Email To A Mate

A friend asked some advice on his training for Ironman / Endurance events. Really enjoyed preparing a brain dump for him and thought perhaps it would make an interesting blog entry. So below is an extract from the mail. I enjoy discussing training and trying to help people out on the training front and have been considering doing some online coaching – the first step though is to get some sort of formal coaching qualification … so with abit of luck the BTA will put out the new calendar of course soon and I can get on the level 1 course.

Anyway… here it is:

“… I reckon you need to keep in mind the long term. You are starting nice and early which means you have the potential to really reap the rewards over the years. Key now is consistency and the key to that is not getting loads of niggly injuries. I reckon you should periodically test what you can get done but not try to make massive leaps. I am a real believer in a Basic week. This is a bog standard set of training u KNOW you can do week in week out. Your aim should be to do this week in week out. 

You deviate from this for several reasons:
1.Tapering for races
2.Recovering from races
3.Adhoc recovery
4.BIG weeks

I plan out my year ahead to give me a base line but I tend to be pretty pretty easy going about changing it. If I start to feel drained I’ll have a rest day (I don’t tend to schedule them) and if thats not enough a rest / easy week. Periodically I have BIG weeks and a few times a year I try to put together several back to back.

To give an idea this is my basic week as per my 2008 plan (remember I’m full time at the moment!):

Monday – 4.5 km Squad swim. 15 mile running consisting of longish run in morning and short run late afternoon
Tuesday – 60m / 6m BRICK
Wednesday – 4.5km squad swim. 15 long run
Thurs – 60m fixed (hard bike), 12m run split into two runs – morning, late afternoon
Friday – 4.5km squad swim
Saturday – 100m / 6m BRICK
Sunday – 100m / 6m BRICK
Totals: 34 hours / 13.5km swim / 320m bike / 60m Run

I know I can hit that easily in a week of proper training and invariable do a lot more. Thing about this is it’s achievable and as such it keeps me motivated. But be prepared for it to change as habits shift. So… for instance my basic week currently pans out more like:

Monday – 4.5km Squad Swim, 1 hour gym, 15 mile running split across two runs
Tuesday – 100m bike
Wednesday – 15m run across two runs, 4.5km squad swim
Thursday – 60m fixed, 3km swim, 1 hr gym. 16m run across two runs
Friday – 4.5km Squad swim, 16m run across two runs
Saturday – 125+m bike / 8.5m BRICK
Sunday – 100+m Bike / 8.5m BRICK

Reckon you want to focus on building up your aerobic fitness. This involves long hours of aerobic work – only way this can realistically be done each week is on the bike. Take a look at Mark Allens article ( ) which is excellent and unbeknownst to me I’d been following this for years ahead of reading the article. Every year I do lots of very long bike rides. We are talking 10 hours or so regularly once there is enough light. Each year I try a breakthrough ride of 200+ miles. I also do long runs (5 hours) when I get the opportunity (ie in the hills). For years ahead of finding Triathlon I did stuff that at the time I didn’t think of as training but in hindsight it was. Initially this was fell walking which got progressively longer … talking a week holiday where most days we’d walk for at least 10 hours with several days doing challenging walks of 16 hours. Then I got into fell running and not only did I do lots of Mountain Marathons – 6,7,8 even 9 hours of running on consecutive days (with packs) but also did loads of training runs – had occasions where I was running for upwards of 12 hours in the mountains and holidays where I was doing this for most days for two weeks.

Thats a long winded way of saying you need to get that sort of thing in the bank. Doing the Mid Wales is the right thing. Do these sort of fun events, set yourself challenges each year and your aerobic base will get monster. As the years pass you will reap the rewards.

Just look at the Mid Wales. After 20 miles on the run I was running strongly. I almost ran the whole thing the only reason I didn’t is I walked with Jo at times. I truly believe that the reason I am able to do this is the background in doing ultra long physical challenges.

As for your Ironman success. Keep working on the swimming. The improvements you’ve made since you first joined the club are impressive but keep working. Swim as often as you can when there is a coach watching you. Swimming comes with years of practice to nail that feel for the water. Though not a big part of Ironman it is a great benefit to be up there out of the swim as you are amongst the faster guys and on the bike get paced by the fast guys. BIG riding is my view as 112 miles must not feel like a long way and if you want to race that distance and still be fresh enough to race the marathon then 112 miles really must not feel that far. By the time I’m racing in the summer if I go out for a 100 miler I feel like I’m “Just” doing 100 miles, I view it as a soft day.

