Ironman Training

These first few weeks of Ironman training have certainly been a learning experience. I thought the transition from 70.3 to 140.6 would be smooth and seamless, but it has not been. What I have struggled with most is how to organize the training properly, and what sort of progression to utilize. It is so long and submaximal that it is difficult to ascertain what types of workouts are most important. The first few weeks have been nothing but trial and error. One thing I have definitely learned is that the body needs time to adapt.

At the beginning of this block I thought I would be able to just instantly increase the mileage in a lot of my workouts, particularly my bike workouts. Unfortunately, this has proven to be an unrealistic endeavour. I now think a realistic and sustainable number to be able to increase workouts by is 30 minutes each week. Going into 70.3 Worlds my bike workouts tended to last about 2 hours 30 minutes. I had intended on increasing them instantly to 4 hours, but the quality in the final hour just wasn’t there. My body was saying “I need more time to adapt to these new demands.” So I listened. Next week (3 weeks later) I will finally begin doing 4 hour bike workouts. My hope is that 2.5 weeks worth of 3-3.5 hour workouts will allow my body to handle a solid 4 hours of work. I will update on this next week.

In addition to volume, the other question that I have gained a lot of insight into in these last weeks is what types of workouts to actually do. The reality is that some of the best running in the world at the Ironman distance is about 3:40-3:45/kilometer. Fresh, this pace is very slow. After 4.5 hours of biking, this pace is a lot more challenging. The question is then, what is more valuable: Training the legs to be able to hold progressively faster paces? Or Training the legs to be able to run at 3:40-3:45/kilometer off of long, hard biking?

I don’t think the answer is one or the other, I think it is both. In 70.3 training, I think you can get very far with “training the legs to hold progressively faster paces.” But, if you have not prepared the body to run at a decent pace, off of 3, 4 or even 5 hour bike rides, then even if you are in sub 1:10 half-marathon off-the-bike shape in a 70.3, you can easily be brought to a jog in the Ironman. Thus, I think a great deal of focus needs to be put on running decently well off of 3 and 4 hour bike rides. By decently well I mean 3:35-3:50/kilometer. You can see here how it is possible to be a very good Ironman runner, and not so great at the 70.3 distance. The training and paces required to be a good Ironman runner is quite a bit different than the 70.3. As long as 3:35-3:50/kilometer is sub-maximal for you, you’ve got a shot at being a good Ironman runner.

The biggest conclusion I am coming to with regards to the Ironman is that it rewards individuals who have the capacity to do a lot of volume. The reality is that there is very little you can do to simulate biking 4.5 hours at a good output then running a marathon at a good output, other than to bike for progressively longer durations and then try and run well right after. You certainly do receive a decent training benefit from doing for example a long hard bike ride one day, and then a long hard run the next day, but this is nowhere near what it is like to do a long hard bike immediately followed by a long hard run. Try it and find out. I learned this lesson when I did this workout: 3 hours at something I think is sustainable for an Ironman to half-marathon at whatever feels decent. I ended up holding 315w for the bike, and then running 1:17:28 for 13.13 miles. Here’s the bike data:

Bike Portion of Brick

That was a tough workout. That’s where I realized that 70.3 and 140.6 training are vastly different. That workout would be useless in 70.3 training. You could do that workout every week for 8 weeks and if you held those paces you likely wouldn’t make the money in any 70.3 in North America. On the other hand, if you did that workout every week for 8 weeks, perhaps increasing the run by a mile or two each week and the bike by 10 minutes each week, if you could still hold those paces, well you would be approaching breaking the Ironman world record (with a decent swim as well!).

It is for this reason that just because you are good at 70.3 doesn’t mean you will be good at 140.6, and vice-versa. 70.3 requires a fair amount of speed. 140.6 doesn’t require much speed, but more a capacity to train at large volumes. As well, even if you have potential to be good at both, it is almost impossible for you to be your best at both at the same time. This of course is relative to the person. It is possible for you to be world-class at both at the same time. I think it’s a safe bet that Jan Frodeno, who was 2nd at 70.3 Worlds, will also do well in Kona this year. What I am saying is that it is very difficult for you to be in both your absolute best 70.3 shape and your absolute best 140.6 shape, at the same time. One must suffer, as the speeds and training methods to prepare for each distance are significantly different.

