D3 Coach Simon Butterworth has had the most incredible athletic prowess of racing the Ironman World Championships fourteen times. He is about to embark on his 15th this October. His knowledge of the course and conditions is unparalleled. He is a strategic athlete, researching and understanding every aspect of the course so that his own race plan is thoroughly dialed in for all variables. And the best part – he is willing to share his top tips with you – all to ensure your own race day success.
1. Don’t drink for the first 30 minutes after the swim. I have only seen this advice once, it was in an article by Dave Scott just before my first Ironman in 2001. The idea is that you have almost certainly been drinking during the swim and adding more fluids on top of some nice saltwater (or “clean” lake/river water) and it is not necessarily kind on your stomach. Best to wait until the swim water is digested.
2. Don’t use RPE in the first 30 minutes of the bike. RPE this early in the race is very misleading. When you get going on the bike you most likely will feel like superman/superwoman. You will not have felt this good starting a bike after the swim in months. Don’t let that feeling get you hammering as you hit the hills in Kona. Staying in your targeted power zone is the best way to control those emotions.
3. Be prepared for the unexpected. Spending some time visualizing the race you hope for and thinking about things that can go wrong is essential. And, better than just thinking about it is writing it down. I always write a race report before the race (finalizing it on the long flight to Kona). It does include the possible bad stuff and most importantly, things I can do that will lift me out of a hole. Here are some potential problems:
Exceptionally windy day (my first in 2001 had 55 mph gusts on the Queen K and 30 mph headwind going up to Hawi). Stay in your aerobars and be sure to practice that when you get to Kona in the wind. Staying low going into the wind is an obvious best choice. Staying low in crosswind gusts gets you just a bit closer to the road, wind diminishes as you get close to the ground.
Watch the grass on the side of the road for a small warning of a big gust.
If you flat, or have a mechanical problem, be sure to keep up the hydration and fueling. I failed to think of that when I had an extended stop one year. Fortunately, I realized my mistake in time.
Be prepared for a case of the wobbles when you get off the bike. In 2001 I totally underestimated the effort of staying upright in the wind gusts, and the effects of the heat. I almost hit the pavement when I got off the bike. The first 3 miles were ugly and slow but I recovered and finished. Even in better conditions those first two hills on Alii, which you hardly notice in practice, can seem like a mountain. Pace things right and take a short walk and they will seem much smaller on the way back to the crowds in Kona.
Walking, you will unless you are an elite athlete and even they do some. I solve the mental stress of walking by planning to do so on a schedule. If you have not been doing this, now is not the time to change your plans. However, be ready mentally to deal with walking. You will not be alone. Experiment with the duration of the walk and intensity. You might be surprised at how a modest 15 seconds (which is about 30 fast steps for me) makes you feel and getting into a routine can help. Short fast walking can help fire up the glutes that have probably gone to sleep.
Some extra points to remember.
This is nothing you haven’t heard before, but it is much too late to make changes in your gear. That includes clothing, and the fuel and sports drink you use. Dave Scott changed his bike position three weeks before his last IM, he did not finish.
No flip flops, or barefoot walking. Make sure your footwear minimizes the chance of an accident as you enjoy Kona before the race.
Above all else, enjoy the experience of racing the Ironman World Championships! See you out there.
D3 Coach Simon Butterworth will be racing his 15th IMWC this October. In the big picture, he sees 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.
Many of you probably know Simon Butterworth of Louisville, Colorado. He has competed at the IRONMAN World Championships 14 times having won his age group two years ago. He competes in local races constantly and there aren’t many people on the planet who have raced more triathlons. He is from Ireland and recently competed at Cork and you will enjoy reading about his voyage “home” to race in one of the hardest and most weather challenged races he has ever done. An epic day filled with amazing people he encountered. Check out his journey!
