We have all heard the argument that Speed Kills. A lot of our road safety campaigns are based on this premise and we often carry this mantra across to sport. There are certainly physiological and psychological advantages to be had by conducting speed work and I will certainly include appropriate amounts even in an ultra marathoner runners schedule, however when it comes to the multisport world and in particular the Ironman Triathlon distance how much is too much or how fast is too fast? I came across a nice paper by Vleck, VE, et al in the J Strength Cond Res 24(1): 30-36, 2010 looking at training and injury effects within triathlon distance specialization. Over a 5 year period the authors looked at training duration and training frequency, so how long and how often the athletes trained, as well as injury frequency and severity. For the Ironman Distance triathletes the number of overuse injury number went up with the duration of “speed run” and “speed bike” sessions. The authors also noted that cycle and run training may have a “cumulative stress” influence on injury risk. Therefore, the tendency of some triathletes or indeed Coaches to modify, rather than stop training when injured,-usually by increasing load in another discipline from that in which the injury first occurred may increase both their risk of injury recurrence and time to full rehabilitation. So perhaps in our Ironman Distance population “speed” really does kill.
Of course speed is a relative term and I feel that appropriate, evidence informed pace work (particularly race pace work) has a place in our schedules. The key is appropriate pace though. Our Tuesday evening club 1 km reps at sub 6 min per mile have little place for a triathlete that is in reality going to be running a 3:30 to 4 hour marathon off the bike at best. In the majority of Ironman races IF you can run 3:30, that is around 8 min per mile pace, you are going to do extremely well so our need to do the volume and duration of speed work, as observed by the authors may lead to a prevalence of overuse injury.
Remember Triathlon and in particular Ironman Triathlon and Marathon Running are Aerobic sports built on the pillar of Strength Endurance.