Multiple Ironman Events (In the Same Year)

Coach Simon Butterworth smiling for the camera
January 26, 2017

Mike Ricci



Anyone with ample free time or aspirations of reaching Kona has likely pondered the question: "How much time between each event?" I aim to persuade you that for most individuals, particularly those with other commitments besides being a professional triathlete, and a desire to participate in multiple races over the years, the shortest time possible between events is the optimal choice. Initially, this notion may seem counterintuitive, and in some circumstances, it may indeed be impractical. However, I believe it's the right approach for many, although it's an idea often overlooked. Nevertheless, there are risks associated with this strategy.

Certainly, there's a limit on how close events should be if the goal is to perform at your best in both. While I can't specify the exact timeframe, I can't imagine it being less than 3 weeks, which is about the minimum time needed for recovery. It's probably closer to 5 weeks, allowing for sufficient recovery and then regaining fitness. If I were coaching an athlete aiming for Kona, I would likely schedule the qualifier event at least 8 weeks apart. This provides ample time for recovery, one or maybe two long bricks, and some threshold efforts over the last three weeks. It's essential to document your race experience thoroughly, both for your own analysis and, if you're coached, for your coach. Include all the details to maximize the learning from each race.

Opting for a short gap between events also necessitates a realistic assessment of any physical damage sustained during the first race. It would be counterproductive to participate in the second race within 3-5 weeks with an obvious injury from the first one, potentially setting you back for months or even years. The objective is to minimize stress on the body, so you must be willing to forgo racing in the second event if necessary. This is why I believe 8 weeks is the minimum for a qualifier.

From my personal experience, participating in two IronMan events close together is not only possible but has worked exceptionally well for me. On two occasions, I found myself on the same plane heading to Cozumel with one of the top athletes from Colorado, Ellen Hart, having raced in Kona just 6 weeks earlier. Both of us had the same idea: to leverage the fitness developed for Kona to attempt to secure another qualifying slot. This strategy proved successful for both of us on both occasions. I've also employed this approach in Florida, with only 3 weeks between races when I was younger. The obvious benefit in this case is the reduction in necessary training volume for the following year.

There are two important points to note about this idea. Firstly, attempting to qualify for Kona makes sense in races like Cozumel and others late in the year, as they don't all fill up, making a last-minute decision after assessing the competition possible. Additionally, you may get lucky and find that the competition isn't as strong or deep, so even if you don't produce your best race, it might still be good enough. This was certainly the case for me all three times.

To assess the actual difference this approach makes, let's look at my training over the past 6 years. Here's how the years compared in terms of the number of weeks with more than 15 hours of training:

- 2011: IM in May and October, 18 weeks
- 2012: IM in October and November, 15 weeks
- 2013: IM in October, 12 weeks
- 2014: IM in August and October, 17 weeks
- 2015: IM in October, 12 weeks
- 2016: IM in August, October, and November, 20 weeks

The baseline for training for one race was about 12 weeks of 15+ hours of training in 2013. Spreading out the races increased the training weeks to 18 in 2011. Adding a third race last year where they were all relatively close together only raised the number to 20.

While I'm cautious about drawing conclusions from a single example, I unfortunately don't have many comparable cases to analyze. However, Training Peaks, which I use for myself and my coaching, offers several ways to create an Annual Training Plan automatically and easily. So I created three plans to explore the question further, setting them up as follows:

- Races in May and October with about a 20-week gap
- Races in August and October, 9 weeks apart
- Two races at the end of the year in September and October, 4 weeks apart

Input to the plans included an average of 16.5 hours per week and assuming the athlete was already strong (as defined by Training Peaks). Running the plans from the end of October in the previous year through the October race, Training Peaks indicated the following number of weeks over 15 hours (my arbitrary definition of a big week): 24, 21, and 18, respectively. I made a manual adjustment to the ATP with 4 weeks separation, as Training Peaks had the athlete doing two 16-hour weeks right after the first IM in September, which isn't realistic for most athletes, other than perhaps professionals.

The difference in the number of big weeks between the 20 and 9-week gap is not substantial, only 3 weeks. However, a 6-week gap between the two extremes certainly is. Additionally, it's worth considering that as you progress in this sport over the long term, a 3-week gap will become more significant. In 10 years, that's more than half a year of big weeks.

Apart from the physical toll, there's another aspect most of us need to consider: life outside of swimming, biking, and running. While you may love the sport, taking a few weeks off to spend with family seems like a good idea, assuming you are allowed to do more than one IM a year.

One last thing to mention, a shout out to a friend and D3 athlete, Steve Nabity. Steve made it to Kona this year for the first time but was derailed by a stomach bug, resulting in 22 pit stops before finishing late in the night. I encouraged him to try in Cozumel, but unfortunately, it didn't work out. Despite finishing second with only one slot available, he had a great race, confirming that good races are possible close together. He's not giving up, and I have a strong suspicion that he will be racing alongside me again next October.

Ultimately, life, the part not spent swimming, biking, and running, will often dictate when and if you can do multiple IM events in one year. But if you are determined to do so, do what you can to minimize the annual training volume to give life as much time as possible. In summary, consider the following:

- Allow at least 3 weeks between events; a bit more is better.
- Ensure you recover properly, with 2 weeks of low-intensity training after the first race.
- As the gap between events gets bigger, include one long Brick and some Threshold efforts.
- If you are being coached, discuss your plans before entering races.

Coach Mike Ricci is the Founder and Head Coach for D3 Multisport.  His coaching style is ‘process-focused’ vs. ‘results-focused.’ When working with an athlete, their understanding of how and why they are improving is always going to take precedence over any race result. Yes, there is an end goal, but in over 2 decades of coaching, experience has shown him that if you do the right work, and for the right reasons, the results will follow.

Coach Mike is a USAT Level III Elite Certified Coach, Ironman University Certified Coach, and Training Peaks Level II Certified Coach. He was honored as the USAT Coach of the Year.

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