By Simon Butterworth
I knew Irish weather could throw us a curve when I signed up last year, but I had no choice. How could a immigrant from Ireland pass up the first ever IM just 45 miles from their hometown Tramore, impossible. My enthusiasm for the race will be clear if you read my Blog. It is after all the Irish who are your hosts and there are non-better at that. It helped a lot that I managed to finish but it was a real case of “but for the grace of God” that I did. Two of my fellow old geezers got a flat which finished the race for them. Try fixing a flat when you are almost hypothermic, motion is essential to not going there.
I sincerely hope that our day does not deter other Irish Americans (and any one who becomes Irish on St Patricks Day) from going “home” to race. But do it with eyes wide open. Preparation for the possible conditions is key. Sort out an appropriate kit for the worst (and hope for the best like the day before and after), especially for the bike. I got the best kit possible (my opinion after the race) from Rapha then hoped that I would not have to use it. It made the finish possible. I should note that you can do that race in those conditions in bike shorts and short sleeve top, but you probably need to be Irish, from somewhere in the UK or a similar climate.
All IronMan races are hard it’s just that some take longer than others. That is a key consideration when picking a race and you are not blazing fast but if you can go the distance within the cutoff times you just need to plan for a longer day. You need more fluids and food and you also have to adjust your power or HR limits. You can research what to do on your own but a coach in this case makes matters much easier.
You will also hear the roads were rough. Any of us who have done Escape from Alcatraz know that they were not the worst roads in Triathlon by far. Last year I watched the pro men going airborne over the ruts and potholes on the last downhill to T2 as I was going up. There were a lot of bumpy roads but again preparation, lower tire pressure and the right bike helps. I rode on a Dimond, a beam bike that handles rough roads well. A good road bike that is stiff laterally but compliant vertically would be better than an all-around stiff tri bike. Gearing is key, I could have used a 32 cog on the rear but managed fine with a 34/28, except for Windmill.
Speaking of gearing big shout out to Niall McCarthy and Michelle Nagle, both finished 5th in their first IM, Niall did it stuck in the big chain ring for the second loop, ouch. I met both of them Tuesday before the race (a nice sunny one). Also shout out to my friends John Kelly, Chanc Wood (both from my Colorado town Lafayette) and Katie O’Brian (from neighboring Boulder). John made a brave go of it with an injured shoulder but was forced to concede to the conditions. Katie crashed but continued on learning that she had fractured her collar bone when she finished, tough. Chanc finished, the prime objective, not sure how his day went.
I can’t say enough about the people of Youghal and the surrounding towns, villages and farms who came out to support us either as volunteers or in the cheering section. Big thank you to the club in the middle of Youghal giving us the motivation to press on with some very loud chants. Seeing the same people all around the course on lap two of the bike in the rain meant that if they could do that so could we. I have not seen anything like that in over 150 triathlons and 26 IM races. Only Challenge Roth is the same, and they have the advantage of a much larger population surrounding the course, and sunny skies last year.
If I was bummed out it was not seeing more happy faces outside the pubs on the course, temptation to stay warm was strong. Imagine the crowd on the lawn of the Beer Garden at the start of the bike on a day like Monday.
Anyone with ideas of heading to Ireland next year give me a call or message. I would be happy to help with the decision making. Hope you enjoy the story of my two weeks in Ireland and race day on my blog
D3 Coach Simon Butterworth will be racing in the Ironman World Championships in Kona Hawaii for his 13th, YES THIRTEEN, times! He has seen a number of race conditions to give him a solid perspective about how best to prepare for everything and anything. His experience is your new-found knowledge as his strategies have helped him earn the Kona podium. It took you a lot of sweat and commitment to qualify for this race, so read on for the best information and advice you need to toe the line on race day.
This Guide is broken into four sections:
Preparation when you get to Kona
The Ironman World Championship race itself
Pre-Travel Preparation – Before you get to Kona
Race Report – Visualize what you expect
Writing a detailed race report before the race is the best way to visualize the event and plan for trouble, which will happen at some point. You should be working on this, hopefully with a coach, weeks before the event.
