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The Complete Guide for Triathlon Running – How to Train and Race

The run leg of a triathlon is generally seen as a relationship of “love or hate” by athletes. For a large number of triathletes with a running background and some experience in the discipline, it can be their favorite leg of a race, but there is also the second group, those originating from swimming and cycling, who are faced with a new challenge in the race, and the run leg can be the Achilles heel within the sport.
The article is a guide for both the experienced or beginner runner. You will learn about the main running workouts within a specific training schedule for triathlon and you will also learn the best race day strategy according to your background, body type and swim/ bike fitness.

Types of Workouts


These sessions are crucial and very specific to triathletes. We have two types of brick run sessions:

Cycling + Running: It is the most traditional and challenging as you carry leg fatigue from one discipline to the next. Brick training requires some care, for example an experienced athlete must work several training systems as you will learn below, but make sure that the goal of the workout will not be hindered by the fact that you will be too fatigued. A speed workout with a good technique has to be done when rested rather than when fatigued after a bike session. Another precaution is to avoid doing extremely long run workouts after cycling sessions. This generates an exponential increase in recovery time and injury risk, which will hinder your consistency within your training plan which should be the main goal.

Swimming + Running: A less traditional but important transition is to run after a swim workout. It is not traditional because people consider only local muscle fatigue and the most obvious combination is bike run, but forget that triathlon is three sports and not only one.  A low swim training load and skipping this transition training can translate into a very negative result on race day as thefatigue you carry to the bike and run, does not disappear during the race. This type of training is especially important for runners with little experience in swimming, because they will be forced to get used to the fatigue that comes from swimming

Lactate Threshold (Tolerance)

Lactate tolerance is perhaps the most misunderstood system at work in the human body. Largely this lies with the popular misconception that “anaerobic” training begins at the “lactate threshold” level of performance.

In reality, nothing is further from the truth.  Anaerobic refers to exertion in the absence of oxygen: A 100m sprint on the track or a 50m all-out swim is truly an aerobic performance. In triathlon, almost none of our training is anaerobic – it is all at varying degrees, aerobic conditioning. No one in triathlon is capable of swimming an anaerobic 100m freestyle effort, for example.

A general rule to achieve the goal of this type of workout is to do sets that are 25-40 minutes long and preferably broken down in shorter intervals so you can achieve the desired intensity even if fatigued and do that while still using good technique.

Work with the ratio 3: 1 or 2: 1 for the work:rest relationship. For example:

10×2 min hard/1 min rest
20×90 sec hard/30 sec rest
5×6 min hard/ 2min rest

Your training plan should highlight lactate tolerance training-both in importance but also on the impact it has on the athlete’s body. A training program is structured to maximize the recovery of this draining type of workout, without compromising consistency or improvement. You need to understand that some athletes are subject to a greater negative response of lactate tolerance training, thus needing more recovery time, and those who need less recovery (since they cannot smash themselves in training) can train this system more often and generally train harder with a higher load.This balance is an individual thing and varies according to gender, age, experience, weight, body type and body composition.

Technique and neuromuscular coordination

Motor coordination is a key element in the race. Have you ever noticed how a good triathlete or marathoner can maintain an impeccable technique in the final kilometers of the race? Even after 90 minutes of running they look as rested as early in the race.

Your goal when racing a triathlon is: TECHNIQUE UNDER DURESS – The use of a movement, or a technique, is only valid if you can apply it under pressure. In sports,  pressure means intensity and fatigue. When you think you can least hold a decent technique, is the most important time to do it. In triathlon it means run with a high cadence and good posture even in the last third of the race.

Some key observations and training to develop a good technique and neuromuscular coordination:

*Run cadence always above 90steps per minute (count one side), preferably 96

*Add a neuromuscular and skill set to your run programme, for example 15-30 minutes (depending on experience) with 30 seconds fast @ a high cadence) /30 seconds rest.

*Use the treadmill at 0% incline to help you with your stride rate

*Increase the stride rate in the final third of your long run

Other benefits of these workouts is that you will get aerobic conditioning while training your neuromuscular system, which is usually ignored.


Endurance training, is key to the success of a triathlete, but comes with a big dose of hormonal stimuli in its most negative form (increased cortisol, decreased testosterone), so avoid structuring endurance workouts in excess, and mix in speed or strength workouts in your training plan so that the negative effects of endurance training are minimized. By marrying endurance training with efforts that release compensatory stimuli such as speed and strength training, your system will not be overloaded.

It is important that you use some simple principles to ensure that the favorite type of training of a long-distance triathletes do not compromise training consistency.

Some guidelines for your training plan:
* Do not do more than one long session per discipline per week
* If possible space out your long run, swim and long bike by a couple days
* Compensate your long workouts with a speed and strength training session the next day


Speed work on your run workouts should be planned with extreme care, as excess speed work has a negative return rate, since it requires a lot of recovery time and breaks training consistency.

But to develop your full potential and overcome stagnation in your performances, it is essential that you incorporate some sort of speed work into your training.  The guidelines below will help you:

*Keep the repeats short, so you do not overload your aerobic system – 15 to 60 seconds is sufficient
*Use the treadmill or mild descents for increased speed with a lower aerobic load
*Your technique (cadence) is a priority over speed
*Try to do some sets, even if quick, for maintenance, in all weeks of the year

Putting it All Together – The Right Mix

Each type of training comes with a different hormonal response in your body, and each response occurs at different levels depending on aspects such as recovery, duration and intensity of training, diet, sleep, stress and other factors. Understand that the order and structure of your training is a priority as you are training hormonal responses, and must follow a certain order defined by your coach, that way you can train with maximum efficiency(for your situation) while optimizing recovery.

