There are many opinions floating around out there about age-group ironman triathletes and run training strategy they should use when preparing for an Ironman Triathlon.
How a triathlete run-trains for an Ironman should be dictated by what the ultimate goal is on race-day.
There is a huge difference between just wanting to reach the finish line in any way possible regardless of your finish time or trying to record your fastest possible finish time.
For instance, if you are trying for a top placing in your age-category in order to win a ticket to the big show in Kona.
Here are two options that each have merit in their own right.
AEROBIC RUN-TRAINING FOR THE IRONMAN TRIATHLON MARATHON
There is no doubt that aerobic training is the key to building a sound endurance base that will pay huge benefits on Ironman race-day.
Back in the late 1970’s when marathoners were the Kings of endurance sport and the Ironman Triathlon was just being born, LSD training(Long, Slow Distance) was the preferred method of training for a marathon.
When I first started running in 1976 I joined the local Road Runners Club and they were for the most part hard-core distance runners and the club was quite small as running was still a few years away from taking the world by storm and becoming mainstream.
These guys would run at a pedestrian pace of about a 9:00-9:30 minute mile but they would run for hours. They taught me that building endurance is like earning interest on a savings account. It builds up over the years.
You simply cannot rush your way into building an endurance base.
For the majority of age-group Ironman triathletes, LSD running still makes the most sense as opposed to anaerobic speed work.
This is a quote from Craig Alexander’s coach….
If I were to pull most athletes aside at mile 20 of the marathon portion of an Ironman, I doubt they are going to tell me that they wish they’d done more speed work.
One thing to note here is that he says MOST and that’s important because as I mentioned, for the majority of age-group athletes strictly aerobic training is the best way to go…..but not all.
ANAEROBIC RUN TRAINING FOR THE IRONMAN TRIATHLON
It’s no secret that Craig Alexander does a lot of LSD running. However for the most part that is probably his preferred method of running between much more demanding anaerobic training sessions.
By incorporating sessions of slow aerobic running between bouts of intense training he can get in the run-mileage without over-stressing his body.
There is no way in the world he would be almost unbeatable out on the Ironman marathon course if all he did was run at a 9-minute mile pace in training without ever incorporating anaerobic training into the mix.
It is no different for the age-group athlete who wants to run at a faster sustained pace for the Ironman marathon. Chances are you will implode somewhere before the half-way mark of the marathon if your race-pace exceeds your aerobic LSD training regimen.
Let me give you two examples from personal experience as an age-group marathoner and Ironman.
One year I decided that I would run farther in my run training than I ever had in my life and hopefully equate it into running my fastest ever marathon.
So over 16 weeks I kept building up my weekly running distance until I topped out at just over 150 miles a week. I was working full-time and had to do “two-a-day training” in order to get that mileage in.
On the weekends I was eventually running 90-minutes in the morning and five hours in late afternoon. It was 100% aerobic running at around a 8:45-9:00 minute pace.
So I took that mega LSD training to the Las Vegas Marathon back when they bused you 26.2 miles into the desert and you had to run back to town.
I felt great and when the gun sounded I took off like I was shot out of that gun.
At the 10k mark I was just under 38-minutes and I didn’t know it at the time, but I was already in big trouble.
Here I had trained at an average 9-minute mile and was on pace for a 2:40 something marathon that was way over my head considering the fastest I had ever gone was 2:54.
I hit the wall around the 19-mile mark and struggled to finish in 3:04.
In hindsight it was clear that I was asking a lot of my body to run 6:35-6:40 minute miles for 26.2 miles when I did all my training at a 9-minute mile.
If Craig Alexanders coach had pulled me over at the 19-mile mark I for sure would have said I wish I had done more speed work.
I learned a lot from that experiment. I learned that if I wanted to run fast in a race there better be some fast run-training in the mix.
The next year it was 12 weeks before Ironman Canada 1992 and I was not entering the race to finish, but rather to post my fastest time possible.
At that 12-week mark I began running one mile repeats once a week every week for the next 8 weeks.
I started with 6 of them and increased it by one mile every week so by week 8 I did 13 one-mile repeats. This was in addition to my regular swim, bike, and aerobic run training.
The rest interval was based on how fast I finished the mile as I was leaving on the seven-minute mark. So in other words, if the mile took me 6:45 I had a rest of 15 seconds before beginning the next one.
I had a 25-year endurance base going in and was running sub-36 minute 10k races at the time so I knew I could sustain that pace. It would be a different pace for everyone depending of their goals and level of ability.
I always made a point of running the last mile repeat of the session at a sub 6-minute pace just as psychological reassurance that I had more left in the tank.
On the eighth week I ran 13 repeats on 7 minutes with the last one in 5:50.
At the end of the eight weeks I began my four week taper into Ironman Canada.
My reasoning was that if I could sustain a 7-minute mile pace for those one mile repeats than perhaps I could maintain 8:15-8:20 miles in the Ironman marathon and that’s exactly what happened.
My marathon time was 3:34 and it was fast enough to qualify me for Kona in my age-group.
I believe adding that anaerobic training regimen into the last few months of training must have impacted my over-all conditioning far beyond what I expected because my swim, bike, marathon and finish time that year were all personal bests.
Oddly enough, after my fastest Ironman finish ever, I had the fastest and most pain-free recovery I had ever had.
The message was loud and clear.
If you plan on running fast in the Ironman Marathon you will be far more successful if you mix in some anaerobic speed-work with your aerobic run-training.
If your goal is to just survive the Ironman, than you really don’t need to be doing speed training and LSD running will get you to the Ironman Triathlon finish line just fine on it’s own.