Ironman Training

These first few weeks of Ironman training have certainly been a learning experience. I thought the transition from 70.3 to 140.6 would be smooth and seamless, but it has not been. What I have struggled with most is how to organize the training properly, and what sort of progression to utilize. It is so long and submaximal that it is difficult to ascertain what types of workouts are most important. The first few weeks have been nothing but trial and error. One thing I have definitely learned is that the body needs time to adapt. At the beginning of this block I thought I would be able to just instantly increase the mileage in a lot of my workouts, particularly my bike workouts. Unfortunately, this has proven to be an unrealistic endeavour. I now think a realistic and sustainable number to be able to increase workouts by is 30 minutes each week. Going into 70.3 Worlds my bike workouts tended to last about 2 hours 30 minutes. I had intended on increasing them instantly to 4 hours, but the quality in the final hour just wasn’t there. My body was saying “I need more time to adapt to these new demands.” So I listened. Next week (3 weeks later) I will finally begin doing 4 hour bike workouts. My hope is that 2.5 weeks worth of 3-3.5 hour workouts will allow my body to handle a solid 4 hours of work. I will update on this next week.

In addition to volume, the other question that I have gained a lot of insight into in these last weeks is what types of workouts to actually do. The reality is that some of the best running in the world at the Ironman distance is about 3:40-3:45/kilometer. Fresh, this pace is very slow. After 4.5 hours of biking, this pace is a lot more challenging. The question is then, what is more valuable: Training the legs to be able to hold progressively faster paces? Or Training the legs to be able to run at 3:40-3:45/kilometer off of long, hard biking?

I don’t think the answer is one or the other, I think it is both. In 70.3 training, I think you can get very far with “training the legs to hold progressively faster paces.” But, if you have not prepared the body to run at a decent pace, off of 3, 4 or even 5 hour bike rides, then even if you are in sub 1:10 half-marathon off-the-bike shape in a 70.3, you can easily be brought to a jog in the Ironman. Thus, I think a great deal of focus needs to be put on running decently well off of 3 and 4 hour bike rides. By decently well I mean 3:35-3:50/kilometer. You can see here how it is possible to be a very good Ironman runner, and not so great at the 70.3 distance. The training and paces required to be a good Ironman runner is quite a bit different than the 70.3. As long as 3:35-3:50/kilometer is sub-maximal for you, you’ve got a shot at being a good Ironman runner.

The biggest conclusion I am coming to with regards to the Ironman is that it rewards individuals who have the capacity to do a lot of volume. The reality is that there is very little you can do to simulate biking 4.5 hours at a good output then running a marathon at a good output, other than to bike for progressively longer durations and then try and run well right after. You certainly do receive a decent training benefit from doing for example a long hard bike ride one day, and then a long hard run the next day, but this is nowhere near what it is like to do a long hard bike immediately followed by a long hard run. Try it and find out. I learned this lesson when I did this workout: 3 hours at something I think is sustainable for an Ironman to half-marathon at whatever feels decent. I ended up holding 315w for the bike, and then running 1:17:28 for 13.13 miles. Here’s the bike data:

Bike Portion of Brick

That was a tough workout. That’s where I realized that 70.3 and 140.6 training are vastly different. That workout would be useless in 70.3 training. You could do that workout every week for 8 weeks and if you held those paces you likely wouldn’t make the money in any 70.3 in North America. On the other hand, if you did that workout every week for 8 weeks, perhaps increasing the run by a mile or two each week and the bike by 10 minutes each week, if you could still hold those paces, well you would be approaching breaking the Ironman world record (with a decent swim as well!).

It is for this reason that just because you are good at 70.3 doesn’t mean you will be good at 140.6, and vice-versa. 70.3 requires a fair amount of speed. 140.6 doesn’t require much speed, but more a capacity to train at large volumes. As well, even if you have potential to be good at both, it is almost impossible for you to be your best at both at the same time. This of course is relative to the person. It is possible for you to be world-class at both at the same time. I think it’s a safe bet that Jan Frodeno, who was 2nd at 70.3 Worlds, will also do well in Kona this year. What I am saying is that it is very difficult for you to be in both your absolute best 70.3 shape and your absolute best 140.6 shape, at the same time. One must suffer, as the speeds and training methods to prepare for each distance are significantly different.

All this being said, I am enjoying the transition to Ironman training very much. The 70.3 took me quite a while to develop a system of training that worked for me. The 140.6 will be no different. I am enjoying learning. I am enjoying making mistakes. The only unfortunate thing I am realizing is that the turnaround between 70.3 Worlds and Ironman Florida is too short. I think to properly go from being in your best 70.3 shape to your best 140.6 shape would require about 2.5 months. Unfortunately I have only 1.5 at best. I certainly could have done a VERY late season Ironman (Cozumel for instance), but the reality is that this won’t be my best or my last Ironman. More than anything, this is a learning experience, so that when I make the complete transition over to Ironman racing in 2015, I will be equipped with a much greater understanding of training and racing for this distance.

Next week I will give more of a glimpse into what I am actually doing in training and how it differs from what I was doing while training for the 70.3. Unfortunately, for much of last week I was without a power meter, so I was waiting until I received a replacement to do that sort of post. I thought first it would be valuable to express some of the broader, overarching lessons I have learned in this last little while.

As well, if you have anything you would be interested in me writing about or sharing, I am all ears. One of the difficulties I have had in the past is I’m not really sure what people are interested in reading. I enjoy reading a more numbers/workouts oriented type blog, which is why this blog at times may have that tone. But, I am open to writing about anything you may find interesting, so don’t hesitate to reach out with some suggestions.

Thanks for reading!!!