Thought it might an idea to cover some of the more contentious views of Ironman training and before we get started I would like to say the views that lie within this article are my views based on 11years of Ironman racing and everyone may not agree with them and that’s fine but these are things that I believe to be true about training. I have in the past found that people can get very heated about training ideas and this has always puzzled me a little because everyone is entitled to their point of view so with that in mind I’ll put in my 2 cents worth and hope that nobody takes offence.

What exactly is speed in reference to Ironman ? 

It is in my view aerobic capacity –strength and efficiency that are the precursors to Ironman speed but I have had enormous trouble in the past getting people who have come to me for coaching to understand this. Many people will go to track twice a week in the search of speed trying to belt out fast 1km repeats in 3:15 etc, now if you look at even the sharp end of an Ironman the best runners will run around 2:50 average which is over 4min km’s, even a fast 3:03 marathon is still only 4:20 per km and most people are not going to do that so I can’t see how running a 3:15 on track reps is going to help you run a fast marathon except towards the end of an Ironman prep to sharpen fitness.

It would make more sense to me to work on increasing aerobic fitness by doing low intensity running and then working on increasing speed while running @ predicted Ironman pace via a heart rate monitor.

On the bike this is exactly the same scenario –I don’t know how many people I see doing 2 speed sessions a week on the bike @ threshold while training for Ironman –what gives? this in my opinion is the best way to teach your body how to blow up at the 100km of the race. After you have burnt through all the sugar your body has to burn the fat burning rate is going to be pretty ordinary. Most of the people who hammer threshold sets during the week also do their long rides at an intensity that it too high to stimulate aerobic fitness and too low to force threshold and in effect their long days out are junk sessions – I know this because I have seen the looks I get when out doing long base miles and having people tear past me and they look at you like your a joke but where are they on race day?

I can remember an article I read on the Germans in the early 90’s –at the time they were copping a fair amount of flack off the Americans for riding their long rides so slow (i.e.) 24 -25kph but they consistently had the fastest bike splits at all the major Ironmans around the world. Jurgen Zack was one of them. It really was a case of we will see.

One of the factors people fail to realize is that these guy’s may be riding slow but when they put the intensity into their training they can ride at high speed for low heart rates and burn a high amount of fat for fuel making them very efficient performers.

The question of mileage is another bone of contention and some will argue that if you are going to run 4hrs you should train to run 4hr’s. In my opinion all this does is teach people how to run 4hr’s with very bad form, in my experience I have found that most peoples run form starts to suffer at about 2hrs and goes rapidly downhill from 2:30 on. I think it’s better to build your runs up slowly maintaining good form –this way you are more likely to hold good form for longer in the race and this also avoids some of the pitfalls connected with running too many miles with not enough background.

Ironman training is not rocket science and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if you get to the line in good shape you have much better chance of racing well than if you’ve been flogging yourself for 3 months. Personally I ran a little experiment on myself a few years back running 90mins max in training for Ironman and I worked a few more miles on the bike
during each 90min run I ran easy working on form and 2 runs at Ironman pace of 50mins –this equated to 55-60km’s running per week and the result was a pb run split which made me realize how important it was to be able to run effectively without losing form, these days I keep all Ironman run preps to 2hrs max-this also allows for better recovery and a better ability to absorb the training that you are doing instead of just surviving it which is what a lot of athletes tend to try and do. The old adage is true –better to be 10% under trained than 1% over trained.

Another problem with Ironman training is that athlete’s tend to be social lot wanting to train together and it only takes a few antagonists to get the testosterone flying and the next thing you know you have a wasted training session that has been devoted to someone else’s agenda or ego if this happens a lot then you end up with a hell of a lot of junk training on your hands and sub par race result because the best of you has been let behind on a training ride you did trying to hammer your mates into oblivion –if this is you ask yourself what you really want from the race and your training because it’s fine to do this if you are willing to take what you get on race day but it is a little bit senseless if you are browned off at not doing a pb after the fact.

If you train with short course athletes be careful because Ironman is a completely different ballgame. Another little trap is to believe that a half Ironman result means you are on track for a great Ironman and this is a popular misconception as again an Ironman is not even remotely like a half Ironman as you have double the time to blow up if you have been doing the wrong type of work. If you are not an effective aerobic athlete the Ironman will find you out.

Here are a few pieces of advice that I believe are the most important in closing-

  • Do your thing not someone elses.
  • Train to maximise aerobic speed and strength first and foremost.
  • Don’t train in the junk zone.
  • If your looking to improve Ironman speed you won’t do it by training above threshold on the track etc.
  • Don’t overdo mileage and leave your best on the training routes.
  • Taper effectively and trust in what you’ve done because the last 2 weeks is too late.

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