The best is yet to come—why not make it a double? Here’s how to peak for two A-races.
by Michael Lovato
Things have changed. In the past, one “A” race a year was enough for most triathletes, and peaking for it the solitary goal. Now with so many races to choose from, triathletes have to be creative, figuring out how to perform at their best for two or more events—and very often within a short timeframe.
Nowhere is this double more challenging than for those hitting both world championships—IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship in Las Vegas and the GoPro IRONMAN World Championship in Kailua-Kona. But even for those who haven’t qualified, this method of tackling two important races can be applied to any distance race: sprint, 5150, 70.3 or IRONMAN.
At first glance, the idea of putting together solid back-to-back performances might seem intimidating. But like training, if properly planned and managed, it can be done.
In 2010 I became intrigued by the idea of racing a late-season IRONMAN after training for and peaking at Kona. I’ve been racing IRONMAN for over a decade and I felt up to the challenge of performing well at two events (Hawaii followed by IRONMAN Cozumel six or seven weeks later). For three years I’ve managed to move from a top performance at the first to a podium at the second.
First off, I knew I’d get in trouble if I laid a plan in stone and followed it blindly without paying close attention to how my body was responding. The timing is too tight to make errors, so I paid close attention to how I felt each day.
Step one: Manage recovery
IRONMAN wears down the body, both mentally and physically, and not adequately recovering from the first event could sabotage your second. I took my recovery very seriously, paying close attention to the little details like sleep, fluid replacement and adequate refueling. All sessions the first week were more exercise than training. I began with swimming, eased into cycling and followed up with some light running, trying to feel better when I finished than when I started each session.
Recovering mentally was equally as important. Everything that goes into Kona is very demanding on one’s emotional state, and I was drained through much of late October. My body and mind would tell me when it was ready to roll again, and I patiently waited for that to happen.
Jumping back into training too soon will be the quickest way to stall out, delay progress, and to waste valuable time. Racing takes a hefty toll on the body—so take solace in knowing that a well-timed recovery period will allow the body to return to training at a higher level of fitness than before the key race. In short: rest enough, get faster.
→Do not neglect the emotional recovery that will be necessary. Pushing through a lack of motivation can often lead to a physical breakdown.
→The mind will return to its state of readiness; it will want to train again.
→Wait until the emotions say “go.” Do not go looking for that drive you had before Race Number One, just let it come back!
Step two: Opposites attract
My next step was to closely examine the way I trained for the first race, and to focus more on opposing workout types for my second race. In my case, I knew that the higher volume of cycling and running that I did in my Kona prep would carry me far into my Cozumel prep. I knew the endurance was adequate, and I did not need to repeat those long hours in my second build. I turned to shorter, quality-driven sessions, meant to sharpen and boost my fitness. On paper my training looked light. I never rode more than 80 or 90 miles or ran more than 15 miles. I completely ignored the hours-counting aspect of my training log, and I pushed the pace in ways that I didn’t in my Kona training.
Questions will arise: I rode five centuries for the first IRONMAN, can’t I do that for the second? I ran four 20-milers before, don’t I need to do that again? Won’t I lose fitness if I stop doing my training like I did for the first race? Aren’t I doing too little? Why can’t I do what my training partner is doing to prepare for this race? Does this seem like too much?
→Note the key components of your preparation for Race Number One, and then begin to carefully assess exactly what it is you need going forward. Examining the way you performed in Race Number One can give you clues to what needs to change going forward.
→Resist the urge to compare current sessions with their counterparts of the past. And do not compare to what your training partners are doing.
→If you felt flat and incapable of pushing, chances are good that you were not well rested enough going into Race Number One. If you blew up early, and later struggled to keep the power high (on bike or run), there is a good chance you need to raise the threshold with some high-intensity training. In short, focus on doing opposing workout types.
Step three: Cultivate memories
Too many athletes excel at remembering their last workout, as opposed to remembering their last great workout. I did everything I could to think back to the last time I absolutely nailed a training session. This helped me remember that the work was still inside my body—a key part of getting me mentally ready for my second race. I frequently reminded myself that my first A-race had given me a significant training boost. My body was automatically different based on that one day of racing.
When I arrived in Mexico for my second race, my mind was fresh, my body felt rejuvenated and fit and my readiness was undeniable. Did I know that I would go on to take second place, or even to win? Definitely not, but I was confident that I bridged the gap from A to B as intelligently and effectively as possible.
Try working on those positive memory skills. Not all sessions go swimmingly, and not all should. As soon as that subpar training session is finished, forget about it. And start conjuring up images of the most successful and triumphant training session you’ve done in the previous six or twelve weeks. Remember the one where you felt like you could outrun Craig Alexander, and forget the one that felt turtle-like.
→If you have already done six to twelve weeks of high-volume training for Race Number One, you still get to count that toward your training for Race Number Two.
→If you have done multiple pace-oriented rides and runs, threshold intervals or VO2 sets for Race Number One, you still have that fitness on board for Race Number Two.
→Training does not start over as soon as Race Number One is over.
→You will get a huge fitness boost from Race Number One, so you are now a totally different athlete than you were prior to that event.
Once you’ve focused on a thorough recovery plan, laid a detailed yet flexible plan and remembered how fit you really are, you’ll find that the body and the mind are ready to tackle Race Number Two. And who knows, you might even meet goals you never thought possible.