Monday, February 1, 2016

Specific Preparation: Part I

by Gordo Byrn

Before we get into the specific workouts that I use to prepare an athlete for Kona qualification, let’s review the nature of the event:

  • It’s really long
  • You swim, then bike, then run
  • Your best result comes from using your fitness in a way that optimizes your fuel supply across the distance
  • No matter how well you are prepared, it is likely that reality will be somewhat different than what you expected

Let’s look at the above in more depth and consider what is implied for you.

  • Length
    How long are you likely to be out there and how long could you be out there? Ironman St George 2012 is a great example of conditions (wind) making a far longer race than anyone expected.

    As a coach, I advise Kona qualifiers from sub-9 to 13-hour finishing times. Compare the duration and average intensity of your event with your Basic Week. Most, but not all, athletes will find themselves long on intensity and short on endurance.

  • Medium of Movement
    You’ll start your day in the water, shift to fast moving air and finish with slow moving air. Do you have a deep appreciation of pace for each of these mediums and have you prepared yourself to put your efforts where you’ll get the most speed?

    It’s a long day and you can’t afford to waste energy. Become skilled at saving energy everywhere you can.

  • Fuel Supply
    Do you know what it takes to bonk you? What are the implications of running out of energy? There can be very different implications for a 200-pound male qualifier than for a 115-pound female qualifier. The larger you are, the greater the humility (and base) you’ll need to develop for your bike ride.

  • Mental Conditioning
    Is your life in order? Have you taken steps to create harmony in preparation for your Kona quest?

    Write down the answers to the above questions and make sure that your specific preparations train your body and mind for your goal event.

In preparing to qualify, most triathletes train too intensely, with key days that are too short. So if you are unsure, go longer and slower when you’re exploring the workout protocols that I’ll outline in my next column.

The ability to not blow yourself up -- first in training, then in the first five hours of the race -- is a rare commodity. Most triathletes will never be able to subdue their egos enough to achieve their athletic potential. There is a huge performance benefit from getting comfortable with yourself.

Part of the reason I was able to race well in my elite career was a willingness to let other people make mistakes. Remember to practice letting your pals blow themselves up.

What’s specific?

  • Base training (close to your limits) - Tick the box on my overload tips – intensity is not a substitute for long-term workload.

  • Weather - Wind, cold, heat, surf, humidity, hail (I’ve seen it all) -- consider the range of conditions you might face.

  • Hydration/nutrition - For both food and fluids, our GI systems are highly trainable -- for men especially, the greater your fitness the more your capacity to process calories and fluids can give you an edge over your competition. Absorption rates are highly trainable and need to be developed for the specific conditions you will face on race day. For example, can you run 18-miles of tempo, in 90F, exhausted, with a belly full of cola? Don’t do that every week (!) but consider if it might be required.

  • Terrain – Most of us do a good job with matching the specific terrain with our training. What’s missing is matching the terrain with our specific pace strategy. The impact of downhill running and the fatigue from riding without stopping are two specific requirements that are overlooked by many athletes.

  • Duration – You’re going to be out there a long while. There’s no way around it! Pay attention to your performance during your biggest weeks and your longest days. Two tips: always be strong at the end and seek to lift effort (a little) when you hit the middle of every interval.

  • Fatigue – Remove the emotional content of fatigue. Consider your capacity to endure the various types of fatigue: physical, mental, neuromuscular and digestive. Tailor your race strategy to your strengths. For emotional skills that are required on race day, schedule training sessions that challenge your fears and weaknesses. Spread these sessions out -- spend your mojo wisely and balance with periods of rejuvenation. Many of your competors will ruin their preparations by exhausting themselves before they ever reach the start line.

  • TT position – Dial your bike so your default position is riding on your aerobars. Until you have achieved this goal, you’re wasting energy. You can’t afford to waste any energy.

  • Ride alone or draft-legal – I’m a big fan of the flat, solo, 120-mile steady ride. Use cautiously, check your power data and remember that you still have a marathon to go!

You will default to your deepest patterns under duress.

I’ll dig into specifics next week.


Gordo is the founder of Endurance Corner. You can find his personal blog here.

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