A while back a friend of mine, Josh, said he would love to hear my thoughts on 3 workouts that I feel are important in the swim/ bike/ run for Ironman. Here they are. Nothing profound. Training gets complicated only when you include the need to execute it. Most athletes know what it takes... but aren't willing to DO what it takes.
Josh, by the way, DID do what it took when he became an Ironman age-group national champion and earned a Kona slot.
I taught myself how to swim in 1995 and was never a great swimmer, but I was able to swim 52:00 at Ironman off of less than 20k per week. I never swam Masters because I was more interested in getting the shit done rather than doing math.
BAND. This is where you wrap a band around your ankles and pull with paddles. Start with a buoy and then get strong enough to not need it. Ironman is about strength.
6-10 X 500. Any athlete of mine will recognize this session. I did this same set 4 days a week for years. Again, get in... do the work and then get out.
This was broken in to:
500 pull easy warm-up.
5 X 100 at faster than T-pace on 20" rest.
500 pull at T-pace. Repeat as many times as possible.
I would also often do the 5 X 100 as a kick set trying to hold sub 1:30 pace on each. I would sometimes accumulate 1500 total kick in a workout. My thought on this, especially for a non-wetsuit swim is that what you do first matters most last. If you suck at kicking and have to kick in the swim then it's going to hurt your run.
Drills. If you swim a crap load but can't swim fast then your form is off. I always kept it simple with basic Total Immersion stuff. No need to over think drill work. If your form sucks then basic drills work. I swam 59:00 in 2000 and then over the winter I did a 2 month complete (meaning 100%) drill focus. I didn't swim a single length of free for 8 weeks... I then swan 54:00 in my first race of 2001. If you have a weakness then do what it takes to correct it. That doesn't mean do what you like... but do what's right.
"ME" or muscle endurance. This is essentially riding (preferably uphill) in the biggest gear you can push with a very low cadence. Having lifted weights diligently for years I was somewhat strong at these. On the Computrainer I could hold ~400 watts and on the road I could push close to that. I would get my cadence down in to the 20-30 rev range. Later on I realized that I pushed the cadence too low and would have been better served with 50-60 revs at a higher HR/ intensity and lower wattage to work more of a metabolic aspect.
Long Tempo. And I mean LONG. My staple specific rides were 5 X 1:00 (hour) at tempo effort. Back in 2000 leading up to Kona I did two 120 mile long tempo efforts with my Powertap (yes, they made them back then) holding ~230-240 watts. This is a long tempo. I rode 4:50 that year in horrible conditions.
Early season Threshold. In January-February I always did a fairly huge run focus so I would only ride ~10 hours or so a week. I started training with power back in 2000 and one of my goals was always to push my FTP higher. I would start with a Conconi Test and then ride 2 X week sessions that targeted FTP. Something like 4 X 5:00 at FTP (+/-10 watts) to start, not that hard at all. But I would build on to that session every time. So maybe 4 X 7:00, then 4 X 9:00...etc. Then as the weather became nicer I would gravitate away from this to longer efforts outside. If you live in a cold climate and have an Ironman focus in October then why build your base in January 10 months out? Focus on shorter, power sessions inside when it's blowing snow outside, then ride long once the weather gets nice. Use this time for a solid run focus.
20" per mile faster than goal pace off the bike. My goal pace was always 6:30 per mile at Ironman. So any time I ran off the bike I would target ~6:00-6:10 pace (which at the time was my MAF HR 140-150). My staple long brick was ~5 hours on the bike with a majority at goal race effort followed by 9 miles at 6:10 pace. My number one regret has always been that I did too much too hard so it wasn't uncommon at all for me to roll through this 9 miles pushing way too hard (I looked back and saw a couple of sub 52:00 runs for this session) Stupid. Harder/ faster is not better here. Be disciplined and run no faster than 20" per mile than goal pace... if you feel good enough to run faster then run longer!
Long run. I almost always did a ~17 mile long tempo/ hill run on Tuesday and then a long 'easy' run on Sunday. I would do a long run of run 20+ miles almost every single week from December to September. I read somewhere one time that you need 20 runs of 20+ miles before an 'A' Ironman and I believe this. Particularly if you are not a runner. If you want to be a good runner then act like it. Remember that there is absolutely a direct correlation between volume and results across all three disciplines. If you want to run well at Ironman then there should be a certain amount of 'pure runner' mentality here. Again, this doesn't mean do what you like but do what's right.
Tempo. I never neglected this and I never will. I still feel that this run should always have a front row seat regardless of your racing focus whether it be sprint triathlon or 100 mile runs. I would go as far as to say that this run, for a seasoned runner, is more important than a long run. They make you strong not only physically, but MOST importantly mentally! If you aren't strong mentally then you will not run well at Ironman... guaranteed across the board 100% of the time. Start with just 3 miles at Z3/4 effort and incrementally build on to it. There is no real limit. And duration and intensity have an inverse relationship. If you run 3 miles then run at threshold... if you run 18 miles then run 5-10 beats above MAF.