CONQUER YOUR IM RUN
It’s one of the toughest challenges in triathlon. Here’s the essential training and pacing advice you need to succeed
Make sure your marathon doesn’t let you down.
If youʼre training for an Ironman or just harbouring the notion that you might do one in the future, the advice in this feature is essential reading. An Ironman run is like nothing else youʼll ever encounter in triathlon.
The first thing to get your head around is just how tired youʼll be before you even start, having swam and cycled for anything from five to 12 hours beforehand. Even if you paced the swim and bike sections sensibly, the best you can hope for is that youʼll feel drained of energy by the time you start running.
The next thing to consider is how slowly youʼll be going – most likely slower than youʼll ever run in training. Even if youʼre heading for a great Ironman run split by your own standards, youʼll still be travelling at a relative snailʼs pace. Ironman success simply involves running slowly without stopping.
During an Ironman run youʼll experience a lot, both physically and mentally. Even on a good day, you can expect your feet to hurt, your guts to feel bad and your skin to rub. Chances are that youʼll want to laugh and cry at various points along the way.
Here, weʼll arm you with all the information you need to perform at your best. Whether youʼve entered one already or itʼs just a distant pipe dream, you should cut out this feature and keep hold of it. It could bring you great success and save you a lot of suffering at some point in the future.
The Perfect Ironman Run Pace
Pacing is everything in endurance running. There is one particular study that illustrates this point clearly. It was conducted on athletes who competed in
one of the world’s most challenging ultra-marathons, the Tor des Geants in Italy. This event involves running 200 miles over mountains, taking in more than 24,000 metres of elevation change. The researchers compared these runners with another group who’d taken part in a shorter Alpine ultra-marathon, a mere 103 miles in length.
It may sound counterintuitive, but their findings showed that runners in the longer race had lower levels of muscle damage and inflammation, despite the fact that they ran almost twice the distance as those in the shorter event. The researchers were led to conclude this: “Such extreme exercise seems to induce a relative muscle preservation process, due likely to a protective anticipatory pacing strategy during the first half.”
How does this help you? Well, it implies that the athletes in the longer event paced it more carefully from the start, compared to those doing the shorter event. And that even with distances of 100 miles and 200 miles, small differences in exercise intensity can make a big difference to your muscle fatigue levels.
So bearing that in mind, hereʼs how to set yourself a realistic Ironman run pacing plan, using three different measures...
1Your Ironman Run Heart Rate You should start your Ironman run at 65 to 70 per cent of your maximal heart rate. For example, if your max heart rate is 170 beats per minute, start running at 110-120 beats. Sounds easy right? Keep this up until halfway and then you can increase your pace slightly if you feel fresh enough. The chances are that you won’t.
2Your Ironman Run Perceived Exertion Based on your perceived exertion, your Ironman race pace should feel like a 2 or 2.5 out of 10 on the intensity scale with 10 being your all-out maximal effort. On a good day this might be described as an “easy” pace.
3Your Ironman Run Pace You can work out your Ironman run pace using the Jack Danielsʼ VDOT system, which enables you to estimate your VO2 max based on your recent best times for distances such as 3km, 5km and 10km. Jack Daniels is a well-known running coach and you can use his method to calculate your own VDOT score here: runbayou.com/jackd.htm
Once youʼve done this, you simply need to remember that your Ironman pace should equate to 60 to 65 per cent of your VDOT running pace. Just make sure you base your pace on real results from a 3km, 5km or 10km done in the last eight weeks. Do not guess at your current form, unless you want your Ironman run to go badly.
Ironman Run Tips
• Use all three of the methods above (heart rate, feel and perceived exertion) as none of them are completely reliable in isolation. There are many variables that can affect each one, so using all three helps to guarantee success. • The risk of starting too fast is far greater than the risk of starting too slow. You can always increase your intensity at the half-way point if you feel great. Whereas if you go too hard from the start and subsequently blow up, youʼll never recover that lost time. • Your Ironman run pace will be determined by how hard you went in the bike and swim sections, as well as your nutritional strategy. If you cycle too fast you will struggle to run the entire marathon. If you pace the bike section intelligently and get your nutrition right, the chances are you’ll run well. • The longer you anticipate youʼll take to complete an Ironman, the lower your intensity should be. For example, if you think youʼll take 15 or 16 hours in total, you should aim for the lowest possible end of the pace, heart rate and perceived exertion suggestions above.
Two Key Ironman Run Training Workouts
Aerobic Endurance Run This is a long run at an easy pace lasting from 60 minutes to 2 hours 30 minutes in duration. The idea of these workouts is to train your body to a level where you can routinely handle long runs and recover fully within 48 hours. You should do these runs three times per month with at least seven days’ gap between each one. The duration of this run should build up over a 20- or 24-week period, starting with a one-hour run and progressing over a period of months until you can comfortably manage 2 hours 30 minutes. Do not be tempted to run for longer than this. Two hours and 30 minutes is a threshold beyond which the training benefits are often outweighed by the negative effects of fatigue and potential injury. Aerobic Speed Sessions If you want to run a faster Ironman marathon, these are the bread-and-butter speed sessions that will help you get there. Do one of these workouts every seven days. They involve fast repetitions with relatively short rests. Keep the volume of your main set to around 5km and your pace at around your best for 3km. Start with short repetitions and build the length of time you run at this pace. Include a 15-minute warm up and a five-minute warm down. Here are some examples of how to progress your main sets: • Session 1: 2x(10x200m) with 20secs rest between reps and 4mins rest between the two sets. • Session 2: 3x(5x300m) with 45secs rest between reps and 4mins rest between the three sets. • Session 3: 2x(6x400m) with 60secs rest between reps and 3mins rest between the two sets. • Session 4: 12x400m with 1minute rests.