Monday, February 1, 2016

Bridging Ironmans Redux

Recently, I decided to race back-to-back Ironmans across a 21-day time period: Ironman Canada-Whistler and Ironman Mont-Tremblant in Quebec; finishing 3rd and 2nd respectively. At the end of 2013, I did back-to-back Ironmans (Florida and Cozumel) across a 29-day time period. I wrote about that experience in an earlier article.

In that article I made several conclusions including:

  1. I would only do double IMs with at least four weeks between them. I broke that rule.
  2. I would only do double IMs at the end of the season. I broke that rule.

Breaking those rules came from circumstances I could not have foreseen when I wrote them. In the spring of this year, I became very ill and eventually developed pneumonia. This caused a major setback to my racing season and I did very little racing across a 10-month period. This led me to the start line of Ironman Canada-Whistler.

The reason for backing up that race so quickly with another event came from the racing options in the latter months of the year in North America. With fewer events to choose from, I felt that IM Mont-Tremblant was the race that featured a course that would suit my strengths the best. With that in mind, I decided the give the three-week bridge a try.

Based on past conversations with other athletes that have tried the three-week bridge, I knew that most felt that it was less-than-ideal. Most athletes I consulted with have preferred to either place the events closer (i.e. two weeks) or further (four-plus). The general consensus seemed to be that the three-week events were far enough apart that simply “floating fitness” with recovery training was not possible and balancing enough training in the interim was challenging. Additionally, EC’s Alan Couzens mentioned to me that he saw many of his athletes hit some of their peak IM fatigue levels three weeks post-event.

Not ideal.

With that in mind, I made the following goals:

  1. Return to light training three days after the first event.
  2. Emphasize a swim/bike focused training block from 14-5 days out from event 2.
  3. Try to hit 50% normal run volume in week two with a long run of 10-12 miles 10 days out from event two.
  4. Don’t get sick.
  5. Don’t complain about being tired (a tip from EC’s Marilyn Chychota on positive thinking).

I managed to essentially achieve all those goals, but the major hindrance I was having had to do with my hamstrings. Ironman Whistler had been a very cold, wet race and it caused my hamstrings to tighten up on the run unlike any other race I have done. It took nearly a full two weeks post-race for them to return to 100%. That caused me to have much less running than planned and most of what I did do had to be quite light. My swim/bike volume did return to somewhat normal levels, but I was only able to raise the quality of the sessions in swimming, cycling was primarily capped at an easy-to-steady intensity, based on how I was feeling.

From four days out from the event, I did the same routine I had put together in Whistler. I didn’t feel as fresh, but I did feel motivated to race which I thought was a good sign. As for the race itself, it broke down as:

Swim: I felt good. I managed to have a better overall performance than Whistler, exiting the water in fifth around 2.5 minutes off lead swimmer. I also came out a few seconds behind the eventual race winner.

Bike: I rode much more conservatively than Whistler. I felt as though I lacked the same fitness level and I opted to do my own thing and ride controlled, hoping that would help me close out the race with a better run. What I cannot know is whether my performance was lower because of actual decreased fitness or from having pushed hard three weeks prior; probably both. Regardless, I did not ride as well as Whistler.

Run: The start of the run felt quite smooth and the opening splits seemed to be right on target for a good run (low-2:50s). However, as I neared the halfway point of the run, I began to think that this double was a bad idea. I was hitting a low spot and was struggling to pull myself out of it. Fortunately, I managed to get my head back in the game and went through a roller coaster of highs and lows on the second half. I moved into second place around the 25K mark, but up until the very end it was a very close race for second to fifth; making me have to push the whole way. We had pretty hot and humid conditions at that point which likely helped turned the second half of the run into more of a battle of attrition, which I tend to do better in. This run ended up being a slightly better time than Whistler; though I felt quite worse (hamstrings aside).

The race as a whole: Even with the extreme conditions in Whistler, I felt that Mont-Tremblant was much more difficult overall; both physically and mentally. I think what ultimately helped me the most was not having specific expectations on the day. I was doing something I had never done before and I was just focused on trying to make the most of whatever the day brought me. Staying process-oriented versus results-driven is always better, but these particular circumstances likely helped make that a little easier to do.

In the end, this IM double proved to be a successful one, but with hindsight, I can say that the three-week double is much more challenging than a four-week bridge. I suppose that I can’t say I would never do it again, but I would prefer a bigger gap to allow for a better chance of successful consecutive events. Both the four-week and three-week double have been great learning experiences and have certainly broken down the barriers to what I thought was possible. No matter how long I have been racing, I always enjoy trying and learning new things.


Justin Daerr is a professional triathlete and co-owner of Endurance Corner. You can follow him on Twitter @justindaerr.
Click to share on Twitter and Facebook
      Tweet This!