Monday, February 1, 2016

Bridging Ironmans

by Justin Daerr

As the number of Ironman/long distance triathlons increases, it seems that more athletes are doubling (or even tripling) up on these long events in a short time period. Not only are they stacking events, but in some cases they are racing at a high level in all of them. In 2013, we saw two athletes win back-to-back Ironmans in two and four week spans, as well as many others who have posted multiple podiums finishes.

I have done more than 20 Ironmans, as an age grouper and as an elite, but the shortest time span I had done two events had been eight weeks. Last season brought up some unique circumstances after I posted a DNF at Ironman Lake Tahoe due to a bike mechanical. After that happened, I decided to try to do two Ironmans in the span of four weeks at the end of the season. I felt that if there was ever a time to try it, it would be then.

I had the option of doubling up on two events in two weeks, but based on my recovery patterns in the past, I really did not feel that was optimal for me. With that in mind I set out with the following game plan after completing the first event (IM Florida, 8:13, 9th overall):

  1. Try to develop a normal sleeping habit immediately after the event and avoid too much bad food/drink after 24 hours post-race (you got to live a little).

  2. Resume recovery training as soon as I get home.

  3. The first two weeks of training would be aerobic and easy, then eight to 10 days of focused training with most of the quality sessions being back end loaded in the block, followed by four to five days of freshening before the final race.

  4. Follow heart rate caps until power or pace start to reflect “normal” ranges, then it would be okay to shift to power/pace focused sessions.

The first 10-12 days after IM Florida, I generally felt lousy when training, despite it all being fairly easy. After that, I started to turn a corner and I began to feel much better, but given how late that occurred I really felt that trying to double up on races in two weeks would have been a bad idea and I was glad I opted for the four-week bridge. The next week of training went quite well and each day I felt I was making an improvement over the last. By the Monday of race week, I felt great and even mentioned to my coach that I felt better than I did leading into Florida. It seemed as though I had really nailed the proper balance of recovery and training during the bridge.

Then I got sick.

Just a few hours after saying I felt great, I fell ill. I had to make major adjustments to race week and I hardly did any training at all. As late as the day before the event, I was not sure I would be able to start. Fortunately, I did manage to get healthy enough to start; I had to adjust my efforts down in order to finish the event, but was happy when I finished 6th overall after a very rough week. You can read the full recap of race week and the race itself on my personal site.

Unfortunately, I did not get the chance to see how I might have raced the two events had I been fully healthy, but risking injury or illness is definitely something that needs to be taken into account when making a decision to race this closely together. What is fortunate was that I was able to get healthy enough to make the second start and close out the season without a DNS or DNF.

Racing two Ironmans in 29 days was a great learning experience for me and it definitely helped to give me a new perspective on what can be possible. If I were to do it again, I would apply the following lessons:

  1. The two races need to be four or five weeks apart (for me); I would not try bridging is less than that time frame.

  2. Focus on recovery/easy training in the front two weeks and take normal training closer the second event need be. It is better to have a shorter taper than forcing anything too early after the first race.

  3. Be more vigilant with staying healthy: wash hands often, good food, good sleep.

  4. Place the stack events at the end of the season as opposed to the middle. Going into the offseason after the second event is a nice feeling.

If you decide to give it shot, good luck!

Justin Daerr is a professional triathlete and co-owner of Endurance Corner. You can follow him on Twitter @justindaerr.
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