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The Importance of a Solid Aerobic Base

The Importance of a Solid Aerobic Base

Mark Turner coachingTriathlon is a sport that predominantly uses the bodies aerobic energy system.  Even the shortest of races are still powered by the aerobic energy system so it makes sense to my simple brain that is the system that needs to be developed and appropriately trained.

Without having the solid aerobic conditioning it’s like a house without a slab. The walls and roof start to become a little shaky and under stress they will eventually collapse. On the outside it might look awesome and really pretty to look at but check inside and there is no foundation to keep it together.

There are a lot of triathletes like this, really pretty to look at but once you take a closer look you can see there are some major structural issues that need addressing.

By having a solid aerobic foundation you can recover from your training sessions better, can hold a faster pace for longer, you will get a better training effect from interval sessions as your recovery between sets is quicker and you’re able to hold a faster pace for more efforts. Additionally your body is more efficient at burning fat as a fuel source.

So how do you build a solid aerobic foundation? How long does it take?

It’s actually quite simple really which is why it’s surprising that many get it wrong.  Sometimes in training you need to go slow!!  Go slow to go fast.  To get faster and to build the aerobic foundation we need to swim, ride and run at our own individual aerobic heart rates.  I have touched on this formula in previous articles but once you know it you need to spend 70-80% of your total training time in that zone. You’re either training above or below race pace, very little at race pace.

And when you do this over a period of weeks, months and years that aerobic pace becomes faster.  And this is where people struggle because after a few weeks they lose patience and can’t handle the fact they might be going slow. Building an aerobic foundation is something you should do every year. It takes patience and discipline.

I have trained athletes and am still coaching those who can run a fast 10km in well under 40 minutes but have an aerobic pace of almost 6 minutes which is too slow in comparison.  Everyone’s aerobic pace will be different but if you can run 35 min for 10km it is fair to say your aerobic training pace will sit somewhere between 4.30 and 5.00 min km’s.

I have an athlete at the moment that has improved his aerobic training pace by 20 sec per km in the last 3 months following this formula.  This particular athlete had done too much intensity, was injured and starting to lose his love of the sport.  It was about going back to basics, getting the aerobic foundation again and then building slowly from there. We’re now starting to add a little intensity into the program but it has taken 3 months before we’re even able to do a little bit. And this athlete has over 10 years in the sport already. 

I always look at what the athlete needs and how they will respond to certain types of training. If an athlete comes to me with a solid aerobic foundation already I will prescribe a different strategy. One where there might be more intensity but again to the amount of intensity is different for some athletes. 

Interval training will get a person fit quickly. It also has aerobic benefits but the benefits are greater once you have the aerobic foundation in place.

Volume versus Intensity

In my last article I spoke about polarized training and the importance of going easy on the easy and hard on the hard.  Before I go into the benefits of volume training and the benefits of training with more intensity it is important to discuss what is easy and what is hard. 

I believe in keeping it nice and simple. Many coaches will discuss 5 different zones of training from zone 1 being active recovery to zone 5 being faster than race pace. Each with a different heart rate range however from a programming perspective I find this to be confusing and unecassary. 

Easy, moderate and hard is all you need. Easy is aerobic training at under 70-75% of your maximum heart rate, moderate is 75-85% of your max and hard is 85% and above.  We should try and spend most of our time in the easy aerobic range and most of the other 20% in the hard range.  I am not a big fan of doing too much in the moderate range.

We don’t go hard enough or easy enough to get the physiological benefits required. These include improved fat burning and improved muscular endurance which in my opinion are the two key principles we should be look at improving.  The easy aerobic training predominantly improves fat burning while the harder anaerobic work improves muscular endurance. 

One thing we know with training is that volume works.  It gives us the required physiological changes we need to perform well.  When it comes to long course racing I think a level of 15-20 hrs per week is the ideal consistent range you need to be in if taking a volume based approach to your training or the 80/20 polarised approach. 

However not everyone has 15-20 hrs per week to train.  In that case an approach where the formula is changed to a more 70/30 of 70% easy and 30% can also yield similar results.  It should be noted however this type of training is very challenging both physically and mentally. There can be not any wasted training time. 

Shorter intense training can lead to a similar training effect to longer easier training. As am example a 4hr ride with specific interval work can give a similar training stress to a 5-6 hr longer aerobic ride. My experience and studies have shown that the longer aerobic ride will produce better results but not my a great deal. 