There is plenty of good advice out there, but the best is from your coach. Follow her/his advice. When you get to Kona, don’t be tempted to do more than planned because you will want to recon the entire course. Use your car unless you get there early and have plenty of time on your hands.
When to get there
I have found that the ideal time to arrive is 10-14 days before the race (that was only possible after I retired). If it is less, the heat acclimatization advice provided below is very important.
Simple advice, don’t wait to the last minute. Get new tires and don’t put them on the wheels until 3 days before the race. The more tread on the tire, the less small cuts in the tire, the less chance of a flat. A well-used tire could well ruin months, even years of training and an expense that makes the cost of new tires chump change. Make sure everything else is in top condition before you fly.
We are fortunate at D3 to have a deep pool of coaching resources, and that includes D3 Coach Julie Dunkle. She will be competing in the Ironman World Championships this fall for her 6th time and suggests that you should be cautious of how deep your race wheels are. The crosswinds on the Queen K and out to Havi can be relentless and I have seen riders blow across the road. If you are a strong and capable rider with lots of experience you can roll an 808/404 combination, but if you are unsure I would suggest 404/404. Note: there are no discs allowed in Kona.
Essential to do if you are: coming from a cool or lower humidity climate (or several weeks of cool weather), are not getting there until race week, or have never raced in Kona conditions. If you can get to Kona a week or more ahead of time, I would still recommend simulating the heat somehow so that when you do get there you will not go into a panic about the conditions. Run coach Bobby McGee has a simple way to prepare for heat. He suggests, for two weeks before your departure plan your bikes and run so that you can layer up for the last 30 minutes of every workout. Doing more when active is not productive as it is too stressful. There are also some interesting ideas out on the internet with the use of a Sauna, but be careful with these if you are not a regular sauna user. Again, you don’t want to overstress yourself when you are tapering.
Just because you have got used to the feeling of the heat and humidity it does not mean you can bike and run as fast as you could in cooler temps. You just don’t lose as much speed. Run pace could still be 20-30 sec. slower per mile, you need to get your mental head around this fact. Here is a calculator to determine how much time to allow for the heat.
Fears – Thinking Positive
I am not going to get into the mental game in this article but will say this is a critical piece if you are going to race to your potential. You should have been working on this for weeks or months before the race.
D3 athletes utilize the talent of mental skills coach Will Murray for such training. And for this particular event, Will shares that as you are out and about in Kona and during your practice swims you will see a lot of superior athletes, fit and ripped, tearing around on the bike and strutting around town. It might be easy to start comparing yourself and trying to keep up. But race day is all that counts. Stick to your own workout schedule. Remind yourself of your own race plan. See these folks as colleagues and fellow travelers, and avoid trying to be like them in the days before the race.
Also, it’s easy to get caught up in all the buzz and pageantry. The morning swims, the coffee barge, the Underpants Run, the 5k running race, the day-before 400m swim race all the seminars and other extracurricular events. Remember why you are there. While it’s fun to take in all the zaniness, you still need to focus on your own race, stay off your feet as much as you can and not get too wound up the Kona-ness of it all.
If you have not swum in salt water you are in for a treat. If you have survived a rough lake swim you are in for a treat. Only once have I seen rough water in Kona and in reality it was not rough, just a constant up down on rollers. Sighting under these conditions is challenging, so work on this if you have not done so already. Another positive is that there are a lot of good swimmers in Kona, they don’t tend to swim off in the wrong direction, so follow the leaders until you spot the many buoys.
This is the big challenge in Kona. Not only can it be very windy it is also a hilly bike course. The good news is that the wind tends to stop you thinking about the hills until you go slowly down one.
The bike is all about pacing. Be realistic with your planning. You should know what your power and/or HR should be for the duration you are expecting. There is also nothing wrong with perceived exertion. Note the word duration. If you determine that your duration is going to be longer than your prior IM by any significant amount, because of the conditions, your power output goals should go down some. Fueling and Hydration should be adjusted for an anticipated longer event as well. If you get this right, no need to worry, the inverse is trouble.