All this being said, I am enjoying the transition to Ironman training very much. The 70.3 took me quite a while to develop a system of training that worked for me. The 140.6 will be no different. I am enjoying learning. I am enjoying making mistakes. The only unfortunate thing I am realizing is that the turnaround between 70.3 Worlds and Ironman Florida is too short. I think to properly go from being in your best 70.3 shape to your best 140.6 shape would require about 2.5 months. Unfortunately I have only 1.5 at best. I certainly could have done a VERY late season Ironman (Cozumel for instance), but the reality is that this won’t be my best or my last Ironman. More than anything, this is a learning experience, so that when I make the complete transition over to Ironman racing in 2015, I will be equipped with a much greater understanding of training and racing for this distance.

Next week I will give more of a glimpse into what I am actually doing in training and how it differs from what I was doing while training for the 70.3. Unfortunately, for much of last week I was without a power meter, so I was waiting until I received a replacement to do that sort of post. I thought first it would be valuable to express some of the broader, overarching lessons I have learned in this last little while.

As well, if you have anything you would be interested in me writing about or sharing, I am all ears. One of the difficulties I have had in the past is I’m not really sure what people are interested in reading. I enjoy reading a more numbers/workouts oriented type blog, which is why this blog at times may have that tone. But, I am open to writing about anything you may find interesting, so don’t hesitate to reach out with some suggestions.

Thanks for reading!!!

19 thoughts on “Ironman Training

  1. Great read and insight, thanks.

    Any insight into your nutrition and what you do to stay injury free would be interesting to hear in your next blog.



  2. I second that. What’s your current nutrition strategy and how it differs from the 70.3 training days. And, as always, great post and enjoyable reading.

    • I will do a more detailed post on this topic in the next few days, but I will say, in terms of what I eat throughout the day, I have just been eating more. When I’m hungry, I eat. It’s about as simple as that. I don’t pay much attention to what I actually eat…I try and consume a bit of fruit, and a bit of vegetables each day, but other than that I will eat whatever’s around. I’m pretty lazy when it comes to actually cooking, so I usually eat things like: chicken burgers, french fries and mixed vegetables; sausages, french fries and mixed vegetables; taco kit; fajita kit; pizza; subway. I would say that makes up 80% of my dinners each week. As for fuelling during practice, in 140.6 training I find that because it is less taxing, I am able to eat more hearty foods. Thus, I am eating a lot more granola bars on the bike and even while running. My strategy for the race in Florida will be 1 granola bar (200cal) and 1 gel (100cal) and 1 bottle of sugary electrolyte drink (150cal) per hour. Towards the end of the bike I will switch to just liquid calories. On the run I will take two gels and two small bottles of sugary electrolyte drink for a total of about 350 calories. Thus, in the whole race I will consume something like 1700-2000 calories. I will also have plenty of gummy worms to snack on throughout the bike which could get me another couple hundred calories.

    • I believe they were something like: 1:15 on the swim, 4:56 on the bike, 3:53 on the run. And somewhere around 10 minutes in transition. It was my third triathlon, so I was just in it to finish! And even being able to do that I was uncertain of around mile 20 of that run…

  3. Lionel, great read as always. I find your take on biking/running numbers and your training/racing strategies quite interesting and inspiring. I would love to read more about your swimming (!) and, like the other two comments above, about your nutrition strategy, especially if you’re gearing it at speeding your recovery between training sessions and races.

    • Thanks Hélèn. I am planning on joining a swim club after Ironman Florida. I hope to have a lot more to say about swimming then. It looks like there is a lot of interest in nutrition. I will do a post about this very soon…though I think it’s going to be very underwhelming as I pretty much just eat anything and everything!

