Today’s fastest female pros share their tips for a sub-three hour Ironman marathon.
Once thought to be a superhuman benchmark, a sub-three Ironman marathon is quickly becoming the new standard for the female pros of today’s racing scene.
It’s not an easy process, say Mirinda Carfrae, Caitlin Snow and Kelly Williamson, current female pros in the Sub-3 Club. However, there are training tips and tricks that have proven valuable to the development of a fast run.
Make Friends With The Marathon
In May 2014, Kelly Williamson ran a blistering 2:54:46 marathon en route to her first Ironman win at Texas. Only two years prior, Williamson saw the distance as “daunting.” Her breakthroughs came after not only accepting, but “mentally embracing” the marathon.
“As my body has been able to handle it, we have increased the long runs to 22-24 miles and I have come to not only respect but embrace that distance; especially the back half. I think that was really important in that I executed a lot of control over the first half, knowing that I had the strength to finish it out.”
Consistency Is Key
“I have been fortunate enough to have raced for 13 years without injury,” says Carfrae, who currently holds the record for the fastest women’s marathon (2:50:38) at the Ironman World Championship. “This is one of the main reasons I am able to run the way I do—the years upon years of work just adds up.”
Build A Better Bike Leg
Many triathletes make the mistake of running more when they should be focusing on what comes before the run, says Snow, who clocks sub-three Ironman marathons with regularity.
“Having the durability to ride well—at a steady intensity, versus spiking power and ‘burning matches—over 112 miles allows me to come off the bike with relatively fresh legs. This, in turn, allows me to run a marathon at a steady pace with minimal breakdown.”
“Make sure you take on as much fuel as you can when you are riding. It’s much easier to process food while cycling than it is while running,” says Carfrae. “The goal is to hop off the bike with as little deficit as possible so that you can focus more on running and not catching up on what you have already lost.”
Snow agrees: “I have a fueling plan that works very well for me. I consume a good amount of carbohydrates, sodium and fluid on the bike. Coming into the run well ‘stocked’ means that I simply need to maintain my fuel and hydration stores enough to get me through the next few hours. This keeps me from bonking and/or having to stop/slow due to digestive distress on the run. The side of the road and the porta-potty aren’t fast places to be!”
Don’t Skip The Brick
Even if you’re tired, hungry, and would rather hit the showers, don’t eighty-six your brick runs.
“Run off the bike as often as possible, even if it’s just a mile or two,” says Carfrae. “This just gets your body used switching to running mode post bike. The more you do it, the better and more comfortably you will feel running off the bike.”
Keep The Tempo
Williamson credits tempo runs as a critical element of training: “This is something that we [husband & coach Derick] never get too far away from. It may be 3×3 miles or it could be as simple as a negative split 7 mile run, but we’re always in touch with pushing challenging paces based on the current fitness level, for sustained periods of time. We like to sprinkle in the fun set of 400s in prep for a race, but ‘tempo efforts’ in some facet are never ignored.”
On race day, you’ll be digging deep in the final miles. Williamson suggests simulating that same feeling in your training with fast-finish runs:
“Anything from a 17 miler to a 23 miler, I always try to finish them with a few miles at just about fastest sustainable/manageable pace by that point. While some days it’s faster than others, it forces me to work harder when I’m fatigued.”