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Race Tips

Tim O’Donnell’s 70.3-Winning Run Tips

Plus, the fast-running American shares his favorite workouts and training music.

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Coming off his win at Ironman 70.3 San Juan in March, American Tim O’Donnell (T.O.) took on a tough field to win Ironman 70.3 Texas in Galveston only two weeks later. He managed to race his way from fourth off the bike to first with strong run fitness and a strategy he calls “a little bit of a card game.” Two other factors that helped his recent win:

1. Getting fit at the right time. At the same time last year, O’Donnell was getting ready for his Ironman debut in Texas, so he was doing big volume (read: 23-mile runs) and high intensity. “This year I wanted to take my time building into the year and not try to get too fit too quickly,” O’Donnell says. “You need to save some of that energy for when you need to dig for the race. I’ve toned it back and am doing training blocks at the right time, and hopefully have a bit more fight in me for race day.”

2. Staying focused late in the race. O’Donnell went into Galveston with a specific race plan for the run. Luckily, leader German Sebastian Kienle played into that plan, allowing O’Donnell to surge when he needed to and hold his pace through the finish. “Once I went, it was just a matter of not looking back and focusing on the really simple things: high cadence, good forward lean. You rely on those fundamental things to keep you going.”

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Steal his workouts:

2x(3000, 2000, 1000) with 60 seconds’ rest between each: “I started doing my intervals with a little less rest, and I think that really helped me be strong at the end. For these intervals, you may not quite have the top-end speed, but strength is so important, plus that pace and muscle memory.” He does these intervals as 3K at 3:20 pace (ideal 70.3 pace), 2K at 3:10 pace (ideal Olympic pace) and 1K at 3:00 pace (slightly faster than Olympic pace).

Long build runs: Work in a negative overall split for your long runs. O’Donnell recently did this for a run of 1:50: 40 min warm-up, 60 min as 20 mins at 6:15, 20 min at 6:00, 20 min at 5:40 and 10 min cool-down. O’Donnell averages approximately 6:30 min/mile for an Ironman marathon, so scale the pace of your build runs according to your own fitness level.

Treadmill speed sessions: O’Donnell says he’ll do at least one or two treadmill runs per week, often alongside his girlfriend, 2010 Ironman world champion Mirinda Carfrae. “The treadmill is good to dial in your pace, and you can stay on top of your cadence,” he says. “I always run at 1 percent incline to help mimic the actual pace if you’re running outside with wind resistance.”

45–60-minute spin before a long run: “Running off the bike is important, but it’s especially important as you’re developing in your career,” O’Donnell says. For two years, he would do every run off the bike, “even if it was a 45–60-minute spin on rollers before my long run.” Nowadays he runs off the bike at least twice a week, typically Thursday and Saturday. He also does a long on Sunday, after a long bike on Saturday “so the fatigue is still in your legs.”

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Steal his jam:

O’Donnell says he’s “all about” his iPod, especially while running on the treadmill. A recent playlist addition came from his friend and fellow pro Greg Bennett: “Greg told me the best song to run to is Neil Diamond’s ‘Cherry, Cherry.’ I’m like, ‘All right Greg, I’ll take your word for it’—and it’s just the perfect tempo to run to.”