What happens here depends on what you have done for the past 114.4 miles. If you did overdo it, don’t panic. In my first go in Kona, I almost collapsed when I stepped off my bike and the first 4-5 miles were hell. But Kona does magic things to the mind and the last thing you want is to not finish the race. So don’t give up and the great thing is all the encouragement along the first part of the run.
If all went reasonably well and you get your running legs before leaving town stick to your plan, enjoy the feeling of knowing you are on your way to the finish.
Preparation When You Get To Kona
Bike Course Recon
How much of this you can do depends obviously on when you get to Kona. Here are my thoughts in order of importance:
The windy bit, Waikoloa. Drive out to Waikoloa around 9 am to get in a ride in during the time you should be out there on race day (which is usually the windiest time of the day). Unfortunately, it is not always windy out there so you will need to ask about the conditions. I have been there for two weeks with what would be great race conditions only to have to famous winds come back 1-2 days before the race (you don’t want to go out there that close to the race).
When you are out there be sure to ride through some of the cuts through the big mounds of Lava. If it is blowing hard going through these the first time is scary. You may be leaning into the crosswind the suddenly there is no wind. In the middle, it can get totally confused with the wind buffeting you around. Then as you exit, you get the full force of the wind again.
A ride thru Kona. It is important to get an idea of the climbs you will experience over the first 5 miles. Don’t hammer them, ride as if you are doing the race. Get comfortable with the speed and don’t try to go faster on race day.
Climb to Hawi. A great time to do this if you get there early enough is the weekend before. A great starting point is to drive to the end of the Queen K. Spencer State Park. Ride the rollers along the coast a bit below your IM pace, then when the road moves away from the immediate coast and you start a steady climb, push the pace a bit above your IM pace goal. As the road starts to climb it also starts to turn east and with it, the winds usually get stronger until you are not going anywhere fast. Winds can also be very gusty along this road. A warning and good news. The shoulder is narrow and it is scary with traffic. Race day there is none, be careful.
Come back to Spencer down the long hill not working hard and pick it up a bit again along the rollers. Coming back down the hill with the wind at your back is very fast. As the road curves south it will get gusty, sometimes very gusty. You should stay in your aerobars, as it makes you lower and reduces the effect of the gusts. Look at the grass ahead of you to anticipate the gusts or sudden lulls. Don’t ride beside any friends on the shoulder.
Hill Repeats. If you get to Kona soon enough there is a great place to do hill repeats 6+ miles south on Alii Drive. You will find what I am talking about around that distance. Also of note is the Pit. At mile 5.5 you go up a short hill on Alii and the road turns right. On the next longer descent there is a road going off to the right, the Pit. It was part of the original run course. Picture yourself running up that hill a little over a mile after getting off the bike. That was a tough course.
Run Course Recon
I don’t believe there is any benefit to running out of town on the Queen K. At most go out to the Harbor and head back. I would get used to the small rollers on the Queen K and the climb up and down Palani. Don’t run in the middle of the day unless you are expecting a swim and bike to rival the Pros. I run mostly in the morning and do one or two short runs mid to late afternoon when I expect to be running in the race. It is worth a drive down the Energy Lab road to get a look at it. It is not a big hill until you are climbing it more than halfway through the run.
There is an interesting example of the structure of the island just past the turn at the bottom of the hill and before you get to a building with toilets. Park just before you get to the toilets and walk straight across the beach and onto the lava. You will see a small inlet in the rocks. If it is low tide the water will feel cool and you may smell sulfur. Water is coming down from the top of Mauna Loa through the lava tubes.
There is not much you can do once you get to Kona other than being out in it. Don’t use AC in your hotel/condo except perhaps to cool off the bedroom so you sleep well. Same in the car except in the hottest part of the day.
