Going long – a pragmatic view

By now, everyone knows that Ironman will be returning to the legendary island of Langkawi, Malaysia in September 2014. And triathletes all over Malaysia and the region are starting to step up their training to compete in this grueling event.

Once again, 3-time Ironman Ee-Van aka TriStupe of TriStupe.com, was kind enough to give us some of his training tips. These tips apply to any long-distance race too, not just Ironman Malaysia.

The Basics Of Long Distance Triathlon Training

By Ee-Van aka TriStupe

I am in the midst of creating a plan for my long distance triathlon training leading up to Ironman Malaysia 2014. It may take me a week or two to come up with something basic, and since some Ironman hopefuls have approached me privately to ask for pointers, this is what I can share, which will make up the bulk of my training approach. My limitation to training is time as I would need to factor in family and work into the equation, much like how most of you will be doing.

For many, this is their main worry, having not been brought up to embrace “water”. Many only learn to swim later in life due to “near-drowning experiences”, or they’ve been forced to learn. It could be the unfamiliar situation where we could not breathe normally in water and the “unknown creatures” in the sea.

Do strokes matter? Not really. For the record, I’ve done most of my triathlons using the breaststroke and it has served me really well. However, over the past few years, I’ve trained hard using freestyle/frontcrawl and aim to swim as much as possible in races/competition using freestyle because that would allow me the opportunity to correct myself post-race.

I am assuming I am addressing readers that can swim at least 100m or 2x50m lap comfortably. Swimming will require you to understand the basics of propulsion and body positioning in the water. A good coach will be able to help and correct all these. For those that are limited both by time and money, you will need to unlearn what you already know and improve.

The best way to improve on your swimming is to do repeats and intensity. By repeats, I mean you do a fixed distance of between 500m to 1000m. Your aim is to improve the timing and hopefully reduce the amount of strokes needed to achieve the same. The only way to do this is to improve your intensity. Be aware that swimming takes a lot (of effort) out of you for the same amount of time being invested in running and cycling. So, aim to go “hard or go home” when you hit the pool.

Pragmatic approach to swim training: invest in a session or 2 sessions a week, up to 2 hours total with the aim to build water confidence, breathing and intensity. There is no need to swim 2 hours during your training as you will reap more from repeats and intensity. 
Weekly Volume: 2 hours if you can afford it, otherwise, 1 hour is minimum.

This will be the largest volume in both hours and mileage that you will put in for your Ironman pursuit. Cycling is kinder to your joints and it will allow variable intensity in a more controlled manner. Used wisely and correctly, cycling actually helps to stave off over training and is more sustainable in the whole Ironman training schedule. Utilize both cadence and heart rate training by varying the workout and intensity. Cycling is also a good “recovery” cross training if you just ended a hard run. More so, cycling will help your running as they generally utilize the same muscle group. Not having a tri-specific bicycle will not stop you from performing in a triathlon race. Many I know, including myself, that own a tri-specific bike struggle to keep the speed.
Pragmatic approach to bike training: Safety is always an issue when we train on the road (with the bike). The best way to do this and yet be close to the family is to utilize a trainer. Invest is a good trainer that will serve you for many years, not one that will suit the budget and will cause you to buy/upgrade to another one. Anything up to RM1000 (USD350) is acceptable. Go for a fluid/liquid/gel trainer if you can afford it, otherwise a good magnetic trainer will be a good training partner. Aim to clock in about 3 sessions of 1 hour each on the trainer per week. Using it to work on cadence, burst of speed and of course, heart rate training utilising intensity training concept. If possible, get out once a week for a longer ride (more than 2hours) under the near-actual condition of the race (in the case of Malaysia, that simply means under the sun). If the ride takes longer than 5 hours, do consider involving the family and make it an outing (giving you get an automatic support car). Never cycle alone!
Weekly Volume: 5hours to 10hours depending on the distance of the ride. 

Run short distance and run frequently. I, for one, am not a firm believer of LSD or long slow distance training. It is good if running is your only sport but training for an Ironman 42km run is unlike training for a marathon. In my opinion, long runs are good for endurance and confidence (I can run 30km, 42km will not be an issue kind-of thinking).

The negative side of LSD is that it actually causes the athlete to recover slower and risk over-training when adding in the cycling and swimming workout in blocks of weekly activities. The average person would need about 2 days to fully recover from a long run (in excess of 30km) and that would essentially mean wasted opportunity for training swimming and cycling.

The base built over the short runs has evidently helped me to perform better and finish stronger in the past years. It should not be any different for you. For a beginner, it is important to run frequently and see about a 10-15% improvement. An intermediate and experienced runner can run the same amount and only see 1% or no improvement. What differentiates these will be the quality of the training and nothing will help you to improve more than overloading via intensity workout at least twice a week and sustained by tempo paced run scattered around other days.

Pragmatic approach to run training: I run about 30minutes per session, which covers a distance of anything between 5km to 7km, depending on the “tempo-menu” or intensity. For Ironman training it will be striking a fine balance to perform both biking and running on the same day unless I split them to AM and PM. This is in the pipeline. For the basis of “base preparation”, I am alternating my run-bike for the first 6 weeks before turning up the gear to include runs everyday except rest day (after a long bike ride). Having a 30-minute workout per day is actually a “barely away” approach for those of us that have family. You have the option to do this when the kids/family are having their shower before dinner or right when your wife is whipping up a meal. The key point here is go out, go hard, come back and resume family life.
Weekly VolumeWork on 2 hours minimum and ramping up towards a hefty 5 hours. 

Tying It All Up

The above volume is between 12 hours to 15 hours weekly, which is the base of many Ironman training. Averaging it out, you will be working out up to 2hours/day on average. This is the reason why training for an Ironman event requires a lot of discipline and commitment. However, there is a “minimalist” approach to this and done right, can ensure success as well. The minimalist though, requires higher level of commitment, as you can’t afford to miss any session. Being practical and spreading the training up to 11months before a race can and will ensure sustainability and prepare you beyond just 1-Ironman race.

Having the discipline for training will automatically encourage you to start changing your lifestyle, which includes eating better and more nutritionally as well as providing you a guilt-free feeling of sleeping early as you need to be up early before everyone does to clock in the hours. I will write more on nutrition and how your diet nutrition split (Carb, Protein and Fat) should roughly be during base, peak and race period.

More detailed write-ups on bike fitting, run strides, recovery and even gym-strength activities will be suggested as we roll into the training plan. I do not claim to know everything, I will however, base my sharing on the things that I have done wrong in the 3 Ironmans I did and incorporate the things I’ve done right in the past two years of lifestyle changing experience on both diet and training approach.

If you are planning a training session, it is best to start recording and keeping track of your training now. It may be a good idea to start tracking your spending on gear, nutrition, repair and other items as a matter of record-keeping and improvement in years to come.

Last thought for this article: Why am I basing my training on time rather than mileage? The answer is easy, because mileage is subjective and time is absolute. Moreover, for long distance races like Ironman, you are to train as long as the time you will race. There are exceptions, of course, and unless you are doing this for a living, the Earth still moves and you still have to work to pay off the bills. Finding the right balance ensures both harmony in family, work and training. Involving the family is the best way of doing this. Make them part of it.

It is up to you to dictate what you want to measure your workout against at the end of the day. Most importantly is to make sure you can and will keep up with the changes and demands both in life and training.

Soon: A skeleton training plan you can customize (I am still working at it!)

For more tips from Ee-Van, visit TriStupe.com.

Give us your thoughts on long distance training and we’ll share it here. Email us at mystories@lycraheroes.com


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