For some that feel the itch to do something insane during their lifetime, an IRONMAN is often a one and done bucket list kind of achievement. For others, it’s a lifestyle. Often planning their vacations and work/life schedules around which race they have coming up next. Always in search of that perfect race, if one does exist. And for a rare few, the challenge of just one in a short time period isn’t enough.
By setting out to compete in multiple IRONMAN races in short succession; the standard build up, race, and recovery routine is thrown out the window. What is left is a jigsaw puzzle of how to manage your training and recovery for such a monumental task.
But just like any other puzzle, there’s a right and a wrong way to put the pieces together, and a strategy to help you get to the end. Up next, my thoughts on how to scratch that IRONMAN itch, so you can scratch that one off your bucket list… or make it part of your lifestyle!
Make Your Training Routine IRONMAN Approved
Whether your races are 2 months apart or 2 weeks apart, many aspects of a quick turn around between IRONMAN races remain the same. The most direct way to make this challenge a bit “easier”, is to get fitter! Put simply, the faster and fitter you are, the shorter each race is.
Each person will be different in what is the best way to achieve this, but my general advice here is to hire a knowledgeable coach. Particularly one that has a track record of success with other athletes that have done what you are attempting.
This can be invaluable to help you manage not only the complexities of getting fitter, but helping you get the most out of each race with proper planning and execution.
How to Race… the Right Way
Once you are set and have the training side of things taken care of, then comes the race itself. I find a shorter taper into the first race helps me, as it allows me to carry some of that fitness past the first race and into the second.
This can also be tricky though, as you still want to be well enough rested enough for the first race to go well! So managing good nutrition, sleep, pre-race travel and stress is super important here. I’ve made mistakes here in the past with super long car rides and overnight flights leading to poor race results. Just remember that you want to avoid any extra pre-race stress that you can!
Work with your coach to be able to implement a rock solid race execution plan, especially focusing on nutrition. Your body at the end of an IRONMAN where you bonked hard is way more trashed than if you were able to stay strong to the end.
Make sure to take into consideration the conditions on the day too, as nutrition and pacing demands will vary a good bit here. Ending up in the medical tent because you got super dehydrated is also another way to ruin your chances at a quick turn-around.
Don’t Skip Out on Post-Race Physical Recovery…
After the race, your first priority is recovery. I break recovery down into 3 different categories. The first of which is physical, or muscular, recovery. I’ve never met anyone that wasn’t immensely sore the day following an IRONMAN. The quicker your body can turn around from this, the better.
There are a couple ways that you can aid your body in recovering from this soreness quicker. My personal favorite is using a compression device such as the Speed Hound Pro-Performance Recovery System. These use sequential compression to encourage blood and lymphatic flow in your extremities, especially in those super sore legs! After an IRONMAN, your body’s ability to do this on it’s own is severely diminished and these will help diminish the soreness and swelling that will otherwise take longer to dissipate.
Other light interventions to keep the blood flowing will also help in aiding recovery, including massage and even light movement. Though these are best to save for the days following the race. The first exercises to ease back into after the race will typically be swimming and riding, with super easy running being the last.
Once you are able to run with a normal gait again post-race, you’ll know that your muscular recovery is going well. Though it is important to not constantly test this and set your recovery back even further.
…Or Ignore Systemic Recovery
The next type of recovery that can often be overlooked is systemic, which I like to correlate with hormones and the nervous system. There’s no avoiding that you’re a combination of amped up and dead tired at the end of an IRONMAN.
While it is good to have that post race celebration, you eventually want to make sure you focus on letting your body and mind rest after the race. Eating a high caloric meal is the first thing you can do once the adrenalin starts coming down to give the body what it needs to repair and find a sense of balance. Refueling nutritionally will be very important after putting yourself in such a big hole on race day.
Following that, the most important thing is SLEEP! While you may not be able to sleep very well the first night, make sure to put a priority on restful sleep and even naps if you can in the days following the race.
Even trying to have your travel back home being a day or so later can really help your body reset a bit post race. This can be the trickiest aspect of recovery as you never fully know when your body is 100% recovered systemically, and I’ve made the mistake of thinking I was ready to race again before my body was fully rested and recovered.
Take Your Mental Recovery Seriously, Too
While your body can be fully recovered and ready to race again, your mind has to be in it too. I’ve had some races that were a mental struggle all day, and at the end, the last thing I wanted to do was think about another IRONMAN.
So it’s very important to have your mind in a good place and to have others who you can rely on to help lift you up in the low points. This sport is extremely tough and challenging, but we all choose to do it. Probably the most important thing in all of this, is to remember your why. And to let it never stray too far from your mind during the good times and the bad.
Good luck to everyone out there considering this challenge and if you ever have any questions don’t hesitate to reach out!
Adam Feigh - Pro Triathlete