Often in articles you read about how the Triathlon Pros train or what it takes to qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Kona but rarely do we read about what it takes to just finish an Ironman Triathlon. By just finish I really mean that; I don’t mean to set some arbitrary sub 12 or 13 or 14 hour goal but truly just to finish under that 17 hour deadline. I’m as guilty as anyone because I use terminology more akin to the world of performance sport and I often talk about my high performing athletes but I use this vocabulary correctly in that I apply it to all of my athletes and everyone I coach is referred to as an athlete – some are just faster than others. Whether they are like Rachel who’s aim is to qualify for Kona in 2015 or whether they are like Maite, a world renowned concert pianist who has just signed up for her first ever running race, the Brighton marathon, they are all athletes and the same principles of training apply to them all. Trudy’s Challenge
In 2013 I had the opportunity and the great pleasure to start working with a first time IMer, let’s call her Trudy – because that’s her name! The physical equation for Trudy’s attempt at an Ironman finish was a simple one – we had to get her aerobically fit + give her some sports specific strength + help her understand what was going to be required of her = finish in under 17 hours. One of the huge advantages Trudy had was that she is quite simply one of the most positive people I have ever met so the psychology aspect of getting her ready was relatively simple. Trudy was apprehensive but that trepidation offered genuine, unadulterated, motivation.
Make no mistake, we both knew that this was, to use football parlance ‘a big ask’, as the Ironman distance offers no mercy for those who enter unprepared. Of course Trudy being Trudy she decided that if she was going to do an Ironman she might as well do a ‘proper’ race and therefore she entered a race not designed for the soft hearted - Ironman Wales.
If like Trudy your aim is to ’merely’ cross that line (it should be noted that anyone that finishes an Ironman in under 17 hrs is extremely fit and would rank in the top 2% in terms of fitness within a population) then I want to look in more depth as to what is required to achieve that and what we put in place training wise for Trudy, and you, to achieve the goal.
So, what are the requirements for a 17hr finish?
Well if we ignore transitions, not an easy job to do at IM Wales with the never ending run from the beach to T1 then we can assume a 2 hr swim, an 8.5hr bike and a 6.5hr marathon will get the job done. The output required does not look fearsome when written down; a 3 min per 100m swim, an average of just over 13mph on the bike, and a modest 14:45 min per mile run. In requirement terms, it sounds pretty easy, but try doing anything for 17 hours and you’ll find out that it isn’t as simple to operate for this length of time as it sounds.
We built Trudy’s training along the tenets of Consistency, Specificity and Strength Endurance. In other words we had to get her training, training by doing the right thing and that right thing was working on Strength Endurance. Trudy came to me having completed a number of events including a couple of Middle Distance events, notably the Cowman which she finished in 7 hours and 4 seconds and a 5hr 30min finish at the London Marathon. This was to be her first attempt at the IM Distance and the training was build on getting her efficient and strong in the swim so that it took nothing out of her so we worked on a lot of strength type sets with small paddles, a pull buoy and band. On the bike we mixed the traditional longer rides with some specific big gear turbo sessions, like 3 mins hard, 3 mins easy for an hour to get her strong and we looked at specific run and brick sessions to get her moving efficiently at and slightly faster than race pace.
It was a tough day at the office for all the competitors as the weather turning, well very Welsh towards the end, but I’m delighted to say that in 16 hours and 30 minutes Trudy heard the words “You are an Ironman!” The details were a 1hr 27min swim, an 8hr 39 minute bike and slipping under the 6 hr barrier with a 5hr 59 run.
With the correct level of motivation, consistent training, appropriate pacing and a willingness to succeed you can achieve the same. I’m looking forward to helping Maite achieve her goal in 2015 and who knows perhaps an Ironman awaits…..