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The time has come – again: it’s race week. Only a week detached from a tough day at Vineman 70.3, I’ve found myself in taper mode once again, and I have a tall task ahead of me this weekend: a full Ironman*. I’m racing Vineman AquaBike on Saturday – a 2.4 mile swim followed by a 112 mile bike, and then running the San Francisco Marathon with Taylor bright and early on Sunday morning. 

Dean and I before the start

The Recovery King: Dean and I before the start of North Face 50K

So what happens in between races? I haven’t stopped working out during the week. I enjoyed a couple of quality sessions not long after Vineman 70.3 on 7/13, and I logged solid workouts last weekend: a 30+ mile bike ride, an open water swim in the San Francisco Bay and a 12 mile run. Despite the recent spike in volume and intensity, I haven’t felt drained during my key sessions, and most importantly, I’m not overtired during the day at work.

Enjoying a prime stretch of single track on the Coastal Trail at North Face 50K.

Admittedly, I’ve attempted big back to back workouts and races several times with mixed results, but my most recent attempts have been my most successful. My first foray into back to back races served as a great leaning experience: I raced Big Sur Trail Marathon, NYC Marathon, and North Face Endurance Challenge 50K in a 10-week span, and learned what not to do. At the end of 2013, I completed the Quad Dipsea (28.7 miles with almost 10,000 feet of elevation gain) and North Face Endurance Challenge 50K (with over 6,000 feet of elevation) only 6 days apart. Here are some of the key focus areas for my training weeks in between races:

  • Sleep more: This. I can’t really emphasize this enough. If I’m feeling the early signs of fatigue after a race or stretch of hard workouts, I would much rather spend an extra hour in bed instead of pushing it when my reserves are low. I will sometimes shift my scheduled morning workouts to post-work so that I can log an extra hour of much needed sleep.
All smiles for the time being.

All smiles for the time being: minutes before kicking off Quad Dipsea and 2 Ultras in 1 week.

  • Emphasize active recovery: After completing Quad Dipsea, I knew that I would need at least one full rest day before I attempted a shakeout run before the 50K a few days later. I took 2 days, and then went out for an easy run – the early miles hurt, but the rust came off once I was warmed up. Instead of taking a full day of rest after Vineman 70.3, I hit the pool for 15 minutes of easy swimming to promote blood flow, and then spent the balance of my workout stretching at a leisurely pace. If you have a race looming, aim for easy workouts and schedule a few key sessions to get your racing legs back.
TNFEC start

Taylor and I before we entered the pain cave at North Face 50K.

  • Soft tissues and myofasical repair: Taylor and I swear by stretching and deep tissue massages, but the jury’s out on the optimal recovery modalities for endurance athletes. Much like nutrition, what works well for one person won’t necessarily work for everyone, but we’ve both reaped positive results from a mixture of stretching and massages once (delayed onset) muscle soreness subsides.
Mostly smiles after a lot of hills and a lot of pizza at Quad Dipsea.

Mostly smiles after a lot of hills and a lot of pizza at Quad Dipsea.

  • Listen to your body: The first attempt at racing back to back will give you a good baseline for how you could improve next time. Training exposes some of your resilience and ability to recover, but racing – especially intense racing is a different beast. If your next race is only a week or two after your previous effort, you most likely will not experience a noticeable drop in fitness levels. For that reason, I like to sleep when I need sleep, and workout easy so that I have plenty of energy come race day. In general, I would much rather sleep more and cut intensity, volume, or both in favor of feeling strong come race day.
What’s worked well for you guys?