Where this type of shorter harder training comes into play is for an athlete that is time poor. The make up of the 4hr ride with intervals vs the 5-6 hr aerobic ride are different but depending on the athlete both have application. 

Hawaii IronmanI have tried both philosophies myself and also coached athletes in both ways and have found the longer rides to produce better training adaptations. An  example if Chris Bailey who has qualified for Kona twice on nothing longer than 4hr rides and also Stella Foley who went onto more longer aerobic rides of 5hrs plus. 

Another athlete I trained to Kona Scott Budd did more intense running due to time restrictions but longer rides so sometimes we mix it up depending on their available time. 

The underlying principle here is that while I have a guiding philosophy you need to be flexible and adapt according to the athlete. 

In the next article we’ll touch on the importance of building the solid aerobic foundation and going slow to go fast.

Hawaii Ironman – Stella Foley

Hawaii Ironman Race Report

stella-imKupa’a: your strength to stand firm, to believe in and be loyal to yourself, and to your surroundings.

This was the theme for Kona Ironman World Champs 2016…And exactly how I planned to execute my race.

While the lead up week was fun, the real business started at 7:10am October 8.

The bit of a breeze that was up first thing in the morning signalled the bike was going to be tough, and the beautiful sunrise then gave way to some scorching sun. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. To test and prove yourself in the conditions the race is made famous for…yes please.

The swim start wasn’t as daunting as the butterflies in my tummy made it out to be. I’d kept them at bay all week but I definitely felt them as I’d waited in the slow and lengthy numbering cue. Anyway as soon as the cannon went off they were left behind (only for my focus…not my swimming speed). Stuck on feet and hips, and caught amongst elbows to the first turn. Must have kept a reasonable line for a change because I pretty much swam under that turning bouy. The back section went on a lot longer than I was anticipating but eventually turned again and headed for home. Reassuringly I was overtaking the (super) slow age group men, yay, first win. Swam hard to the steps and had a smooth transition with everything already being with my bike.

Undoubtably glad to be on the bike and the lap through town allowed for time to settle before heading out on the famous Queen K. Tri Travel (who are awesome by the way!) had driven us over the course earlier in the week- and we’d ridden the last ~50km, so I had some idea what I was in for. Apparently the day we rode the conditions were a 7-8/10 for “toughness”…race day was definitely hotter and windier. Cross winds until Wykaloa and then head wind for the ~30km up hill towards Harve (the turn around point). The pros came through at around 80km into the course, which was just &$@#% amazing to watch and some distraction from the head wind. The turn around was hectic- an aid station followed by special needs, scooted around people and tried to stay out of trouble. And then a tail wind combined with several descents made for a very fun start to the ride back! Overtook a lot of people on the descents so I must have finally developed some nerve? Cross winds returned where we’d had them before but it didn’t matter, town in sight. Should also mention that I had previously ridden to heart rate, but unbeknown to Mark, my HR monitor died the day before- with no where in town selling Suunto so let’s say the ride was done to feel…and it worked just fine ?

Hawaii IronmanAnother smooth transition and onto the run. I was told the run doesn’t start until you hit the Queen K (16km in) and they were right. Running along Ali’i Drive felt fun and easy, even the ascent up Palani Road (running) felt ok, but that highway, with its long “gentle” hills is deceptively hard!! Was hanging out for the turn to the Energy Lab…felt like it took forever to get there! An aid station at the top with pumping music and totally the best “aid” – Cliff station at the bottom and the turn around point made the notoriously difficult section a lot of fun. Seeing Mark after the climb out of the Energy Lab was also uplifting but despite more coke than I’ve ever drunk, my legs wouldn’t move any quicker! And my average pace was slowly climbing which was ridiculously frustrating. Back along the highway, legged it down Palani rd to find there was still about a km to go. So happy to finally see the carpet! Lap up some of the insane energy of the finishing shoot and make a feeble attempt to jump over the line (I saw how steep the other side looked…I would have never stuck a tuck jump). Loved every minute but also a humbling experience and a reality check to race against so many amazing athletes.

Swim: 1:13
Ride 5:45
Run 3:40

stella21st female in my age group
2nd Aussie in my age group and beat the girls who finished in front of me at Cairns ?

Can’t wait to continue working with Mark Turner to come back faster and stronger!

…thanks again for all the messages of support. Appreciate every one of them, especially considering I’m just getting to do what I love x

#trination #tristhlonisateamsport #IMKona #swimbikerun #feltcycles #pacewheels #mizuno

Ironman Cairns

Ironman Cairns 2016