Maybe you swore you just wanted to do one Ironman, tick it off your bucket list and be done with it – but now you feel the Ironman calling you back. Or, maybe you were always planning to go around again and have a plan to go faster or maybe you’re now after that illusive Hawaii spot. In any case you’re here again.
The second ironman is nothing like the first. You will now be training with the personal weight of your own expectation. That first Ironman your goal was most likely to simply finish. This time around you have a time in your head!
Yes, your legs are now stronger and your endurance base bigger, however way too often I see athletes go slower on their second or third Ironman than their virgin ironman. Why does this happen so regularly? The following is a closer look at the pitfalls ironman athletes often fall into on their second or third ironman campaigns.
Pitfall 1: Fail to honestly analyse your first Ironman performance
To improve you need to closely review your first Ironman performance. What do you feel worked well? What do you feel did not work well? Compare your results in each of the disciplines to your age group or peers. Comparatively, what was your best discipline and what discipline has the most room for improvement. These questions are the first level.
Now you need to dig a little deeper. Start comparing your first half of each discipline with the second half. Did you slowdown in the second half of the swim, bike or run? Now look at heart rate. Was your heart rate higher in the second half of the bike for the same pace?
What about the all-important nutrition? Did you walk on the second half of the run – chances nutrition or pace were not executed correctly on the bike. How does this need to be fixed?
These are just some of the questions that need to be looked at if you are to improve on your next Ironman campaign. All too often I hear the old “I just blew up”, or “my run let me down” – these generalised responses are from athletes that have not looked close enough. There is a good chance they will repeat the same mistakes second time around.
The capacity to learn is a gift;
the ability to learn is a skill;
the willingness to learn is a choice.
Pitfall 2: Not having a proper recovery and off season
Now this pitfall is a classic and effects triathletes from all ages and all levels and all experience levels. This is the classic ‘I have worked too hard for too long and can’t possibly have a long break because my fitness will all be wasted and lost.
This response is from people that don’t understand that the recovery phase is where the gains and progression is truly made.
These same people not having a proper rest and recover after their first ironman will be the same athletes injured or sick or worse about 5 weeks out from their second ironman.
Have at least four weeks off training. By all means go for a swim at the beach or a lunch jog with a collegue, but keep it unstructured and stay well away from high intensity or anything over an hour. Stay active by walking or playing another sport like tennis or netball (watch those knees and lateral movements).
Having an off-season is a standard in all sports and especially professional level sports. Age-group triathletes should take note. These days, especially in the Asis-Pacific region triathlon and Iron-distance racing is now 12 months a year. Age-groupers need to create their own off-season based on the goals and A races.
When you do decide to come back and start training again – s t a r t b a c k s l o w ! Put yourself in the slow lane. Ride with the easy group. Keep your run intensity to max 85% for at least four weeks. Have fun with your training. Do the stuff coach won’t let you do when your program is in full swing.
Take a rest;
A field that has rested gives a beautiful crop.
Pitfall 3: Not fixing that niggle or injury …properly
Injury is common in a sport that requires constant over-reaching and continuous repetitive movements. Especially a sport that has until recently ignored the value of strength training. That’s why recovery and off-season as above is so important.
You have had a break and had an off season but that bodgy knee is still hurting when you run longer than 30 minutes OR your low back is still acting up OR your ITB syndrome is still hanging around OR your plantar fasciitis is not going away OR your shoulder still wont rotate OR… you get the idea. Now you need to take action and fast.
I like to approach this like a professional athlete would. If you earnt a living from being able to run you would pretty quickly be seeing the best available specialists. Now I am a father of 3.6 children, a partner and a son, plus I want to be running around with my grandchildren (a very long way off) and all of these things make me being able to run around worth far more than Jarrod’s $2m, 3 year deal. Ask anyone living with chronic pain what it would be worth to them to fix.
The point is don’t delay. Get the problem looked at. When they say they need Xrays just go and get them. When they say it can’t be fixed ask them what they would say to Jarrod or Steve Smith. If they say it needs an operation go and get a second opinion, and a third if necessary. With or without an operation you will likely end up at a physio.
I apologise in advance to the many good physios out there. The chances are the physio will give you a bunch of silly little exercises that seem ridiculous to your Ironman brain that understand 5hr bike rides but the ‘Cat-Cow’ makes absolutely no sense at all.
Spend the extra time and understand the purpose behind the exercises. Most of the exercises are about balance. Do the exercises. Most people don’t do the physio prescribed exercises and they certainly don’t progress those exercises to the strength and conditioning phase that will lead to an injury proof body.
Most people have no idea
how good their body is designed to feel.
Pitfall 4: Using their extra strength and endurance for evil and not good
Completing your first Ironman is a huge achievement. Amongst other things the training has strengthened your legs and increased your aerobic capacity. Chances are you can now push the pace at the front of the group every ride.
The smarter athlete with their eye on the long term goal will not use this extra fitness all the time. In fact they will rarely use it. Realising that their best training remains their zone 2 training with solid efforts on zone 3 and occasionally testing themselves in zone 4 and 5 a maximum of 20%.
It’s not easy to hold back. However, in order to get stronger, fitter and faster you will be better served by training at the right zones even though you feel faster already.
Strength does not come from physical capacity.
It comes from an indomitable will.
Pitfall 5: More is better
This trap gets everyone at some stage. If I can train 12 hours per week and get an 11hr Ironman it makes sense then that if I train 16 hours per week I will go faster, and so on. Just like in Pitfall 4 try and resist the more is better option.
Quality training with good recovery is always the best training plan. If you have more time available then use it to work on your weaknesses and strengthening your body. Super long sessions done as events or in isolation are usually good fun and helpful. However back to back weeks or months of increased training hours will lead to injury and illness.
By all means progress to bigger weeks but keep the progression slow (usually 10% increases are safe) and ensure increased recovery with the increased training time.
If we do not feel grateful
For what we already have,
What makes us think
We’d be happy with more?
If you can avoid these five pitfalls and manage the weight of expectation then your best ever Ironman is waiting for you. Enjoy the journey.