Racing long and short distances over a short time frame
by Simon Butterworth, D3 Multisport
Back in the day, the greats of our sport, Allen, Scott, Molina and many others could be found at races of all distances at any time of the year. It worked, Dave and Mark still hold some of the fastest times in Kona when they were racing without all the sports nutrition, training guidance, and very expensive aero stuff. Amongst the professionals, those days are gone but not completely. At the very pointy end of the spear in Olympic racing, you will not find anyone racing long but there are some professionals, usually those who are not quite at the top of the heap in short stuff, are racing very fast and making money working all distances.
If you dig into the USAT Rankings a bit it becomes quickly apparent that the ability to do well at all distances is more in reach within the amateur ranks. However, I believe that if you have three amateurs of equal potential short and long, who specialize in one or the other the specialists will win.
Most athletes are not, however, thinking of winning in the sense of being first in their AG. Their goals are a bit more modest and winning is defined at having fun, a great race and perhaps setting a new PR. If those are your goals then racing long and short is very much an option.
Indeed “winning” in short and long races can be done over a short period of time, two or three races in a month. The key is setting the right goals, priorities, and expectations followed by a plan that matches the above, and sticking to it.
Goals & Priority
Conventional advice has it that peaking for more than three A races in a season is difficult. Professionals can perhaps do more but don’t do so often. Amateurs, who have another life to consider, should not go beyond three. And, if you are trying to squeeze three races in with a month only two of those should be A races.
The reason is that racing at your best requires a good taper. What defines a good taper varies with the individual and some can get away with less than others. Everyone, as they age, needs more time to recover from hard training and/or racing. Finding what works for you is a process of experimentation. It is a very bad idea to conclude that because you had a great race result with a minimal taper you don’t need to taper more. So getting in the right taper for two A races in a month is just doable more not so.
Racing three events in a month also messes big time with your training. So if there is another major A race later in the summer make sure you have thought through the idea very carefully.
Even if there is not, you must answer the question honestly, why do I want to do three races close together. Get input to that thought process from friends and family. Make sure the answer is a good one before signing up. Situations I have had in the past have been the chase for a Kona slot, a good reason I think. Twice, back in the day when you could get to Kona in a Half IM, I did Eagleman (failed), the Boulder Sprint, then Buffalo Springs Half (success), all in three weekends. Buffalo Springs was not really planned before Eagleman but was certainly a fallback plan, and I structured the five weeks (two-week taper for Eagleman plus the 3 weeks covering the racing) of training accordingly, I have also done an IronMan and then Olympic the following weekend. There are dangers in all of the above and that is where expectations become very important.
Expectations and goals are closely related. As noted before if you want to really race your absolute best you should focus on short or long course racing. But that’s not fun for some, yet for others, it is just great. Indeed I believe that someone who races to their potential in short course racing is every bit the amazing triathlete who does an IM. If you doubt that premise watch one of the videos from the Olympic Triathlon. That is extremely hard, an all out effort for about 2 hrs.
Expectations/Goals are easier to set if the long event is the last one. The hardest scenario is an IM first. I do not believe you can realistically have a short distance A race within at least 4 weeks, perhaps longer of an IM.
I learned that lesson early in my IM career from the combination of an IM and 5K (5weeks later), sprinting hard to the finish up a slight hill almost put myself on the disabled list for months.
Last year at Nationals I was smarter, a week after IM Boulder. I got passed at mile four of the run. I am not sure if I could have picked up the pace and will never know. I stuck to my plan, swim and bike hard, play it safe on the run.
You could have an Olympic A race three weeks out from an IM or a sprint one week out. There is a catch to the above, the potential for an injury. If you have been training hard for 6-10 months for the IM and that is a lot of your time, family pain, and effort. Ruining all that by sprinting to the finish in a sprint and pulling a muscle (that will not recover in 2 weeks) does not make a lot of sense to me.
The easiest scenario to plan for is a sequence of A-C-A or C-C-A races over three weeks (note as I said above I don’t think this could include an IM as one of the first two races. Follow the taper you have worked out from previous racing for the weeks leading into the first A race. You can’t gain any fitness by training hard after the first race so the next two training weeks should be short (relative) workouts with a small amount of intensity two days out, no explosive efforts (think injury). The middle C race is your higher intensity and/or longer training day.
If you think, “I must do some training between these races,” my own experience and many other anecdotal stories say otherwise. Coming home from Eagleman in 2009 I caught a bug on the plane. It was slow developing and I followed my own advice above up to the Boulder Sprint the next weekend. When I finished that it did not seem like I had been smart, the bug hit hard. I did no training until two days before Buffalo Springs and then it was more just to see how things felt. Race day the bug was gone and got the Kona slot with 13 seconds to spare. There are many other stories of athletes having a great race after two weeks of fighting off a bug or injury with no training.
If the first race is an A race and an IM the last two better be two C races. The plan would be similar, the first week after the IM the pool is your friend, the bike second and the run last. I would not run more than twice near the end of the week just before the next race. The second race would be your big training day of the three weeks; more recovery would be in order with one perhaps a short SBR mid week before the last race.
Setting the right expectations is the most important thing when planning races close together. They go together with setting reasonable goals. If you get those two right, planning the training around the races is reasonably easy.
A way of approaching this is to think of the advice given to IM athlete mentally preparing for a race, “look at it as a long hard training day” which you have already done more than once. Then put on your recovery hat to fill in the time between the races.
One final thought. Be prepared to bail on one or two of the races. More important things in the other life can pop up at the wrong (for racing) time. But then this is no different than any other time when great plans go out the window, stuff happens, there will be other races.
Simon Butterworth is a coach for D3 Multisport and notes, “In the big picture I see attitude more than age making the difference in many aspects of this sport. There are times in triathlon that to see improvements you need to slow down and spend some time working on your technique – which requires a great deal of discipline. So does having a coach and following the plan written for you. The best coach in the world can only be of help if you’re ready and willing to do the work.” Simon has qualified and competed in the Ironman World Championships 12 times and is a USAT, USA Cycling and Training Peaks Certified Coach.