I've thought a lot about how to portray this blog post to ensure it's as informative as possible, whilst still giving an insight into what exactly I did in the 15 days between Challenge Taiwan and Ironman Australia earlier this year. Simply regurgitating my training log won't be very useful for anyone. What I can say is that this was both an experiment and a learning experience for both myself and my coach Brian. When I approached him with the idea of racing both events, he admitted that it wasn't something he'd coached an athlete to do before. With that in mind, we were both learning as we went along. If there was one word that summed up the approach in the two weeks in between races, it would be flexibility. I was emailing Brian on a daily basis giving him as much information as possible about sleep patterns, fatigue levels, any niggles, appetite, motivation, just about everything you can think of. There was no fixed plan that was set in stone, and that allowed us to make changes to the schedule when and if they were necessary. So, what did we do?
Firstly, the taper leading into Taiwan wasn't hugely different to what we'd do if I hadn't planned on Australia two weeks later. As it transpired, my performance in Taiwan was a disappointing one, which I attribute to poor race tactics and inadequate hydration on the day. That led to a sub-par run of 3:11. What I didn't know was what bearing this performance would have on my recovery in the coming two weeks, and whether under performing may allow me to bounce back and recover more quickly than I would otherwise have done.
The day after Taiwan (Sunday) I woke up and headed back to the lake for a paddle. To say I swam would be bending the truth, as the majority of the 15 minutes was spent floating on my back, with a little easy backstroke thrown in for good measure. Monday and Tuesday were scheduled days off due to flying from Taipei to Perth overnight via Kuala Lumpur. I forget the exact flight durations and stop-over times, but obviously the normal rules of flying applied – stay hydrated and get up every couple of hours to walk. As has become routine, I used Firefly Recovery (an electronic device which promotes blood circulation in the lower legs) during the flights in conjunction with compression socks, which I find beneficial in reducing swelling post flying.
Wednesday included an easy 30 minute spin on the bike and an easy swim, which unfortunately felt much worse than expected. Thursday's ride was longer than scheduled at 2h45', but again the pace was very easy and I definitely felt better for spending a bit longer in the saddle. In the evening I ran for the first time (now 5 days post-Taiwan) for 20 minutes, keeping the pace easy. During the run I noticed my footfall was heavy and my breathing was laboured. Being so soon after Taiwan it was no surprise really. Later that day I noticed early signs of a sore throat, which had worsened by Friday morning. Keeping Brian up to speed, Friday's scheduled sessions were off, but I was given the option of a 10 minute jog in the evening if I felt better. Thankfully I did, so 10 minutes was the sum of the day's activity. Now 7 days post-Taiwan, Saturday's 1h30' ride included the first bit of intensity thrown into the mix. Obviously recovery was still the priority, however we didn't want my body to go into shut-down mode. The short interval above race pace was enough to wake up the legs, although I'm not sure they appreciated it at the time! The week was rounded off with a swim on Sunday, which again felt quite awful. Having swum in a 25yd pool in the US for the last 3.5 months, looking down the barrel of a 50m pool was a shock!
As you can see, there was very little training time logged in that first week, as well as very little intensity. Crucially, I wasn't experiencing any aches or pains that were out of the ordinary and I was still extremely motivated for the upcoming races (likely heightened by a disappointing performance in Taiwan). It had been a fun week too, having the chance to catch up with friends in Perth and be sociable, I appreciated the extra free time I had as a result of the light training schedule. In short, I was in a good head space. One of the biggest challenges I found was trying to avoid overeating, but in the same breath I was conscious of eating enough and sustaining a healthy and balanced diet.
Monday and Tuesday of race week turned out to be the “big” training days, including two swims, one ride and two runs. Finally I rediscovered something resembling form in the pool, restoring my confidence that I wouldn't drown on Sunday! Tuesday's ride included a longer interval above race pace, which felt much better than it did a few days previously. I took this to be a good sign that the recovery process was taking shape. Runs on both days included some intervals faster than 5km race pace. Although the duration of the sessions were all short, the intensity level was above what I'd experience on race day.
The journey from Perth to Port Macquarie on Wednesday was simple enough, although the two domestic flights took up most of the day. Again, as it was a travel day there was no training. I biked and ran on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, but only swam on Friday at the official swim practice. If you're staying out of town without a pool nearby, I find that sometimes the logistical difficulties of swimming the day before the race can outweigh the benefit. As with earlier in the week, the duration of the sessions got progressively lower (all less than 30 minutes total), whilst the short bouts of intensity remained high. Come Sunday, I was feeling rested, revitalised and motivated. The result of that was executing a race I was proud of and one that was closer to a reflection of my fitness.
In the days following Ironman Australia there was a surprise – I felt good, far better than I did after Taiwan. I'm sure this was partly a result of better race hydration/nutrition and holding better run form throughout, but nonetheless, I was surprised. Regardless, I took the time to recover appropriately, taking a good four weeks of light and unstructured training, and taking another few weeks after that before approaching anything resembling normal training. Would I advise others to do the same? That depends. As an age-grouper, I'm not sure I personally would have had any incentive to race twice in as many weeks. However, even if that incentive existed, at no point did I previously have the fitness so safely pull it off. There's little doubt that the fitter and more athletically experienced you are, the quicker you can rebound from the effort these races take. It's taken me 8 years of consistent training (3 of which have been full-time) to get to the point where I had the confidence to do it. For those thinking of attempting it - or something similar - I would emphasise recovery above all else and erring on the side of caution, both with regard to volume and intensity in between races – remember there's little you can do to add meaningful fitness in such a short time period in between races.
My friend Ryan Waddington asked me an interesting question the week after Australia, questioning whether I could have found an extra 6 minutes (the difference to Ironman Australia winner Elliot Holtham) had I not raced in Taiwan. I doubted it – 6 minutes is a long time - but it got me thinking. My 2:56 run on the day was 6.5 minutes shy of my best run. Could I have found 6 minutes if I was racing fresh? Even with hindsight it's impossible to answer, but there's not an ounce of regret with my decision to race #2in2.