Coach Sutton poolside at our Cyprus base.
With many pro athletes deciding to back up from the Ironman World Championships with 70.3 or even full distance races a couple of weeks apart, a number of questions have been put to me from age group athletes:
- Can I do it physically?
- Should I?
- What impact could it have on my season / career?
For many years we have had athletes not only back up long distance events, but do it very successfully. More importantly they have then continued with a sustained, successful and consistent season (and career) after doing so.
In extreme cases we’ve seen athletes winning back to back Ironman races a week apart.
It is a very individual thing, not just physically but also mentally. I have had athletes who I believe could successfully back up, but others who were as talented or better athletes that I would never entertain the thought of them doing so.
The following rules have served me well:
1.) We would never allow a Trisutto athlete to back up long distance events at the very beginning of a season. This is simply a straight out no!
In fact I rarely sanction an Ironman as the first or second race after after a training break / early season. Instead we build the race season just as we build a training block. We do a lead in race for most Trisutto athletes. This would be a sprint race, then an Olympic distance race, then preferably a 70.3, and only then a full Ironman. A detailed breakdown of how we approach this can be found here.
2.) If an athlete is tall with long limbs, or a big strong unit, then they are different. Even if lean and in good fitness / race conditioning, their size is an inhibitor to success in backing up. So we don’t do it!
If an athlete is a male, then we usually avoid backing up. Ironman racing flattens their male hormone system which then needs time to recover. This is a much over looked fact by many coaches, and a lesson learn’t from training and racing horses.
Female athletes on the other hand recover much quicker than most males, both in day to day training, and also post race.
3.) If an athlete is wired psychologically to prepare for a single race and works all season to peak for this one race, then asking them try to regroup and refocus is a recipe for a poor outcomes.
This is especially true of races only 7 days apart, which in reality is a short 5 days with post and pre-race recovery, travel, and other stresses in order to do battle the following weekend.
4.) The factor that most overlook is if they plan to compete in the double, many athletes can harm their first race by knowing that they have a second race in only 7 – 21 days. This most definitely needs to be taken in consideration. When the going gets tough in the first race and the question is asked ‘how bad do I want it today’, the mind has to be completely focused in the moment and not looking for an escape route of a ‘back up’ race on the horizon!
5.) We only double up if:
– the above has been addressed
– if and only if, the athlete has had an uninterrupted program for at least 20 weeks, and within that 20 weeks has completed an Ironman, and a couple of 70.3 / half distance races.
I am a systems based coach, so for me the above rules are nearly etched in stone. I believe that is the reason why after completing ‘the double’ our athletes continue to be consistent for the remainder of their season, and also their career. The key is, we only go into it with a great deal of training and racing foundation. If we do not have this, then we don’t consider it!