Tuesday, September 18, 2012

My staple workouts for Ironman.

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.


beth said...

Pretty interesting....As someone who has always smoked your koolaid and knows it works, i'm adding in a few of these tips for my IM Cozumel build...
Not sure about the 20 20 mile runs, though! I've done two this YEAR. but I do a 2-hour run most weeks, so maybe that's equivalent to your 20 since you run faster?
Ok, gotta go google "Conconi Test" and do one this week.
And about the tempo run. WITHOUT A DOUBT the most important run I do. Every week. 2 mi warm up 4 miles tempo (6:10 to 6:30 pace depending) and 2 mi cool down.
Anyhow, thanks for jotting this down for people like me who appreciate it! p.s. still impressed with Leadman.

Lucho said...

Beth- I did say "Particularly if you are not a runner"... for a total fucking bad-ass like you, who has put in the YEARS of consistent work, it isn't required! An experienced runner can certainly get away with less and you fit in to that category for sure. Sub 3... you rock (but no surprise really:)

Steve Pero said...

We non Tri/runner only types appreciate your workout tips...at least I do! (and I'm 60 and have been running for 37 years)
Thanks, Lucho...

Chris Holbrook said...

I recently listened to Ben Greenfield's interview with Sam Inkinen. What are your thoughts on lower total volume and more intensity. I spent this past season mainly following a Purple Patch Fitness guided 1/2 IM plan. Most weeks were around 13-15 hours with variance on either side. I feel like 9 months later the only thing I'm better at is exercising. I got sick of the volume, the time, the effort, and most of all the return on my investment--timewise. My times were marginally faster than last year.

I recently purchased Ben's 3 months of off-season workouts for triathletes from Training Peaks. I need to feel refreshed for next year as well as build some muscular strength. Going forward, my focus next year will be on 1/2s. Maybe an IM but I don't want to commit now after withdrawing from Louisville this past August (bye, bye 600 bucks). My plan is to stick with 10-12 hrs/week but a lot less of just swimming, biking and running. My swim sucks, so I really appreciate your advice on drills. I definitely found that getting through 3500-400y sessions wasn't physically that taxing but my speed was practically unchanged. That's a total waste of time. As for the other two, I want to get out there and get it done. No more doubles. Just get in my stuff and move on.

Anyway, I'll leave it there, but would certainly appreciate your thoughts.

Carter said...

ahhhhh, perfect timing for my year ahead. Thanks for the thoughts and timely post, been missing your regular IM discussions.

Lucho said...

Chris- Part of the reasoning behind doing the 4k swims is to prepare you for faster training later. Depending on the type of work done in that 4k it may very well not make you faster! But down the line you will absorb harder swims much better. It's basic "base" concepts... train to train.
On this morning's podcast I discussed the idea of 'reverse periodization' and there are factors to consider. Yes, I think you can drop your volume, increase intensity right now and possibly do better, but only if you do have a very well formed base of training under you and your aerobic economy is not a limiter. Then you should also go back in a few months and re-touch some base work for a few weeks.
I would also suggest keeping at least one session each week in each discipline as a longer aerobic focused session. But remember that 10 beats below threshold (Z3 or tempo) is still utilizing fat very much, so a ~2:00 ride with 1:00+ at tempo is still a solid way to get a long ride in.

Kevin said...

Lucho - great posting with specifics and purpose in each workout.

Imagine that - structured 'all of the above' approach (LSD, intensity and specificity).

Really have enjoyed your commentary on Endurance Planet. Very down to earth - especially always bringing people back to specificity; a bunch of articles now popping up that are putting the emphasis back on the fact that you need to train like you want to race. (e.g. Renato Canova in Running Times this past month). As a 49yr old athlete still PR'ing based on these concepts, it's nice to read / hear :-)

And 'Conconi Test' - man, I haven't heard that term in years. Sweet :-)

Again - seriously; thanks for taking time to share your insights and knowledge! It really has helped me to stay focused on core concepts / common sense approach to training which just seems to work for me every time.

And congrats on Leadman!!

Lucho said...

