Triathlon Coach Learns by Racing Back to Back Days
Self-coaching allows opportunities to experiment with training methods and plans on myself before unleashing them on my athletes. Over the winter, as I looked ahead to my preparation for IM Alaska in August, I searched for a 70.3 tuneup race about 6 to 8 weeks out. The only opportunities I could find involved difficult travel that I just wasn’t up for. There’s always the option to do a race simulation, which is generally my go-to in these circumstances. But I noticed that a couple of my favorite Olympic distance races were happening back-to-back (Saturday/Sunday) in late June, and they were 6 weeks before Alaska.
Figuring this would be a similar level challenge, I took a deep breath and registered for both. I’ve certainly raced back to back before. I’ve even raced twice in a day a couple of times. But always in the past with the plan of pushing one race hard and then cruising the other. To get the impact I was looking for, I planned to get after it both days.
I took a taper-like week leading into the double-race weekend and felt fresh waking up early on Saturday. Oly #1 includes a 30-mile bike loop with some relatively significant climbing sections mid-way. The run is about as flat as the Colorado front range gets. After a shortened swim (winds blew away a couple of buoys shortly before the start so they made the best of relocating the existing buoys), I headed onto the bike looking to hold just under threshold watts. I felt strong the entire way–not holding back while making the most of the ups and downs of the course and then ran hard, close to an “adult” PR.
Very pleased with the result, I spent most of the afternoon off my feet (and a couple of sessions in the pneumatic boots), ate well, and got to bed early. The real test of my fitness was focused on how I could perform in the second race.
Sunday’s wakeup was a little rougher, as was putting my feet on the floor! I could definitely feel Saturday’s race, but it seemed manageable. I made a point of getting some extra warmup in–about 30 minutes total between running, drills, and swimming. After a solid but uneventful swim, I headed out on the bike and could feel my legs and the numbers looked very good. Race 2 running felt tougher (and this race was mostly on dirt vs. asphalt on Saturday). I was able to sustain a strong effort but lacked the very top end that I tapped into the day before.
What do I look at in order to get a sense of the success of the weekend?
First, I ignored the swims, except from a very general sense of how I felt. There are too many variables at play to consider pacing and I don’t trust my HRM numbers in the water.
So let’s look at power numbers on the bike and run (thanks Stryd). Saturday I rode 0.92 IF compared to Sunday 0.91 — a 4-watt difference in normalized power. The differences in the course and margin of error of power meters makes me call these rides virtually identical–and a good outcome.
The run numbers are really the more important measure for me–a reflection of overall resistance to fatigue. My time was quite a bit slower on Sunday (3 minutes), however, the differences in the courses likely account for some of that. Normalized power on Sunday was 4 percent lower than Saturday (13 watts). My stride length decreased a bit on Sunday (1.3 meters vs. 1.2), but that may be able to be explained by the different surfaces. My form power ratio (looking at how much power you use to move vertically vs horizontally) was basically identical on both days. I was able to drive my heart rate quite a bit higher on Saturday (9 beats) but the corresponding power was pretty consistent across both days (decoupling 1.4% on Saturday vs. 3.1% Sunday – both good numbers). These numbers are all indicators of a to-be-expected drop-off, but a strong reflection of the big aerobic base I built through the spring.
The results were positive, there is great information in the data, and the challenge was fun. My athletes should keep an eye out for this option in the future! Look for a full race report on Alaska in a couple of months.
Coach Dave Sheanin believes that becoming “triathlon literate” is key to meeting your goals. Triathlon is indeed a lifestyle and like the other important areas of your life, knowledge is power. I encourage you to explore the nuances of the sport, be open to new ideas and ask questions – of yourself, of fellow swimmers, cyclists and runners, and of your coach.
Coach Dave is a USA Triathlon and Training Peaks Certified Coach.