BRICKS – now I’ll be honest I did hardly any prior to this season. But a mate of mine who won M20-24 at Kona and has gone 9 hours at IM Switzerland told me his run training was: 1 hour most mornings and 10km off the bike after every long ride. He runs close to 3 hours off the bike ! I took this to heart and in the run up to New Zealand I was doing 3 bricks a week. I have never felt so good on the run (despite having a niggly injury for a few weeks leading up to the race!) – strong throughout and able to really push hard in the final few KMs. I try and get some long runs in but mostly in the winter and am pretty wary of them because they can really hamper your ability to get your weekly volume training done. Over the years I have built up a tolerance to running. To give an idea – prior to having problems with my knee I couldn’t really do more than 50 miles a week without injuring myself. In my early 30s when my knee was ok and I started fell running I made a point of doing absolutely no speed work whatsoever for running for a couple of years. ALL my running was at conversational pace. I am convinced this really built up all the tendons etc. because now I regularly tolerate 100+ mile weeks. In fact, in the run up to New Zealand I managed 3 consecutive weeks of 100+ miles running including one of 129 miles. I rarely run longer than 2.5 hours (perhaps a few times a year) but regularly do two even three runs a day. On big weeks I may do two 2 hour runs. Now, not saying you should pile in and do this sort of mileage, more you need to start laying the ground work. Slowly build up mileage, be careful of too much speedwork and when you do speedwork accept you will need to recover from it and that will impact that weeks volume.

Another factor I think helped me is I decided one winter to focus on running and see how fast I could go. That winter I managed a 33.58 10k, a 75 minute half and a 2:44 full marathon. I did speedwork every week to achieve that and sacrificed bike volume to be able to recover. I reckon this speed stayed with me in subsequent years, not at the same level but certainly over a marathon I can still maintain a reasonable pace. I’ve only once gone slower than 3.30 in an Ironman. So in terms of long term planning I think worth one year focussing on getting a fast marathon.

Another thing I do quite alot with running is I tend to run most places I go. This can mean alot of 1.5 mile runs to and from swimming, 2.5 mile runs to and from my sisters (though she’s now moved so it’s 5 miles!). Anyway, my thinking is to get my body to feel that running is a normal activity. I think the same about swimming and cycling. You want the muscle memory but since these activities aren’t natural you don’t get it in everyday life. If you think when walking you are using your muscles in a similar way to running ( very layman I know!) but in swimming and cycling there’s not such everyday activity. In my first couple of years doing Ironman I was a firm believer in regular swimming / cycling. So, felt it was better to do 2 x 3km on consecutive days than one day of 6km. As the latter gave a day where the muscle memory wasn’t being  re-affirmed. When I was working this really fit nicely into the pattern of my life and so my basic week in those days would have involved swimming every weekday. In fact, when I went part time I used to swim 3 times on mondays !! And every other weekday. Also I had long periods of riding everyday ! And I mean minimum of 30 miles. Again trying to make it feel natural. Just look at tour de france riders. On rest days they ride, on TT days they’ll ride the course. If it’s good enough for them it’s good enough for me. Now I don’t work I’ve fallen out of that routine but, this week, I’ve started back on the swimming every weekday and when I’m in big weeks I aim to ride every day other than Mondays.

As for specific sessions you mentioned they sound very sensible. Like you I’ve been working on pushing a bigger gear, I’ve upped the gearing on my fixed. I also work on staying seated when climbing. Ultimately you get faster on the bike by pushing a bigger gear at the same cadence. I still don’t feel I really know how to improve the bike, still experimenting and certainly see this as my biggest gains. As for running I’d be wary of regular 20 milers, for the reasons given above. However, whether this works really depends on your circumstances and when you can train. For instance if there is a day in the week where you tend not to be able to train anyway then doing a long run the day before would allow that day for recovery. Really needs to be suck it and see. Trying doing “Kenyan’ days (term nicked from Tim Don) ie 2 runs in a day, and see how you go with that and periodically put in a long run (2.5 / 3 hours) but not every week.”

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