A local running/triathlete friend of mine advised me the other day that he has a friend who is considering racing an iron-distance race but has already signed up for a marathon that is two weeks after the Ironman. My friend remembered that I had dealt with the same issue last year and asked if I wouldn’t mind if she contacted me to discuss it. Of course, I didn’t mind, and I am flattered, but I haven’t heard from her yet. But it got me thinking about what I would actually tell someone that is considering such a dumb idea. As you read the below keep in mind that I am not a certified expert, not a coach, and really not qualified to tell anyone how to do anything. It’s just my experience and how I dealt with it.
WHY DID I DO SUCH A DUMB THING AS TO SIGN UP FOR TWO BIG RACES SO CLOSE TO EACH OTHER?
In 2017 my teammates and I were debating about doing Ironman Louisville, which was on the same day as the 2017 Chicago Marathon. I kind of wanted to do the marathon since it was the 40th anniversary of the race, but I knew if we chose to race the Ironman I would have no problem skipping the marathon, and that’s what happened. I returned to the Chicago Marathon in 2018 because I have legacy status and want to retain it.
Although I was getting a little tired of running Chicago and figured that all I needed to do to keep my legacy status was to sign-up every other year, I signed up for it again because the window to apply was pretty short and I needed to make a decision. Not long after that, my buddies decided we were going to do Ironman Chattanooga. That put the late-September 2019 Ironman race two weeks prior to the October marathon on my race calendar. Of course, I wasn’t going to skip the Ironman with my friends, so I thought that maybe I should defer the marathon to the next year for a small fee. But then I figured that I would just race the Ironman and take a victory lap at the Chicago Marathon and walk away from it for a while. So that was the plan, train hard and race the Ironman and take it easy for the marathon.
HOW DID I TRAIN FOR THE TWO DIFFERENT RACES?
That really wasn’t an issue for me, seeing that there is an actual marathon in an Ironman race. So I followed the Ironman training plan that I always follow and just figured that I would use the two weeks in between the two events to recover. Ideally, I would have preferred my marathon training long-run to be around 20 miles and three weeks prior to my marathon, but that wasn’t going to happen. I just needed to make sure I utilized the two weeks between Chattanooga and Chicago for recovery and not overdo it.
SO WHAT HAPPENED?
My plan got flipped upsidedown. And it resulted in a Boston Qualifier! A BQ was never in the plan! The weather turned extremely hot at Ironman Chattanooga, with day time temperatures hitting the mid-nineties with a “real feel” around 100 degrees. Definitely the hottest day I have had to race in. I had to adjust the race plan to fit the conditions of the day, but I only really did that because it forced me to do so. The swim took me a little longer than I expected because the water was too warm to compete in a wetsuit, so I opted to swim without it. The bike for me was right about what I normally ride for an Ironman – 6:47. And Chattanooga has an extra 4 miles of biking than all the other Ironman races. The marathon, however, was very humbling. Right out of transition I stopped and told my wife that I felt pretty good, all things considered. I started out with a good jog and started to head out of town and then it was an uphill grind in the hot sun. I slowed to a walk and was able to shuffle just occasionally. And then the horrible hills hit and I walked some more. I spent the first half of the marathon trying to recover and finish the race under the cutoff. I was seriously doing the math in my head to make sure I knew what I had to do. And then the second loop began and I started feeling pretty good. I had rehydrated and refueled myself well enough to press pretty hard in the second half. I finished pretty strong and felt really good. The 5:11 finish time is my personal worst (PW ?) for a marathon, but I was pretty happy with my 13:37 overall finish time. You can read my race report here: 2019 Ironman Chattanooga Race Report
I took it pretty easy and tried my best to recover from the Ironman prior to running the Chicago Marathon. After a full week of rest I “eased” back into running with four runs of 5, 6.5, 10 and 4 miles and then rested three days before the marathon. I can remember my muscles still feeling pretty sore but they felt functional enough to run pretty comfortably. The 10-miler I ran was done at 8:34 pace and it gave me some confidence that I might be able to push myself in the race a little bit. I decided that a sub-3:35 BQ might be reachable, so I planned to run 8-minute miles and shoot for a 3:30.
Things went pretty well during the race and I held pace until I started to struggle with it in the last 5 miles or so. Although I kept at my nutrition well, I was getting pretty tired. I knew the 3:30 wasn’t going to happen, but I kept pushing to hit that 3:35. I turned and ran up Mt. Roosevelt until a calf cramp almost did me in. Fortunately, the race was almost done and I made it in just under the BQ by 13 seconds! 3:34:46 was my time, and although a BQ-13 isn’t going to get me into the Boston Marathon field, I am now up to three BQ’s, with one really memorable Boston Marathon finish in 2018. I can’t complain about that.
Here’s my race report from the marathon: 2019 Chicago Marathon Race Report
WHY DO I THINK I DID BETTER THAN I EXPECTED AT CHICAGO?
I think there are a couple factors at play. The Be Iron Fit training program I follow for Ironman training is really good and it prepared me well. I’ve never felt underprepared using this plan in my four Ironman finishes. So not only was I prepared for the Ironman, I was also pretty well prepared for the marathon two weeks later.
But the real reason I think I did well was that the heat of the day at Chattanooga forced me to not overdo it on the marathon portion of the race. By having to walk about half of it, it saved my legs to the point that the next day I sauntered down to the Ironman Village to buy my finisher’s jacket like a BOSS! I felt like I hadn’t even run a marathon the day before.
SO WHAT IS MY ADVICE TO OTHERS THINKING OF DOING THE SAME DUMB THING?
I think you need to pick what race is most important to you. If you have a specific time goal for a marathon or possibly a BQ, I would advise you to focus your training on that goal and not sabotage it by adding a less meaningful race that could possibly prevent you from doing your best in the race that matters more. Pick your “A” race and use the other race to supplement it if you are convinced that you want to still do both events.
If you really want to also do the Ironman in the same year, maybe pick one that is a couple of months out from the marathon. I read a post the other day stating that you should give yourself a couple of months of recovery between Ironman races; that is pretty sound advice that I would agree with. I did Ironman Lake Placid in July 2016 and then raced the Chicago Marathon in October and got my second BQ and stamped my ticket to the 2018 Boston Marathon. So for me, there definitely was some precedent in racing an Ironman and a marathon in the same year with positive results.
I did this when I was almost 56 years old. It takes me a lot longer to recover from races than it did in my 30’s and 40’s. So maybe a younger person might be in a better position to do an Ironman and a marathon a couple of weeks apart. But if you are just out to enjoy both races, I have to admit that it can be done without ruining yourself.
Lastly, if this is your first Ironman make sure you are aware of what is involved with it. Marathon training and racing are tough, but Ironman training is pretty intense too. Also, if you think marathon entry fees and hotels are expensive, plan on the Ironman being nearly triple that cost. Ironman is not cheap.
WOULD I EVER DO THIS DUMB THING AGAIN?
Nope. Never. Not a chance. No way, José!
Actually, as I was typing this post I took a break to sign up for the 2020 NYC Marathon Lottery, which is three weeks past Ironman Louisville, a race I already signed up for.
Don’t tell my wife.