You know when you get the same question asked a few times by different people, well I have been having that happen recently. The question I have been getting asked is 'how often can I race?.
Given I have been asked it a few times I figured I might as well try and put something together by way of an answer.
Now, this is one of those questions that has so many different answers that it isn't funny, so I am going to put some limits on it. Most of the time I have been asked the question it has been in relation to 70.3 races, so that is where I am going to frame my answer. As you can image the answer is completely different for sprint distances and Ironman. The answer also is highly dependent on how fit you are, how experienced you are etc. My answer assumes you are a reasonably trained and reasonably experienced half Ironman, you aren't a world beater, but you do okay and it isn't your first rodeo. So with those ground rules in place, lets kick on.
My general rule of thumb is that you can sustainably do one 70.3 a month for a while. I say a while because it becomes quite draining physically and mentally to keep that up for too long. How long is a while, well personally I found it to be about 6 months, but that would probably vary from person to person.
Why a month? Well it is a nice round number for one. But more than that it gives you a week of recovery, two weeks of training and a week of taper between races. For most, working full time, non pro type people that is a nice relaxed way of doing it. A month between races gives your body sufficient time to recover without you having to do anything crazy and gives you a chance to recharge mentally. This model also allows for continued improvement and growth as an athlete. The race provides significant fitness gains and adaptations as does the two week training block, meaning that you will keep getting better across the season.
Physically you could do the races much more often. I will admit that Terenzo Bozzone appears to be a freak of nature (and potentially an alien), but he is a testament that with appropriate recovery you can race week in/week out very successfully. Most age groupers don't have the will or resources to carry out that sort of recovery and so I would not recommend doing two 70.3 races a week a part, but it is possible. From my experience doing a race per month is much more realistic and achievable though. For the record, with the exception of rare cases like Terenzo, most people I have seen try and back up races one week a part have ended up underachieving in one of the races. Basically if you want to do well in a race, give yourself time either side of it. In my opinion the bare minimum for most people should be two weeks, and that would only be a once off per season and you would want to give particular attention to recovery.
How to best recover from an event is an entirely different post (note to self), but it would include things like, keeping moving post event, massage, sleep and a few others.
Realistically most age groupers do much less than one long course event a month, which is probably a good thing. I think most people would like to race more than they do, but often the restriction are due to factors beyond those of physical and mental fatigue. Real life issues like time off work, costs of travel etc are more likely to prevent regular racing than any physical limitation.
All the above factors mean that the answer to the question 'how often can I do a 70.3?' is probably 'as often as you can manage' (but no more than one a month).
On a side note, the question about how many Ironman you can do in a year is another interesting one, and one that I think also has a few answers. Common wisdom has been that 3 is a good number. Obviously you can do more but you would normally start seeing reduced performances. I think Cameron Wurf did about 6 last year, but like Terenzo he would be an outlier. I was once talking to a Kona pro who was saying that the fewer Ironman you did in the 12 months prior to Kona the better. His theory was that the people who did the fewest Ironman before the big race did the best. It was an interesting theory, but like all these things would vary slightly from person to person.