      • Just have to say that I will be very interested in reading about what you learn from the swim club. I live in rural Alberta and have no access to a swim club or any coaching, and I only get to lane swim for 1 hour twice a week. in the two years that I have been doing triathlons I have managed to get my 750m PB from about 15:00 to 12:08. All of that improvement is from watching youtube videos on technique (and of course getting in shape along the way). The lessons you learn through the club could be very valuable info for me too!

  4. Thanks Lionel, I truly enjoy reading your blog as I learn so much. I have done a half but not a full Ironman and have wondered about the differences. You write very well and I appreciate this entry on the broader training aspects, although yes, I also like numbers and data haha! (I think that’s a given triathlete thing). Happy training! Tanya

  5. Hi Lionel,
    I am following/reading you since you won in Muskoka 2013 (I was on that race too).
    I am just very impressed on how you were able to change your life, from your past life to the new one as a world class athlete in only a couple of years (are you a human ? 😉 ).
    I am very lucky to live in Montreal, QC because it allows me to go on the same races than you. Next time I will introduce mysef to you !
    Just one thing : Why a DNS in Montreal marathon ? I was so CURIOUS to see what time you could run on a pure marathon !!!

    Many thanks


    • Thanks for the kind words Sacha. The reason I didn’t do Montreal Marathon is that I think it was too much risk with very little to be gained. Running on pavement is very stressful on the body. As well, I would have had difficulty holding myself back if there was a group going around 2:18-2:20 (which the winner ended up going), and I have no idea what sort of shape I would be in after running (or trying to run) this sort of time. I decided instead to do some longer brick workouts, and run a few marathons in practice on the treadmill, at a pace nearer to the one I will run at in Florida. Today for instance, my run workout was 26.5 miles.

      I look forward to meeting you. Thanks for reading and following along.

  6. Great post as usual Lionel!

    It was awesome following your progress in the season. Your bike numbers are insane and a lot of pro’s I see output 310-320 at HIM power where you are trying this at IM power. How did you become so strong on the bike?

    Did you have a strong baseline already or did you work through the years to get to your FTP? Is there a particular workout on the bike you noticed is more efficient for you? Thanks again!

  7. I was just gonna say “write about anything, and I’ll read it”, so thanks to you and the other posters for all of the interesting q’s and a’s 🙂 Really enjoying watching your progress.

  8. Lionel – do you have a coach you work with for structuring your schedule and training? I would love to hear your thoughts on coached vs. self coached athletes and the pros/cons of both sides!

    • Thanks for the comment man. For the most part I write all of my own training, without any input from anyone else. I have received instruction in the past on various aspects of training i.e. the systems that exist, durations to tax them, etc. but once I acquired a bit of that knowledge, I had the tools to begin formulating a scientifically informed training schedule. But, I still receive lots of coaching in the sense of race strategy, season planning, support during workouts, sponsorship planning, etc. I will definitely do a post on this topic in the coming weeks.

  9. I’m torn on your thoughts about training to run on tired legs. My concern is that if I’m doing long run workouts right after a long bike that I am compromising the training benefits of each individual workout. I may not be appropriately allowing my bike legs to recover from the workout and my run workout benefit is reduced due to fatigue and increasingly degrading form. I would think improving your overall fitness by focusing on individual workouts would be more beneficial then putting yourself through increasingly demanding bricks. I’m in no way qualified to give training advice but I’m just curious about your thoughts on this.

    Good luck in Florida!!

    • Hey Ian. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend everyone doing all their run workouts on tired legs. I think everyone is unique. If you can handle doing your run workouts, on tired bike legs, then I would utiltize this technique. If you can’t, then I wouldn’t. But, that’s not to say at some point you might be able to. In the beginning you could start with short rides in the morning (1 hour with some accelerations or something) and then do your run workout a few hours after. Slowly increasing that morning ride until you are able to do a full bike workout in the morning and full run workout in the evening. The reality is that our sport is not “running” but “running off the bike.” The more this can become second nature for you, the better.

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