By Lindsay Hyman, CTS Pro Coach
Whether you’re getting ready for your first Ironman or your fourteenth, a half-Ironman race is a great competition to include in your race preparations. But it’s not just a matter of finding a 70.3 race in your area; it has to be the right race, at the right time, to help you optimize your Ironman performance.
The trick is to schedule your 70.3 race at the right time in relation to your Ironman. You want to go into your 70.3 prepared and well trained, but if it’s scheduled too far out from your Ironman, you may not be able to increase your fitness and maintain the workload long enough to get to your primary race. Peak racing fitness is like an ice sculpture in the spring sun; it takes a lot of work to create and it will last for a while, but as time goes on the sharp edges and detail work melt away.
In contrast, if you schedule your 70.3 race too close to your Ironman, you may not have enough time to recover from the 70.3 and get in both one last strong training block and a taper before your Ironman. This scenario often leaves an athlete in limbo; there’s not enough time left for a productive training block, but it’s too early to start tapering. And if your 70.3 race reveals a specific deficiency in your fitness, there may not be enough time to address it.
The right time to schedule your 70.3 is about 8-9 weeks out from your Ironman. With a race this far out, you can afford to taper for 7-10 days going into the 70.3, take a recovery week immediately following the race, and then complete a solid block of training before starting your final taper before your Ironman race.
What you’re going to get out of the 70.3
You have to realize that you’re racing a 70.3 triathlon around two months before your primary goal, which means you need to be realistic about your expectations. You’re training for a full Ironman, so you won’t necessarily have the speed that dedicated 70.3 racers might have, and you’re going to be racing against athletes who targeted your training race as their season goal. This race is about you, not your relation to others.
Your 70.3 race is an opportunity to put your hydration and nutrition strategies to the test. It’s one thing to see how you respond to foods and drinks during a 6-hour training ride, but something very different to test your nutrition and hydration habits in racing conditions. Some athletes get caught up in the frenzy of racing and fail to stick to their routines, or have a different response to the amount or timing of feeds based on the intensity of racing vs. training. This is also the reason it’s helpful to find a 70.3 race that has some similar demands (hilly vs. flat, windy vs. calm, humid vs. dry, etc.) to your Ironman race.
Although this is not a perfect correlation, the run pace for your half-marathon during your 70.3 race is likely to be similar to your marathon pace for your Ironman. This is assuming, of course, that you’re nutrition and hydration on both race days is good to great. In the weeks that follow your 70.3 you’ll hopefully gain some additional fitness and have a very good taper, so you might expect to run faster during your Ironman, but it’s unlikely that you’ll run much faster than during your 70.3 because of the additional fatigue from the longer distances in the Ironman. Again, this isn’t a concrete point of fact, but your run pace in the 70.3 can give you an idea of what to expect your marathon pace to be in your Ironman.
On the bike, the 70.3 race is also a great place to examine your bike fit and your on-bike accessories. If you’re not comfortable and powerful for 56 miles, you’re not likely to have a great bike leg in your Ironman. The reason you might not realize this until your 70.3 is – again – because racing elicits a different response than training. You push harder, for longer, and go to a place you rarely – if ever – reach in training. Similarly, if something on the bike is inconvenient or annoying after 50 miles during a 70.3, it’s going to drive you nuts in an Ironman.
Coming up in the next article: Training Between your 70.3 and Ironman
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.