Should You Do an Ironman in January?

Q.  Hey Gale, I just finished a really successful triathlon season using your training plans. I used three of your plans and assembled my own season and I had great success. I had a PR at Ironman Lake Placid and I went under six hours at a half-Ironman race. I'm already planning on doing an Ironman next November; I'm not sure which one yet.

I'm in great shape right now and I don't want to lose that fitness so I'm thinking about signing up for an Ironman 70.3 or a long-distance race in January. I'm stoked on my success and want to keep rolling. I can also use the January race to help me keep fit through the holidays.

I've just joined a local triathlon club. More experienced triathletes in the club tell me that doing a January race will have me burned out for the fall race. They tell me two Ironman races in a year is too much.

I wanted your opinion on whether or not I should do a January Ironman. I trust what you have to say. In advance, thanks for your help. –L.G.

More: How to Adjust Your Training Plan to Fit Your Life

A.  Great question, L.G., First, congratulations on a successful season. Glad my training plans helped you bag two PRs at two different distances.

Let me begin by discussing what a "year" means. Sometimes athletes view "a year" as a calendar year. When I look at a year, I view it in terms of 12 months. For example, if you do a race in January and another one in November of the same calendar year, those races are separated by 10 to 11 months depending on if the races fall early or late in each month.

Because the races you mention are nearly "a year" apart, you have plenty of time to recover from the first one and train for the second one. How well you structure your recovery time from the January race and training for the November event will determine whether or not you get burned out from training.

Additionally, depending on personal situations, some athletes have the capability to do two Ironman races with much less time between the events and they do just fine.

More: Gale Bernhardt on Back-to-Back Ironman Events

The short answer is that for several triathletes, training and racing two Ironman races in a 12-month time period is not too much.

One concern I do have is your ability to complete the long bike rides in November and December (and maybe January) required for an Ironman event, while living in a northern latitude state. For athletes I've coached that live in the northeast, getting in multiple rides over three hours long in November, December and January is not a problem?in some years. In other years, due to the snow and/or the cold, it is impossible.

For most of the endurance athletes I know, doing multiple rides over two hours long on an indoor trainer, week after week, is torture. Perhaps this is what your triathlon club friends are concerned about the most?

If you are enthused to race and want to keep your fitness going, I'd steer you toward the 70.3 distance in January. If this turns out to be a tough winter, I think your indoor trainer time would be much more tolerable for the half distance rather than the full Ironman.  

After that race, take two to four weeks to recover before heading into training for your next event. Another suggestion I'll make is to consider targeting another Ironman 70.3 or perhaps a couple of Olympic-distance events in the first six months after your January race. You can develop some speed and then build up the volume in the final three months or so prior to the November race.

Good luck and let me know how it goes.

More: How Many Races Should You Do?

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About the Author

Gale Bernhardt

Gale Bernhardt was the USA Triathlon team coach at the 2003 Pan American Games and 2004 Athens Olympics. She's worked as a World Cup coach and delivered education training for the International Triathlon Union's Sport Development Team. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale's easy-to-follow training plans. You can find some of her training plans on Active Trainer to help you succeed.

Gale Bernhardt was the USA Triathlon team coach at the 2003 Pan American Games and 2004 Athens Olympics. She's worked as a World Cup coach and delivered education training for the International Triathlon Union's Sport Development Team. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale's easy-to-follow training plans. You can find some of her training plans on Active Trainer to help you succeed.

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