5 Incorrect Assumptions People Make About Training for an Ironman

By Steven Moody

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As a qualified coach (and spending half of my time either in Lycra or Ironman-branded gear) it invariably comes up in conversations with “normal” people about the absurdity to the type of training and races I do.

One of the more consistent responses in these conversations is somebody explaining to me how much they would love to (but could never!) do an Ironman race.

I used to just nod in agreement, but as I built my coaching expertise, I found myself challenging people’s standard assumptions people made about why they personally couldn’t achieve what I’ve helped others achieve for years.

In my experience, their reasons for not being able to take on an Ironman normally fall into one of these five categories:

Reason 1: “I am too old/big/slow/tall/short to do an Ironman.”

Have you ever watched an Ironman in person? And by in person, I specifically mean not watching on TV where the cameras zone in on the chiselled pros battling it out at the pointy end of the race. Because if you have you will have witnessed athletes of all ages, shapes and sizes racing on the exact same course as the professionals.

Ironman is a very personal journey, and people will have different race strategies and goals on the day. These can range from just finishing to qualifying for the world championship—my point is there are no physical barriers to doing an Ironman, if you are willing to really chase that goal.

I always push the fact that people should see a race in person; at a minimum you will be uplifted by the strength of human spirit and more than likely be inspired to take on a challenge of your own.

Reason 2: “Oh I would never have the time for Ironman training.”

Typically when people say this to me, I conversationally ask them what TV programs they watch or how much time they spend on social media. When we go through the list—it can add up to around 10 hours a week! That huge chunk of wasted time is where I tell them I “find” the time for myself and my athletes. It was actually there all along.

So essentially it is a question of priorities—we can find time if we want to—it is up to you if you choose it to be on the couch watching Game of Thrones or out on in the fresh air preparing yourself for an epic challenge.

(it’s worth noting I am a massive Game of Thrones fan—but I tend to watch it on my turbo!)

Reason 3: “I would not know where to start.”

When I hear this, I ask what the person does for a living. The breadth of answers always fascinates me. Firemen, teachers, bankers etc. Digging a little deeper, I ask if they have ever faced a scenario at work where they needed to reach out to experts, and without fail, the response is always yes.

I ask them why is this different to approaching an Ironman challenge. I tell them that they should look for someone who has completed an Ironman and ask them how they went about it and start their research there.

Better still, if they seem really serious, they should seek out a plan or a qualified coach to help guide them on their journey.

WARNING: Asking a recent first time finisher can turn into quite the monologue as they eagerly share every detail of their journey including weight loss stats, epic cycles and inevitably the feeling of accomplishment as they turned onto the finishing chute.

Reason 4: “I would love to if only I could swim!”

When was the last time you were in a pool? When I ask people that, their minds typically drift back to the last holiday where they splashed around in the sunshine. So having established that they can actually swim, I ask whether they have ever had their stroke analysed or taken swim lessons.

For novice swimmers, simply fixing a few key elements from stroke analysis and/or lessons can make huge leaps forward in their swimming ability.

As a coach swimming is one of my favourite disciplines to teach/monitor as there are always lots of low hanging fruit that will help the athletes’ confidence and ability soar to the point that they are chomping at the bit to tackle that 3.8km swim!

Reason 5: “I have never even run a marathon.”

When people ask this I usually respond by asking them if they’ve ever swam 3.8km or ridden 180km. Typically, their answer is “never.”

People fixate too much on the marathon element of the Ironman, I believe this is mainly as it a more tangible event that they can get their head around!

However, in the Ironman world, as I tell my first timers, it is just a long run at the end of a long day.

It is not necessary to have completed a marathon before an Ironman. It can help —but not as much as people think.

Even in my training plans, I typically do not let my athletes exceed 26km in the longest runs they will do. The body can only take so much mileage. It is all about training smart and building slowly.

If you train and prepare properly, you will be amazed at what your body can do on the day boosted by adrenaline and thousands of cheering spectators!

No more excuses!

In conclusion, unless someone explicitly says they have either no interest in taking on such a challenge that is a half or full Ironman, I can easily dismantle the barriers they are putting in front of themselves.

