With the change in format of IRONMAN Florida this past weekend, many athletes are looking for another shot at IRONMAN sooner than they were expecting. I have heard from two athletes this week who are considering IRONMAN Cozumel which means only four weeks between events. Today’s question was specifically about how to approach this short window of time between events.
The very short answer is, it depends. (Isn’t that always the answer?) It depends on what your volume was like before, if you have any injuries, and how hard you rode and ran at Florida. The good news is that it generally takes most folks around four weeks between big events to recover. In fact, I have had some of my best performances exactly four weekends after an IRONMAN, the race giving me a little fitness boost which was brought into play after adequate recovery. However, the bad news is that the recovery timeline varies greatly between people, and that generally the more experienced you are at these types of events the shorter your recovery timeline. The timeline is also affected by how your race actually went. Did you end up walking most of the run? Did you bike too hard into the headwind and fade early? Or did you go conservative on the bike and blast the run with a marathon PR? All those things come into play.
With all these caveats in mind along with the knowledge that a lot depends on your original training approach here is how I personally would approach the timeline for myself or one of my athletes. For the purposes of this article, we will assume that you were well trained and that the bike and run portions of Florida went well and most importantly, that you have no injuries afterwards.
Week 1– Week 1 is all about recovery. The worst thing you can do at this point is try to get back on the horse. I generally take three days completely off and then try to do some sort of active recovery technique on the subsequent days. Examples of appropriate activities here would be very light short spins (no intensity!), and short minimal to no structure swims in the pool. For most athletes, I would recommend to take this week completely off of running. Enjoy your wide open weekend this week! The only difference in this case is that I may jump into normal swim sessions a little earlier than usual, since you likely rested your swim, then did not swim on race day. Go with how you feel though.. it’s not uncommon for swim supporting muscles to be quite sore and fatigued even without having swum so your body may simply be asking for 20′ “floats” which are generally the types of swims I do on week one.
Week 2– Week 2 is also about recovery. This is the week you will begin to start feeling a lot better and you may be tempted to go out and blast some intervals. Don’t do that! Doing too much too soon will prolong getting back into fighting shape. This week you should be able to move back into more regular swim sessions (giving yourself the green light to pull more than usual during sets) and the frequency of your normal bikes, still taking out intensity and distance. If you are injury free now’s the week to add back easy runs, key word being easy and short. I would still stick to between 50 – 70% of your normal frequency (for example if you normally run 6x a week then try 3 short runs this week) and don’t be afraid to cut something short if it feels too hard. On the weekend I might try a slightly longer ride at an aerobic pace and an aerobic run of 70- 90′ max.
Week 3– This is the week to really get back into the swing of things, but don’t forget that you’re STILL recovering. I was once told by an old coach (Meredith Kessler- one of the queens of performing amazingly at back to back events) that week three can sometimes feel worse than week two in terms of recovery. I have found that to hold true in nearly all cases! In any case, I would follow my normal frequency in all three sports. Back to a full swim schedule this week and potentially one longer swim close to race distance swim at the beginning of week 3. Also, I would insert a few higher intensity intervals on the bike assuming all systems are go and everything feels good. On the run I would still be cautious about intensity but depending on the situation would do a bit of intensity ten days out and definitely some strides at a minimum. I would aim to get in a solid medium- long weekend ride of with some intervals slightly faster than race pace, and a medium- long run with some strides.
Week 4– You can repeat the final week of taper. This week is when the magic happens and the #1 rule is to avoid “testing” yourself this week. Your normal taper week should include very short workouts with similar frequency in all three sports to a normal week and very short bouts of intensity. Let us know how the race goes!