February 27, 2009

My run sucks! An Ironman perspective.

running slow...

running slow...

Most athletes competing in Ironman South Africa are going through a fear of the run phase right now. In fact, I bet about 80% of them are. I know they each feel their problem is unique, but it isnt. I get asked alot about my run philisophy and even managed to have an argument with someone this week about it. So I thought to put it out there. To show how I went from a 3:34 runner to a 3:15 in the space of about 4 months. That first jump when you do things right is huge, and I am hoping to improve 5-10min this entire year, but this is how I intend doing it.

blurbs and extracts from Gordo, Friel & my own experiences.

Run Training

Training for the run leg of an ironman-distance race is very different from traditional marathon training. A review of the run splits at any long course race will show that most athletes are operating far, far below their open run fitness. In fact, most athletes average in-race paces that are slower than their ‘easy’ run pace in training.

What I always try and consider:

1. How fast is the athlete going to be running in the race?

2. What are the requirements of being able to run that fast?

3. What are the things that can prevent the athlete from being able to run that fast?

4. Is the athlete’s program adequately addressing the above points?

What are the key factors that can derail an athlete’s run leg?

1. Cramps

2. Poor race nutrition

3. Attitude

4. Improper race hydration

5. Weak pacing

6. Equipment problems (inappropriate bike position, uncomfortable clothes, poor shoe selection)
7. Straight up fatigue

The two main reasons for marathon problems are improper early race pacing and an overall endurance limiter. Outstanding run splits are achieved by a training protocol, and race strategy, that keeps the following in mind:

1. durability dominates speed – this is most effectively built through high frequency running (running very often, more than running very fast or running very long); you guys are all running4-5 days a week (or supposed to be doing that). Even if its 20min in a day, its frequency that counts.

2. outstanding race specific cycling muscular endurance is required to enable an athlete to access their existing run fitness – “race specific” is important to bear in mind – we are seeking to create superior muscular endurance across 112 miles, not sprint- or Olympic-distance racing; So its not about the run? DAMN RIGHT.

3. athletes will be running a marathon when fatigued – run training must prepare the athlete’s body for running a marathon with tired legs BUT shelling our athletes with killer runs after long rides (mega bricks) will most often lead to biomechanical breakdown and injury; In your taper you will be doing a brick every 72 hours, and I will have you running on tired legs to get the body used to that. But more on that next week…

4. sane race pacing – swim and bike leg pacing must be guided by effort and based on a realistic view of an athlete’s current fitness level. Experienced athletes that have disappointing run splits should slow their first two race legs until they are able to run in line with training performance. This requires a level of humility and maturity that many athletes will never achieve. The performance benefits of moving well at the end of a race are significant – most importantly in terms of pain tolerance and mental toughness.

A well paced ironman-distance race will nearly always be characterized by the athlete reporting that they could have ridden harder.

Bear in mind that the purpose of the taper/freshening/peak period is to enable the athlete to run a marathon after a sane bike leg, not to enable bike performance above that which was achieved in training.

Given that most athletes come to me with sufficient ‘speed’ to achieve their run goals, the optimal training protocol will give them the overall endurance, durability and mental toughness to hold an ‘easy’ training pace on race day.

So what’s the optimal protocol? I like to keep it simple:

1. frequency – gradually, safely, build running frequency – this will take many seasons;

2. nutritional quality – give your athletes the knowledge and emotional support to address their 3. personal nutritional limiters. Encourage them to nurture themselves with high quality fuel for superior performance.

4. hills – perform the bulk of long runs in rolling hills to build all around leg strength.

5. steady-state flat running – insert blocks of steady flat running into the week – most athletes will only have the time and ability to handle one or two of these sessions. (i.e. strides)

6. get tired the right way – remember the keys to a superior run leg – generate the bulk of training fatigue from the sessions that most directly impact overall race performance. (bike sessions and the long run)

Once the athlete is coping with their run frequency and the rest of their training plan, you can creep the overall steady-state running volume up.

If there was any doubt to why you are all biking so well…… this is why! At the moment all my athletes are complaining that they feel slow on the run, and super fast on the bike.

Its not about the run, in essence. Its why your training runs feel slow. They are slow. On raceday, you will be able to hold that pace after a “easy” bike. That “slow” pace is a freaking good Ironman pace.

If I have to use my own example, I have to run 4:45/km to run 3:10-3:15 on raceday. 4:45/km for me is super slow when I am fit. But on raceday I am flying at that pace. I feel like superman and everyone around me is slower. I have to slow myself down for the first 14km, then its easy to run the right speed for the next 14km, and the last 14km its stupid hard work to get to that pace. My HR is sky high and I am running in essence, quite slowly.

Work is out:

3:45 marathon is 5min21 per km

4:00 marathon is 5min43 per km

4:30 marathon is 6min25 per km

5:00 marathon is 7min09 per km

Choose your pace and work out on your runs how that feels… in the next few weeks you should be running that pace in training. It should feel stupid easy. But remember, thats about as FAST as you can run in the last 12km on raceday, guaranteed.

mad love.

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