Don’t try anything new! Stay well hydrated, you will notice you sweat a lot. Drink some but not exclusively sports drinks each day. Tap water is good in Kona. There is a Costco in Kona, find it, it is the best place for gas and most food supplies. Food is expensive on the Island.
Bike Works Kona is your best bet for quality bike service and the all-important supply of CO2 cartridges as you are not supposed to take them on your flight.
Held at the University of Colorado and co-sponsored by USA Cycling and USA Triathlon, this 3-day event focused on the business and science of coaching endurance athletes. Keynote speakers included six-time Ironman champion Dave Scott, USAT running coach Bobby McGee and Dirk Friel from TrainingPeaks.
Participants had the opportunity to listen to talks in sports physiology and coaching business. In this year’s format (2016 was the inaugural summit) there were 20-minute business roundtables, where coaches could break into small groups to hear quick presentations on business law, running a multi-coach business, enhancing your social media presence and using TrainingPeaks’ coach referral program.
Networking opportunities were built into the design throughout. Roka hosted a swim workout and Dave Scott a run workout, both on Friday morning before sessions began. Retul hosted a pre-conference networking session at their new facility on Airport Road in Boulder.
Coach Raeleigh Harris said, “The summit showcased the best coaching methodology, technology and leadership available to us today, all in one location. Total immersion into this setting was invaluable moving forward in development of Coaching services and supporting platforms.”
Emceed by Barry Siff, President of USA Triathlon, this even earned coaches 12 CEUs. Training Peaks plans to bring this event back to Boulder in 2018.
Nation’s top amateur triathletes to compete for national titles in sprint and Olympic-distance events
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — More than 4,000 amateur triathletes are registered to compete at the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships, happening this Saturday, Aug. 12, and Sunday, Aug. 13, at Levi Carter Park in Omaha, Nebraska.
The Age Group Nationals weekend is USA Triathlon’s largest and longest-running National Championship event. Also held in Omaha in 2016, the event will feature two days of competition with national titles up for grabs on each day.
Races begin at 7 a.m. CT each day, with the Olympic-Distance National Championships on Saturday and the Sprint National Championships on Sunday. The Olympic-distance event, which has been held annually since 1983, features a 1,500-meter swim, non-drafting 40-kilometer bike and 10-kilometer run course. Athletes in this race qualified to compete based on a top age-group finish at a previous USA Triathlon Sanctioned Event. The Sprint National Championships, which have no qualifying criteria, will feature a 750m swim, non-drafting 20k bike and 5k run.
On both Saturday and Sunday, athletes will be competing for national titles in their respective age groups. Top finishers in each age group will also earn the opportunity to represent Team USA at the 2018 ITU Age Group Triathlon World Championships in Gold Coast, Australia, in their respective race distances.
The top 18 finishers (rolling down to 25th place) in each age group of Olympic-Distance Nationals will automatically earn a spot on Team USA.
Sprint-distance competitors must finish in the top six in their age groups to secure a spot for the Sprint World Championships, which will feature a draft-legal bike leg. Athletes can also qualify for the Sprint World Championships by finishing in the top-12 in their age groups at the Draft-Legal World Qualifier in Sarasota, Florida, on Oct. 7, 2017. More information about Team USA qualification for the sprint race is available at usatriathlon.org.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia are represented by the competitors in this weekend’s field. The youngest athlete on the start list is 14 years old, and the oldest is 88.
In total, 16 national champions from 2016 will be back to defend their Olympic-distance age-group titles.
Colorado Athletes Racing both the Sprint and Olympic distance events:
William Ankele Jr
Mother/daughter racing Sprint
Christy & Hannah Croasdell
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.
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.
Coach Simon has a great perspective on winning. Winning does not have to mean being first. It was never more clear to me than Hawaii 2009 when circumstances conspired to put me out on the run with many for whom winning was just finishing. Being first in a triathlon is great for the lucky ones. I have been lucky at times, but “winning” for whatever reason can be just as much fun and many times even more rewarding. So my goal for anyone I coach is to help them win!