There are moments of opportunity in training for every athlete during preparation for an Ironman. Over the years I have talked with many athletes as they prepare for or recount their Ironman experiences. What follows are some common themes gleaned from those conversations. Enjoy!
Success=Planning and Timing. Training for an Ironman requires planning. Whether detailed or free form, some type of plan needs to be in place as you begin your Ironman campaign. Do not get entrenched in the same routine week in and week out. Often a 10 or 14 day training “week” is more compatible with the athlete’s work/family life. Within your plan there will be phases, and these phases need to be dynamic and become increasingly more specific as the race approaches. You will hear all sorts of terms for them: Preparatory phase, Endurance phase, etc. Do not be overly concerned with the semantics, just understand that your training will change and adapt as the race approaches. That is the PLANNING portion of the equation. Let’s look at the other piece…TIMING. I am referring here to beginning the plan far enough out from the race to efficiently move from one phase to the next. Physiological adaptations need to develop in each phase before moving to the next. This allows proper and efficient improvements in form as you move through your plan. Ironman training cannot be rushed. The body is not an “ON/OFF” switch. Adaptations occur over time. In addition, when an Ironman campaign begins early enough there is time to recover from derailments. We all know the best-laid plans get derailed, and time is required to get back on track.
Thoughts on Nutrition. Race day nutrition equals electrolytes+fluid+calories. Nutrition is the fourth event in triathlon (fifth, if you include transitions!) It is paramount that you have a well thought out feeding schedule while racing. Your race day nutrition needs to be simulated early and often in training. For instance, if you find you require high doses of electrolytes, take salt tablets. Often, it is too difficult to get enough electrolytes from energy drinks and gels alone. All athletes at an Ironman are in fantastic condition…they are fit, tapered, and lean. But so often the difference in performance comes down to who is fueling appropriately for the conditions and pacing correctly for their ability. Find out what food and fluid is on the course and begin to use that in your training. It’s fine to carry a small amount of your personal favorites, but don’t load down that fancy bike with four bottles of fluid and a pound of food in your Bento Box. Aid stations come around every 10 miles; therefore, two bottles are adequate.
The Weekend Schedule. Most of us put in the majority of our training volume on the weekend. Typical athletes complete the traditional long bike ride on Saturday followed by a long run on Sunday. I encourage you to rethink this plan. When your training is really starting to ramp up, think of your week as a block of training where you focus on one component (either swimming, biking, or running). To simplify, you are much better off to focus on and complete a long brick session one weekend (for example, 6hrs total training time), a long ride the next weekend (5hrs total training time), and a long run the following weekend. The downside of the repetitive Saturday long ride and Sunday long run is that the long run loses quality. The transition to running immediately off the bike at Ironman is not replicated by running long the day after a long ride. It is, however, replicated by riding long (say 4hours) then, immediately afterward, running long (say 2hours). This is a much more efficient and effective training session.
Hard leads to Easy leads to Hard. This concept is a loop, with each part benefiting the next. No one training session should jeopardize the next session. Avoid the pitfall of training in the gray area at all times. The gray area is when you train in the 80-85% intensity range (Rated Perceived Exertion, RPE, of 8/10). This zone does have a place in a well thought out plan, but live in this intensity zone sparingly and focus instead on super hard efforts (85%+) and super easy efforts (<70%). If you tend to consistently train at a high level intensity with no adequate recovery, I would argue that you are not really training that intensely. Your hard training sessions need to be HARD, and they will only be possible if you enter them following an easy day (or two). Then, as the cycle progresses, you will find it easier to train at a high intensity when you know you will have an easy period following. Conversely, you are more likely to have a truly easy session one day when you know an intense session will occur the next day.
A Quick Word about Rest. Triathletes love to talk about how much they are training. Miles per week, hours per week, races per month, etc. But if you ever listen to interviews with world-class athletes, they talk about how much they rest. One should note that the importance of rest and recovery is paramount. By emphasizing their rest and recovery, it conveys that they are training intelligently. So, the next time someone asks how your training is progressing, tell him or her that you are resting and recovering well.
There you have it, a few brief and simplified thoughts on endurance training and racing. These concepts are not difficult to understand but very difficult to implement. This is why you need a coach. You can always inquire about the details of these concepts at www.athletearchitcture.com or at www.facebook.com/athletearchitecture.