26 Mar Q & A with Coach Shem – Run Training for IRONMAN
Q: When you train for an half/full ironman, once a week you are supposed to do a long run. How exactly will you approach it?
By and large, a weekly long run is part of every endurance athletes training. But the nature of this long run has moved on from the typical Long Slow Distance runs favoured by runners. Many factors are considered before building a long run for an athlete.
1) What kind of aerobic condition is the athlete in?
- If a beginner athlete is stepping up to a new race distance, from OD to Half IM or from a Half IM to a Full, then yes, generally this athlete needs to get used to spending more time on their feet to get a feel for the challenges of race day.
- But if the athlete has maintains a certain degree of fitness (the more experienced Half and Full IM campaigner) and can comfortably complete the race distance any day of the week, then a more structured and shorter long run can be used to target that athlete’s tolerance – their ability to hang in there – to prepare them for a harder run on race day.
Something like 40 x 400m with 30 sec rest works out to be a 16km run (excluding the warm up and cool down) but because it is broken up, that athlete learns how to hold a higher effort level for a longer time. Mentally, as well, this sort of session teaches them to put their fear aside and simply deal with the highs and lows as it unfolds.
2) How consistent is this athlete in their training?
- If this athlete is able to train like clockwork, getting all sessions in, then it may be a good idea to alternate their long runs every fortnight. For example Week A) can be 90 mins in total with some 10 min hard intervals at the end while Week B) can be 2 hours all easy. This will allow them to work on raw endurance and squeeze in some quality Tolerance work at the same time.
- But if for whatever reason, the athlete sometimes is not able to get the long run in, then it is better to them repeat the same long run every week so that if they miss a week, they will likely get it done the next week.
Of course it is also important to get a feel for that athlete’s appetite for training. How much can they handle? How much recovery they need? How much time can they have available for training? Issues like life/ training/ family/ work balance come into play.
Another point to highlight is that, for the typical age grouper, the approach to the long run for a Half and a Full Ironman is quite different. At the half IM distance, your long runs should approach the actual race distance (21km) and therefore your long can actually mimic how you want to put your run together on the day. Just be cautious not to dig too deep in mimicking race day because you want to stay a little fresher to preserve yourself for the next day’s session. This is how to stay consistent on your plan. Whereas on race day – you’re aiming to destroy yourself!
The Full Ironman it’s a different story because the recovery needed from doing anything close to race distance on a weekly basis is way too much and you would spend the 1st half of the next week on the couch. It’s very different from marathon training where, because you are only training for one discipline, you have the ‘luxury of days off , recovery runs and so on.
The idea for the Ironman long training run is to get your body and mind to a place where they can come to the conclusion that that “Yes – I am confident that I can keep running at this effort level, and if I am attentive to nutrition, I will be able to complete the run well.” The mentality headed into an Ironman run is closer to “just hopping off the bike for a long easy run” as opposed to, “Race pace is X:XX mins/ km and I am going to hold that for 42km or die trying”
Q: Every week longer?
I prefer to set 6 – 8 week blocks of training where each week you are doing the same or very similar sessions. Removing as many variables as possible, allows the athlete to gauge their fatigue levels better, nail their perceived effort levels, notice their own progression and adaptation and generally figure out what works best for them.
Q: Negative split?
Negative split is a sound idea because it reinforces a good pacing strategy for race day. I like to structure the long run so that the EFFORT is negative split so that last 1/3 is tough. This can be done in many ways, the simplest being to increase the effort level every 1/3. So a 90 mins run can be broken up as 30 mins easy/ 30 mins mod/ 30 mins hard. This forces the athlete to run conservatively at the start so they can finish strong.
Q: How long?
Again it depends on the factors that I mentioned in the 1st part of my reply. But as a Rule of Thumb, I usually set my Half Ironman athletes 90 – 120 min long runs building in some efforts at the end. This is performed in their final phase of training as they get race specific.
Athletes preparing for an Ironman can do upto 160mins.