Thank you for the good word Kevin! Much appreciated.
I still have PAGES of graphs from Conconi tests. I used to do them quite often so I could change my training intensities based on current fitness data. I loved them.

Chris Holbrook said...

Thanks Lucho. I've heard all that stuff about swimming more to be fitter both for the swim as well as the bike and run. And yes, I did feel that way this year. At the same time, it's incredibly frustrating when you see your 100 pace essentially staying static. And I'd notice a fairly significant difference when swimming in a 50m vs 25y. Yes, I know more push-offs, etc, but it was like I could feel my form turning to shit in a long-course pool.

As for the rest, I'm not planning on giving up on volume all together, but I do want to put more thought into upping the quality in relation to the quantity. I felt tired all the time. Plus, it was just eating up too much family time and outside enjoyment time. Reading, watching movies, etc.

Through January I'm just going to concentrate on building strength and working on muscular imbalances with greatly diminished time spent SBR'ing. I want to feel refreshed and eager come next year. I'll probably grab another one of Ben's plans and go with it come January or so. I'll do next season's first 1/2 in mid-May and reassess based on how I do.

Thanks for responding. I always look forward to the ATU episodes as well as the new one, Ask the Coach. And finally, congrats and great accomplishment at Leadville this year.

Lucho said...

Ya, I get that! I didn't want to spend all my energy or time on running/ biking a crap ton for Leadman. So I traded out volume for intensity. My base is pretty solid so it worked adequately. Make sure to balance the intensity with enough recovery or you might literally run yourself in to the ground! Good luck!

Chris Holbrook said...

Thanks again. My base is pretty good. Okay, you can never have too much base. But given that, I'm in good shape. I totally get what you're saying about intensity. I weigh 190 and it takes a toll. Anyway, it's the journey and not the conclusion that matters. I tried one way. Now I'll try another.

Btw, I misspoke. I meant to say congrats on Leadman!

Lucho said...

Chris- "I tried one way. Now I'll try another" Exactly! This is how we find what works for us as individuals! I think intensity is king. There's nothing that stimulates physical and mental strength like intensity. If your base is solid then you'll thrive on this approach.

Chris Holbrook said...

Lucho, I really like this post. I've read it several times and it's given me a lot to chew on.

In terms of specific implemntation, I've opted to go with a modified all drill swim bloc. Modified because I'm starting each workout with 500 with bouy, band and FINIS paddles. At the moment I'm leaving the last 50 for paddles and band only. This is a disaster for me, which obvioulsy is another way of saying my alignment stinks. However, over time I want to gradually increase my warm-up time spent without the bouy and with band and paddles only. Then I'm doing some kicking.

The rest of the workout is drill only. So far I've simply been doing 50s of catch-up over and over. I can't believe how taxing this is. What's interesting is that I'm finding my times are just marginally slower than my straight swim times. Again: alignment, alignment, alignment. I'm committed to this approach. I'm going to build my distance per drill as well add in more drills. I'm convinced I'm going to see big improvements.

Kevin said...

Hi Tim.

congraulations on Leadman! Knew you would win despite what you said the week before in the podcast.

Quick couple of questions. In IM I can swim between 58-1.05 with little or no training due to a solid swim background when I was young. Obviously when i'm fast its because I have trained!

My bike is OK at 6.30 in last IM and I need to work on that and weight issues.

My run is fair with best IM being 4.30 and worst 5.30, but I have regularly run sub 4 this year while training for a 100 Ultra.

Long winded way to ask what should I focus on and also do you do coaching for overseas athletes remotely.

I am doing IM Austria and then the CCC race of UTMB and so want to do well at IM and to complete the CCC. I raced just Ultras this year and then suffered with overtraining but am back and ready to rock again.

Most coaches I know do not have knowledge of Ultra and IM and definately don't have the depth of knowledge you have. I have used the Don Fink plan for my last 3 IM with mixed success although I do like it's simplicity.

Melissa McNamara said...

Lucho! Big fan from ATC!

Question on the 6-10 x 500 swim workout - which part would you cut in half for 70.3?
3-5 x 500 or 6-10 x 250?

Would love to hear your answer if you have a minute - thanks - Melissa