So if you have ever watched an Ironman race or jealously viewed a club mates finisher medal, I would urge you to challenge your own limitations.

Steven is Ironman University and Triathlon Ireland certified and specializes in helping time crunched athletes realize their goals.

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3 Things Triathletes Need to Do in their Off-Season – To Get Better Results Next Year

by Ben Griffin

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At the end of any key race many triathletes are lost as to what they should be doing regarding their own training. Whilst the months prior have been filled with many long, hard swim, bike and run sessions, there is now a gaping void to fill and often it is hard to know what to do with all those extra hours.

I find most athletes are aware that the body needs a break at this stage, but I find many athletes are not sure exactly how they should best utilize this down time.

If you are someone who isn’t necessarily concerned with performance, then the off-season should be used to enjoy yourself and take a break from training and racing. It is great to start socializing with friends who you most likely haven’t been able to catch up with as regularly as you’d like. It is also a great opportunity to undertake any different challenges or off-season sports that you haven’t had as much time for.

However, if you are committed to improvement and want to maximize your training during the off-season so that you are ready for some PB’s next season, then you need a specific and targeted approach to your own training.

Here are the three most important things you should focus on in order to head into next season with that extra performance edge:

Get strong

Whilst strength training is slowly gaining traction with endurance athletes it still seems many athletes are reluctant to incorporate this type of training into their own regimen at the expense of another swim, bike or run session.

A strength training program for an endurance athlete is very different to typical strength routines that power athletes most associate with strength programs. Therefore, make sure your strength program is reflective of your own individual needs.

One thing I regularly say to athletes is that you rarely slowdown in an Ironman because you are out of breath, you usually slow down because your musculo-skeletal system starts to fatigue and break down, so getting in the gym will help resolve this and build your durability.

2. Work on your weaknesses

I regularly hear athletes say they are determined to work on their “weakness” during the off-season, which I agree with. However, when the grind of doing something that is harder and typically less enjoyable than other disciplines hits home many athletes find it hard to stick it out and instead revert to doing the things they enjoy more and are better at.

There is nothing wrong with doing this however, if you look at your opportunity for improvement, you will usually find the biggest scope for improvement comes in your weakest and least enjoyable discipline, so stick it out and be patient. Remember Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Patience and consistency will be rewarded! Don’t be worried if your stronger disciplines suffer a little bit, sometimes you must go backward to go forward again. Your strength will usually always be your strength, so relax and know that the form will come back when you reintroduce that discipline back into your training.

3. Critically analyze your previous race season

This is one of my biggest issues; when I see athletes fail to understand why a race didn’t go as intended. While it also very important to analyze your good race days, I find bad race days (while super frustrating) usually provide the biggest opportunity for education.

Probably the biggest and most frustrating issues I see are when athletes blame nutrition for a poor run performance, when really it was because a lack of run conditioning. Or when an athlete falls away during the back end of an Iroman ride, which they will put down to a tight back or some other pathology, but really it was because they did most of their riding in a group and didn’t spend the necessary time in the TT position honing their skills.

Be sure to be honest with yourself about your performance, because sometimes nutrition and/or a tight back are legitimate reasons why your race didn’t go to plan. This usually means checking your ego at the door before you analyze the performance.

For most of us athletes the sport is not our livelihood, therefore it is also important to reinvest your time and energy back into work, family and friends, all of which have usually had to make some sacrifices over the final few months to support your training and racing. Remember to make these people the priority again before you focus on improving your own performance next year.

 

About Ben Griffin – Ben is an exercise physiologist and coach with Craig Alexander’s Sansego Coaching Team. He is a 14-time IRONMAN finisher (PB of 9:15) and enjoys helping both age-group and professional athletes reach their goals.

Master These 7 Tiny Swimming Improvements for Big Performance Gains

By Nick Meyer

What would give you the most time savings in an IRONMAN 70.3 or IRONMAN-distance swim? Would you say it’s the weeks of structured training and improving your cardiovascular efficiency or effectively performing open water drills and skills (i.e. sighting, pacing and navigation) more efficiently?

