Does your training fit the demands of the race?
Many triathlon coaches who have either won or coached winners of the Hawaii Ironman—Dave Scott, Siri Lindley and Brett Sutton, to name a few—believe it’s essential to inject periodic doses of speed into their long-course athletes’ training programs. “You never want to lose that top end,” says Scott. “A lot of people [who eliminate intensity] say, ‘Well I’m going from Olympic-distance training to Ironman training,’ and, especially with the amateurs, every time I hear that I cringe because they think it’s a license to go slow. They just think, ‘I’ve got to put in more miles and I’m going to be a better athlete.’ And on the contrary, they end up going slower because they don’t innervate those fast-twitch muscle fibers and they lose their top end.”
Keeping those fast-twitch fibers working is important because it helps to delay the fatigue that sets into your slow-twitch fibers during the later stages of a long-course race. But you can’t just do speed work and expect to have a great Ironman. The bulk of your training needs to fit the demands of a long-course race. And the best way to get in that aerobic training without risking injury is with long hours in the saddle and moderately paced runs. Kropelnicki’s athletes, even his fastest Ironman pros, do no running speed work and keep all of their runs in the aerobic range. “Any intensity is applied on the bike or in the water,” he says. “It’s pretty much zero intensity on the run.” Athletes often believe frequent fast running sessions will set them up for a fast run off the bike in an Ironman, contends Kropelnicki, but more often than not that leads to injury. “They’re not patient enough to develop a robust aerobic system, which at the end of the day is the energy system they’re going to use on race day. So they try to rush it with intensity sessions that put them on the couch.”