Maybe you’ve just finished your first Ironman, and it wasn’t as bad as you expected. Or maybe you secured a Kona slot (excellent!), and need to race on the Big Island in just a couple of months. Or maybe you simply get swept up in the post-Ironman excitement of what you think you could do better next time and find yourself signing up for another…right away.
No matter the scenario, the question is the same: Is it possible to race two or more Ironman races in one year? Is it possible to do it well? In a healthy way? And should you?
“It’s definitely doable for most athletes,” said triathlon coach and host of That Triathlon Show podcast Mikael Eriksson. “If it’s doable to do one IM, it’s doable to do at least two, but I wouldn’t generally recommend doing more than two.”
Triathlon coach Julia Seibt agrees. “In general, I would say that two full-distance races are doable in a healthy way, if you get the framework right, and if space in-between the races is big enough—for example, one race in March and one in October,” she said. More than that, she believes, and the approach could become less than healthy. She also says that the longer the event is for an athlete, the more extended stress on the musculoskeletal system they experience; hence it becomes less healthy to complete more full distances in any one year. And, as a beginner she says, “you should never think about getting more than one Ironman in the first race season done.”
If athletes want to race more, she recommends doing some middle- or Olympic-distance events as the training load is lighter and the recovery time is more minimal.
But if you’re set on doing more than one iron-distance event, there are three very important rules to follow.
1. Don’t Overdo It, Have Fun, and Nail The Basics
The first rule of racing more than one iron-distance event (and a good rule for any preparation) is to be conscientious. The preparation for that length of race is complex for several reasons: The process can be taxing, time-consuming, expensive, logistically challenging, and mentally draining. That’s why one of the keys to prepare for a second one (and to plan a season around two iron-distance events) is to be sensible with your training. Do not overdo it with the first one—or with the second—and you have higher chances to race them well.
“If you train and recover sensibly, you don’t risk going near that edge of non-functional reach,” Eriksson said. While, on the other hand, if you train too much or you put too much stress and training, you could “get away with it with one race, but you can’t necessarily get away with two races.”
Sustainability and consistency are essential in Eriksson’s view, and you shouldn’t only grind yourself into the ground and go crazy with training just in the 12 weeks before the races. Instead, keep a more balanced approach throughout the whole season, and you’ll have better results with less stress, less risk of overreach, and fewer ups and downs. And of course, don’t forget to nail the basics of performance and recovery.
“Sleep is also super important, and any mistake you make with sleep, or nutrition and fueling (not fueling enough, for instance), can be magnified for a second Ironman,” he said. “And then, of course, overall life-training balance. So monitor whether you are maintaining that enjoyment and motivation for training. Otherwise, it’s not going to be sustainable.”
2. Pay Attention to Base and Specific Training
Eriksson suggests starting preparation with a good amount of base training over the winter (if the first race is in the spring, for example) and being consistent over a more extended period. That base period would consist of mostly low intensities and lower volumes, but it also “would include the higher intensity that you would not necessarily include in your Ironman-specific training preparation later on,” he said. Following the base training, Eriksson would plan a specific training block to add more volume to the mix, with longer rides and long runs.
The length and time of the base and specific blocks would depend on the particular time the athletes have, but he says that it’s essential to not just “come off the couch as that would dig you into a hole.”
Having a consistent and structured training routine ahead of the first IM (even only 6-8 hours per week) would massively help the specific preparation, which could be as much as 6-8 weeks long. He would still use some intensity in this phase, but more like tempo runs and rides, and not top-end speed. “The key here is to increase the volume gradually, one step at the time, and not a two-step increase in the overall volume,” he said.
Before the first race, Seibt suggests that her athletes compete in a shorter race to practice and test nutrition strategies before the main event.
3. Recovery is King (Even More Than Usual)
Recovering well from the first race is mandatory to sustain another race of that length.
“After the first IM race, there will be a short break with no structured training to get the body in a resilient condition to start in the next block of training,” Seibt said. “As a start, it’s always good to first work again on the basic endurance, followed by intensity training. How long the different training blocks will depend on the time left to the next race and if there are some shorter distance races where the athlete wants to compete.”
Eriksson recommends two to three weeks of recovery buffer after the first one. The first week would be a light activity like walking or swimming. Then, the second and third weeks would be fitted with some gentle aerobic volume once again. If three weeks are enough to recover from the first one, you could even do four to five weeks of specific training for the second one, and you’re good to go, he says. “But I would maybe prefer to have another four weeks of more general training and four of specific training after the recovery, and that would be three months in between the two races,” he added. This would also depend on how good the base and specific preparation went before the first one.
Finally, no matter how many IMs you decide to race in one season, be sure to take some time off and recharge the batteries after the last one. You deserve it.