What if I told you that small skill improvements would give you more noticeable results? Indeed, by applying the theory of marginal or small one percent improvements to every aspect of your triathlon swimming, you can get the most benefit and time savings. These are in the form of open water swim skills and drills, tips, insights and advice for improving your swim stroke and technique, not numerous hours in the pool or lake.

If you can improve everything you do in the water by one percent, then the net effect is a much greater performance in the water than just cardiovascular efficiency alone.

This article will help you to apply this theory to open water swimming 70.3 and Ironman.

The Aggregation of Marginal Gains in Open Water Swimming

It’s so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making better decisions on a daily basis.

Almost every swimming habit that you have — good or bad — is the result of many small decisions over time. It takes lots of perfect practice to ingrain movements into muscle memory, and into actions where our neuromuscular system eventually enable these patterns to become automatic. For every action in water, there is an opposite and equal reaction. This can be unforgiving at times, yet when performed correctly can help propel us forward with greater ease, speed and power through the water.

Meanwhile, improving by just one percent often isn’t notable (and sometimes it isn’t even noticeable). But it can be just as meaningful, especially in the longer swims of an IRONMAN or IRONMAN 70.3.

And from what I can tell, this pattern works the same way in reverse. (An aggregation of marginal losses, in other words). If you find yourself stuck with bad habits or poor results, it’s usually not because something happened overnight. It’s the sum of many small choices — a one percent decline here and there—that eventually leads to a problem.

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There is power in small wins and slow gains. This is why average speed yields above average results. This is why the system is greater than the goal. This is why mastering your habits is more important than achieving a certain outcome.

So where can you find these tiny percentage improvements in your swimming technique for open water?

1. Sighting and Navigation

Did you know that you can add 20 percent or more to your overall open water swim race distance by not sighting effectively or often enough? We often see GPS swim tracks where swimmers have gone further than they expected. For example, swimming 2700m in a 1900m IRONMAN 70.3 swim due to poor sighting.

Sighting every six to eight strokes and checking on your navigation reference regularly is important to swimming and sighting effectively (and ensuring that you swim in a straight line). It’s best to sight on something higher like a darker tree, building, or spire, than a buoy in the water! Learning to sight efficiently while swimming in open water saves time and energy.

  1. Sight after you breathe, there’s more time for water to clear from your goggles, thus improving visibility, and less drag from pulling your head directly forward out of the water.
  2. Practice sighting off landmarks such as highly visible buildings or other structures on shore. Don’t rely solely on race buoys as they can be harder to see while in the water. In a race choose these landmarks beforehand while you’re warming up or during practice swims.

Practice sighting by turning your head slightly forward either before or after taking a breath. When sighting after a breath, you are more likely to rely on peripheral vision, which will also reduce drag.

2. Pacing for Open Water Swim Racing – Sprinting and Threshold Efforts

Being able to maintain and control your race pace under fatigue, and maintaining your technique becomes even more important in the IRONMAN 70.3 and IRONMAN swim legs.

If for example your goal is to swim 3800m in open water in 64 minutes, the pace you want to hold for each 100 meters is a 1:36 pace. You want to be able to hold this pace throughout your 1,900m or 3800m swim distance.

Build up to this gradually over time, starting at 10×100, working up to 40x100m.

Many triathletes wonder if they should sprint off the start line of a longer swim race. Be aware if you haven’t conditioned your body for some sprints over a number of weeks that you’ll produce high levels of lactic acid during the initial several hundred yards of the swim, and as such you may not recover for 10 to 15 minutes. That is a lot of lost time  until you can swim at your target race pace again, and it is likely to have diminishing returns in your overall time.

Try this swim session and see how you feel. It will make you as strong as an ox, and as fast as a cheetah using positive split intervals.

SUPERSETS X 5

  • Swim a good warm-up and cool down with this session as this set is very tough and you need to be prepared to work very hard.)
  • 5 x 150m as 50m front crawl flat out, then straight into 100m at 80-85 percent effort with 60 seconds rest at the end of each 150m.

Great swimmers have a variety of speeds, including warm up, aerobic training speeds, lactate speeds and pure print speeds. Having knowledge and an inherent feel for what these are will help you in swim races, and in particular knowing whether to sprint in mass starts.

