+ As the gap gets bigger include one long Brick and some Threshold efforts.
+ If you are being coached, talk now before entering races.

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