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The five hour bike and the five hour run – it’s a guy thing

12 August 2014 No Comment

Most of the athletes I have contact with are training for Ironman and Half Ironman events. They race all other distances, and do well at those distances, but the greatest majority of them are attracted to my squad to improve their Ironman performance. There’s not a lot of chance of achieving that elusive Kona qualifying spot if you’re training with a bunch of guys who turn every training ride into a race.

You can’t fly like an eagle if you roost with the turkeys. You have to train specifically for the event that you’re going to race. The high intensity group bike rides we get caught up in occasionally around town are not addressing the energy system we need to run a good marathon off the bike. Many of the group rides start out steady and end up being anaerobic threshold workouts from about half way through, and they seldom go for longer than about two hours.

That can be a lot of fun if that’s your event. Even guys training for Olympic distance races can gain a lot from these rides. But a serious Ironman athlete needs to be developing his/her aerobic capacity. Endurance really is all about fuel efficiency. Teaching your body to run on as little glycogen as possible, burning fat as your main fuel source. This is no new revelation, most athletes know it already.

The difficult part is being disciplined enough to hold back when the guys are racing their workouts. Testosterone is dangerous stuff. A bunch of young, and not so young, guys can tear each other apart in a training session, and thoroughly enjoy themselves. But if an Ironman race is the main goal for the season it can be a long sad walk/jog at the end of that great bike split. The results sheets have many examples of five hour bike splits followed by five hour runs.

It hurts to be chicked. Guys do not like being run down by girls. But girls are smarter when it comes to long distance events. Firstly they have the ability to hold back that little bit in training, so that they stay in their aerobic training zone, while the guys are often ripping off the front in powerful surges. One of the hardest jobs for the coach is to hold the reins on the young colts.

I am not saying we shouldn’t go hard. In fact the guys who go hard in the aerobic training rides, are the same ones who don’t go hard enough in the interval sessions to get the benefits of addressing that energy system. Instead of having a stark contrast between the easy aerobic (call it the white zone) and the hard anaerobic intervals (call it the black zone), guys left to determine their own  pace will train in the grey zone (in between the two distinct intensities they should train at).

When I test my guys progress we do it with regular 100km time trials. I choose that distance because it’s too long for them to perform at their anaerobic threshold, as they push themselves to improve times each month, they’re forced to ride at their aerobic threshold. This is the area I want them working at. I want them learning to concentrate on putting power through their cranks, in the aero position, for 2hrs 30min up to 3hrs 30min. This is so valuable in developing an Ironman athlete.

A lot of our long weekend rides involve a long climb, or a series of laps of a course involving a 12-15min climb in each lap. We use these courses even when training for a fairly flat race, because the object is to ride the climbs at the aerobic threshold. If the ride is long enough and the climbs are long enough there is little choice but to ride at that intensity. This is developing the type of athlete I want.

One of the keys to a good strong Ironman run, is being very strong at that aerobic threshold on the bike. There are a few other requirements, but this is a good start. Without it, there’s a far greater chance of being chicked.

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