By learning what your race pace is (and how to hold onto it), by making minor adjustments to your technique, by drafting and sighting well, you can create valuable savings in the water.

One way to check if your pacing is on target is to see if you can do even splits (+/- 3 seconds) over 15 x 200 meters free at your race pace with 60 seconds rest in between. Work up to this pacing test over a few weeks.

3. Technique for Turning around Buoys Effectively

Do you feel like you lose your way a bit when turning around buoys in open water? Or, when you’re racing, are you filled with dread at the thought of being punched and kicked just as you’re about to breathe?

Try swimming slightly wider around the buoy away from the corner where everyone tends to congregate. Practice turning around the “T” at the end of the lane in the pool first, then progress to open water. You’ll need to sight straight after your turn to re-align with your navigation point ahead quickly.

Depending on the race course, you may end up performing up to four or five turns around a buoy or other non-moving object in the water. You should be practicing to use these pace changes to your advantage.

  • Choose an object in the water to practice turns.
  • When approaching the turn, you should transition to one-side-only breathing with every stroke.
  • The side you breathe on needs to be facing whatever object you are turning around (another sighting drill).
  • Try to cut the turn as close as possible, which may require you to use short, choppy strokes.
  • Practice transitioning from a tight, choppy turn back into a long, relaxed glide, as you would do in the race.
  • Go for eight to 10 turn repeats.

Also practice doing “Crazy Ivan” turnarounds in open water, where you turn a full 360 degrees. Keep your strokes short and in the direction of your turn, keep kicking, and arc you body around the buoy. Over emphasizing the turn like this makes it easier in a race—and it’s fun too!

4. Drafting Techniques that Will Help Save You Time and Effort in a Race

You could save as much as 18 to 25 percent of your energy swimming in open water by drafting efficiently and effectively. This means you could save up to 90 seconds over 1900m, or three minutes over 3.8km!

By swimming in someone’s wake who is slightly faster than you, you’ll save quite a bit of your energy in open water, enabling you to swim faster than you would normally. Practicing swimming in close proximity to others will ensure you get used to this feeling.

There are two methods of drafting, one where you position yourself about 12 inches behind the swimmer’s feet, and the other where you swim close to the lead swimmer’s hip. Make sure you keep sighting in each position. Don’t necessarily trust that the swimmer you’re drafting is navigating perfectly.

However, by drafting effectively, you can significantly reduce your oxygen uptake, heart rate, blood lactate,  and rate of perceived exertion. Additionally, your stroke length is dramatically increased when in an ideal drafting position.

5. Mass Starts Techniques

Does a feeling of panic start to overcome you when you think about open water mass starts? There are several things you can do to manage these fears.

  1. Position yourself in the pack so you breathe toward the group. For example, if you normally breathe in a race to your right, start on the far left hand side. This way you’ll be out of the melee of the main group, and in your own space more.
  2. Float horizontally in the water prior to the start so you can get the best send off when the gun goes. This also gives you more space around you than a deep water “legs down” start position, limiting people swimming on top of your legs.
  3. If you don’t want to be a part of all those flying arms and legs, then plan your escape route before the race starts. Don’t start in the middle of the front. Start at the back, where nobody else will really want your space in the water.

6. Adapting to Wetsuit Swimming

Swimming in a wetsuit can give you between a seven and 10 second improvement over 100m than swimming without one. Also, as you go higher up the product range, the available technology helps you to swim faster and stay more stable and higher in the water.

The overall savings can be as high as two minutes for an IRONMAN swim, (The test group for this study were all tested with Race Zone 3 wetsuits, at the same heart rate, and perceived effort of exertion on the same size loop in a lake).

Practicing drills which make you feel slightly disorientated in the pool are very useful for distraction control and maintaining your rhythm and tempo when swimming in a race. This way you can also be accustomed to getting bumped about by other triathletes swimming in close proximity to you.

