By Lindsay Hyman, CTS Pro Coach
Completing a 70.3 Ironman race should be a positive and encouraging experience, one that helps provide confidence in your abilities as a triathlete. As I mentioned in Part I of this article, during a pre-Ironman 70.3 you can learn a great deal about how your body responds to competition, and particularly how your current fitness level corresponds to your body’s response during competition. But with roughly two months between your 70.3 and your Ironman race, there’s still plenty of training and tapering to be done before the big day. Here’s what you want to accomplish:
The week following your 70.3 is very important, not for what you do but for what you don’t do. Some athletes get amped up from their half-distance performance and jump right back into training 48 hours after this race. That’s a mistake. You should take a week of active recovery, not only to recuperate from the intensity and duration of the race, but to consolidate the benefits of that long race-paced training session. I like to do a short ride or swim the day after a race, as a recovery activity, rather than take that day completely off. But I recommend taking 1-2 days completely off in the 4-5 days immediately following your 70.3. The remainder of the week, your activities should be at a low intensity. Not a moderate or endurance intensity, either. I mean low, slow, easy, etc.
In some cases, these recovery-paced sessions might be somewhat long. If you’re normally training 20 hours a week, you might still go out for a 3-hour ride during a recovery week, but the intensity needs to be low. If you’re training 12 hours a week for an Ironman, your longest recovery week ride might only be one hour. During your recovery week, you should also focus more of your activities on cycling and swimming. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t run, but since your primary goals are to recuperate and prepare to resume meaningful training, cutting down on the inevitable stress of running is a good idea.
One last training block
You can’t turn a huge ship on a dime, and at this point your fitness has momentum similar to an ocean liner. You can pour on the fuel and gather speed, lighten up on the throttle to save precious resources, and make course corrections, but you have to be realistic about what you can change about your fitness in the final 6 weeks leading up to your Ironman. You basically have time for one last hard training block before you begin your taper.
The primary goal of this final training block should be extending the amount of time you can sustain efforts at lactate threshold pace. Increasing pace at threshold and the amount of time you can sustain that pace are important, but at this point in your preparation you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck by focusing on increasing the time you can sustain threshold efforts. In the time you have left, if you focus solely on increasing pace at threshold, you won’t see a very significant increase. But if you focus on making those efforts longer, you’ll maintain your goal paces longer on race day, and there’s a good chance you’ll make your threshold and race paces a bit faster as well.
Your longest sessions
A lot of athletes look at their longest individual training sessions as a crucial milestone for Ironman preparation. Your longest run, ride, and swim are important, but you have to keep them in perspective and plan them appropriately. Rather than focus on mileage for the run, for instance, I like to have athletes do a run that is 45-60 minutes shorter than their fastest open marathon time in the past two years. That means that if your fast marathon time (not in a triathlon, just a running race) is 3:15, then your long run in Ironman training should be about 2:30.
Some athletes and coaches will say that is too short for a longest pre-Ironman run, but for athletes who can run a 3:15 open marathon, this long run will most likely end up covering 19-20 miles. The benefit of the longest pre-Ironman run is part psychological and part physical, and from the physical side I’ve found that it’s better to focus on quality in shorter run workouts than to add more fatigue by adding a few more miles to a long pre-Ironman run. In fact, swimming is the only discipline of three in which I make sure athletes complete the full distance before an Ironman. For many athletes, even some experienced Ironman competitors, the swim is the most intimidating component of the race. As a result, I like to have athletes complete full-distance swims twice in the final 8 weeks leading up to an Ironman.
But going back to the run training, another scheduling component to consider is how you build to your longest run. About 6-7 weeks out from Ironman you might do a 17-mile run. But rather than doing 18-19 the next week, I like to cut this down to 12-14 miles, followed by the longest pre-Ironman run the following week (about 3-4 weeks out from the race). I find this alternating structure allows for greater training quality leading into the longest run. Your best Ironman performance isn’t just about endurance; you have the endurance to cover the distance by this point. You have to focus on quality, especially in threshold running workouts, so you are better prepared to handle the longer sessions.
In terms of your longest ride, the greatest challenge for many athletes is finding the time to go out and ride 100-112 miles about 3-5 weeks before an Ironman. If you can carve out the time for this ride, it’s a good idea. But understand that its benefit if more psychological than physical; if you can’t get this ride in, it doesn’t mean you’re going to have a terrible bike leg at Ironman.
One more thing about your longest individual training sessions: they shouldn’t necessarily be lumped into the same training week. It’s easy to build a massive training week by piling your longest run and ride and swim into one week. But that leads to a lot more stress than you want at this point in your training. You can put your longest ride and a full-distance swim in the same week, but generally I don’t put the longest run into the same week as either a full-distance swim or a full-distance ride.
Taper into your Ironman
Finally it’s time to taper and consolidate your fitness as race day approaches. The typical Ironman taper is about three weeks and involves a gradual decrease in training volume and workload. What’s important is to reduce workload by making your workouts shorter and making the periods of time at lactate threshold pace shorter, but not reducing the actual intensity of those periods. In other words, you should still be doing lactate threshold and challenging aerobic pace work, just less of it. You don’t want to take it too easy, because the goal is to insert enough intensity to keep all the fitness you have while enabling your body to recover and strip away the cumulative fatigue from your training program.
I recommend cutting deeper into your running and cycling time, and retaining some more of your swimming time, during your taper. Not only is swimming a non-weight bearing sport, but for most athletes it only represents about 25% of your total weekly training volume. Cutting this in half typically isn’t necessary, and can be detrimental.
Starting with a 70.3 triathlon, recovering from it, focusing on one last training block, and then tapering is a clear-cut and concise route into an Ironman race. Especially with athletes who are being pulled in many different directions, like most of us are with families and full-time jobs, this method eliminates a lot of the doubt and uncertainty that can wreak havoc with an Ironman athlete’s final preparations.
Lindsay Hyman is a Pro Coach with Carmichael Training Systems, Inc. In additional to competing herself, she coaches athletes from first timers to Ironman World Champions. For further information on coaching, camps and triathlon performance testing, visit www.trainright.com.