As anyone who’s ever done one will tell you – racing an Ironman takes a lot out of you, both physically and mentally. I won’t cover the mental side in this post, and instead will focus on the physical side.
Most significantly, there is a real drop-off in fitness level associated with racing an Ironman. There are many ways to define “fitness”, but when I describe it, I mean ability to perform on race day. At QT2, we’ve found that there is a very simple way to determine how “fit” someone is (relative to their potential): we look at their 6-week trailing volume. “6-week trailing volume” is simply the average number of hours per week that a person has been training over the past 6 weeks. It’s not a perfect predictor of fitness, but it works as a good estimate.
Due to reduced training load during taper and post-race recovery, an athlete will typically have a very low trailing volume in the 4-6 week period after an Ironman, and around that time period, their fitness may actually be the lowest it will be at any point during the season. There are examples of athletes succeeding at racing Ironmen on back-to-back weekends (see, Chris McDonald’s 2008 Louisville/Wisconsin double), and if you’re going to do 2 Ironmen in a short period of time, doing them on back-to-back weekends may be the best option. This is because your trailing volume for the 2nd Ironman is still fairly high, and so your fitness is still in a good spot (although your sore muscles from the first race may disagree!). I am, of course, not saying you can’t do another race in that 2-6 week period after an Ironman. I’m just saying your performance will likely be compromised, and you’ll be selling yourself short in terms of results.
I was sold on this method of fitness assessment when Jesse Kropelnicki looked at Ethan Brown’s training logs from 2008, after Ethan was confused by some seemingly inconsistent performances (2008 was Ethan’s final full season with a different coach, before switching to Jesse in 2009). Jesse was able to accurately predict the races where Ethan had his best performances and his worst performances, without ever looking at a single results sheet, simply by doing trailing volume calculations.
Because of all this “trailing volume business”, I’ve had no interest in racing since Coeur d’Alene. There have been opportunities (like say, tomorrow’s Boulder 70.3, which starts 3 miles from my apartment). But I only want to race if I know I can go out there an have a good day (quality over quantity!!). So, I’ve spent the last 6 weeks focused on putting in miles and rebuilding fitness, and I think I’m finally back to my “pre-Coeur d’Alene” levels. This is good, because I have a very difficult 2-week block coming up, and hopefully the work I do will take my fitness up to a level where I haven’t been before. We’ll find out on Aug 27 when I step to the line at Tristar 111 Minnesota, and again on Sep 11 when I tee it up at Rev3 Cedar Point!
Until next time… keep training hard, and resting harder,