We would recommend the following swim drills to help you get the most out of swimming in your wetsuit:

  • Zips
  • Turnarounds
  • Barrel rolls and somersaults
  • Eyes closed with sighting
  • High elbow recovery
Zips Slide your thumb up your side from hip to armpit Promotes high elbow recovery
Barrel rolls While doing front crawl, keep kicking and rotate yourself 360 degrees mid stroke holding a lead arm in front for balance Body roll and power in core /obliques and helps develop muscles used in rotation
Turnarounds Practice turning around the “T” at the end of the lane in the pool first, then progress to open water. You’ll need to sight straight after your turn to re-align with your navigation point ahead quickly Teaches you to do buoy turns effectively in open water. Try to make them as tight and fluid as possible
Eyes closed swimming Practice this in a pool, in the middle 10 to 15 meters of the lane close your eyes to see if you can stay swimming straight (only if no one else is swimming in the lane, or in an organized club session) This shows you if your stroke pulls you to one side or is uneven, and you’re likely to do this in open water. If you do, sight more often (every 6-8 strokes consistently)
Chicken wings Touch your hands into your armpits High elbow recovery
Somersault Front somersault start in deep water, with 15 yards max effort, 35 yards easy. Repeat  6 times. 60 seconds rest in between each Good for distraction control and maintaining tempo / rhythm. These can be combined with barrel rolls for a real challenge to maintain our rhythm and tempo

7. Sea Swimming

The sea can present many different challenges to your normal swim stroke. For example, in choppy water, if you keep your fingers just above the surface of the water, then you are quite likely to have an unexpected wave come along and cause your hand to enter the water below your shoulder. In order to allow a reasonable stroke, you need to have a much higher recovery with your hand in open water.

Top Tips for Sea Swimming

  1. Sighting in swell: You would have no doubt seen in the Olympics open water race, it a slightly different technique to sighting in flat water. Due to the size of the swell you’ll either need to lift your head higher, or sight on the crest of the wave. If it’s choppy be prepared to sight more, as the currents can move you around more than normal.
  2. Navigation: Sight on something that’s high if you can, or if swimming parallel to the beach, sight horizontally as well as forward to maintain your position.
  3. Bilateral breathing: It’s recommended to be able to breathe bilaterally while swimming in the sea, for two reasons. One is for making sure you hold your position in a group and to make sure the currents are not moving you around too much. Two, if you’re swimming a rectangular course and the swell is high, then sighting toward the beach going out and back, will stop you from swallowing lots of water— if you’re breathing in toward a wave rather than from away from it.
  4. Drafting in currents: If there is a current pulling you away from the first buoy, try angling yourself into the current more. So if the current pulls you to the right, swim more over to the left about 30 degrees, so you’ll then be drifting in an arc to the right spot to turn next to the buoy.
  5. Wading: Running in the water up to knee height, by flicking your feet out laterally and your knees inward slightly. Doing this will help you to run and keep your feet clear of the sea water and waves. This is much quicker than swimming at this depth.
  6. Dolphining: To get past the breaking waves, it’s best to use a dolphining technique. This involves a mixture of a butterfly swim technique, with launching yourself into a dive, touching the sea bed / sand with your hands and then pushing yourself back up again into a dive. Only do this until the water is about waist deep, after this it’s best to start swimming normally.
  7. Beach starts: You can have a lot of fun with this next exercise as long as you have a safe beach entry for practice. Be sure to check for submerged objects that you might not have otherwise seen when entering for your warm-up. If you’re with friends, divide yourself up into pairs and label yourself one and two while standing on the beach looking out to the water.Upon the command “Go!” attempt a safe beach entry into the open water using wading and porpoising skills. Once you are deep enough, swim 40 strokes away from shore before turning and swimming back fast to the beach, making sure you avoid any head-on collisions with any other swimmers in the process. Run up onto the beach and tag your partner. Let them do the same 40 strokes before you take over again and then each do 30 strokes, then 20 strokes, then 10 strokes.

Conclusion

By applying these small, one-percent gains from every aspect of your swimming technique, they can all add up to something fundamentally larger than the original whole you once knew as your swimming stroke! Let’s see how much we can help you improve your swimming technique and fitness over the next few months, so you can have the best swimming season yet.

 

About Nick 

Nick de Meyer is the author of Speedy Freestyle, a front crawl swim drills book, and he is a level 2 British Triathlon Coach.