When structured correctly, while you are training a system, another system is resting! This way you are able to train more often, with more consistency and higher quality, reducing the risk of injury.

How to build your training plan:

1) Define with your coach the primary and secondary goal of that training block, and schedule sessions accordingly.
2) If you do two sessions a day, schedule the second workout to train a different system than the first, that way you will not overload yourself negatively and you can train both sessions with a decent intensity and technique.
3) Add technique and neuromuscularwork in your training plan, you can combine it with most other training systems. For example, this can be at the end of a long session or during a speed workout.
4) If your goal is to improve your run leg, take some of the load off your training in the water and on the bike, it is important to run relatively fresh, motivated and ready to push a higher intensity with a good technique. Do not think you can improve a lot at all disciplines at once.

Part 2: Race Day Strategy Understanding the Triathlon Equation: SWIMBIKERUN

Before we discuss the details of how your run will be on race day, you need to understand the strategy you used on the swim and bike and its impact on the run leg.

There are basically three types of triathletes:

Swimmer+Runner: Likely a former swimmer with light body type. However, often due to lack of experience and training time, hasn’t developed enough cycling specific strength.

Swimmer+Biker: Another type with some sort of swimming background, similar to the type mentioned above, but the main difference comes in body type. The swimmer biker is a heavier and generally more powerful athlete, which is great to push big gears on the bike and ride fast, but too heavy to run efficiently and fast.

Biker+Runner: Generally from a running background, has a huge aerobic engine and high power to weight ratio. However it is likely that this athlete has not had swimming lessons as a child and results in a disadvantage in that discipline. The typical thinking when you see them in a race is “if that athlete could swim, he would be unbeatable in triathlons”

Which is the best strategy for each of these types?

Structuring walk breaks during your race (and in training!), is a great option for beginner athletes in shorter events, or intermediate athletes in longer races.

The main benefit is motivation, since to complete anywhere from 5k to 42k without taking a break can be close to impossible to a large number of athletes. However, these athletes will still give it a go and see if they can manage the challenge, only to realize it was indeed not possible and they are forced to a walk. Once forced to walk in a race,  that will come partially as a failure, that you are just not fit enough and that your perfect race day is out of the window at that moment, your goal from now is only to finish the event and cover the distance.

Alternatively, if you aren’t completely sure you can cover the run leg without a break, consider taking small walk breaks during the race.The most used strategy for beginners is taking a one minute walk for every ten minutes of running. Intermediate athletes may structure their walk breaks by walking all stations that are usually 2km apart which is just over ten minutes of running.

When you structure breaks, walking is still part of your perfect day, even how you walk would be different to the “just want to finish” type of walk. A confident, faster walk, chin up, as opposed to a heads down, slow slog. Mentally, it is also easier to break a big task into small steps, you only need to focus on running the next ten minutes instead of running the entire length of the course which can be mentally very challenging.

Another benefit of this strategy is a better opportunity for hydration and calorie intake during aid stations as it is easier to drink or eat while you are walking rather than running.

In training, including walking breaks means you will be running faster and with a better technique as compared to a run only strategy, as once you start to fatigue, you lose your technique and slow down, as opposed to taking a break every once in a while then resuming running fresher again. The main benefit of this strategy in training is that you reduce chances of injury due to the better technique and faster stride rate.

The biggest challenge of this walk:run strategy is to overcome your own ego  and that it is acceptable to walk in a triathlon race. Make sure you also ignore spectators that will be encouraging you to get back to running if they see you walking, just switch off the noise and focus on your own race. Once that happens and you apply this strategy in your races, you will start to see faster run splits.

Option 2 – Negative Split:

The term “negative split” means the second part of your race or training, is faster than the first.

One of the biggest benefits of running with the negative part is feeling very good and strong towards the end of a race while all athletes around you are slowing down.  Mentally, this can mask some of the pain you are going through and make you go faster

In physiology terms, you have a limited amount of kilometers that you can go hard, once that number is reached (sudden increase of lactic acid inyour system), you can’t recover from that effort fast enough, thus forcing you to slow down. Save your highest effort for the final kilometers of the race.

This is a strategy that should also be used in training, as now you create the habit of always finishing stronger than you started, but you will also go hard when fatigued, thus creating an ‘insurance’ that you won’t be able to run extremely fast, which for most athletes is not specific enough for their races and the benefits come with a lot of drawbacks, mainly related to recovery timeand injuries. A hard run on fatigued legs is like having an insurance policy that you will stay consistent in training.

Option 3 –Positive Split:

Having a positive split is something that only a minority of triathletes should do and won’t apply for 99% of the readers of this article, but as a ‘Complete Guide’ to running is important to explain this possibility as it will also help you to not to aim for such.

The positive split, as the name suggests, is exactly the opposite of the negative split. The first half of the run leg is done faster than the second. The main benefit of this strategy is a combination of positioning yourself ahead of your usual competitors or your goal, thus creating a scenario where you will be so motivated to hold that advantage that you will motivate yourself to a new level and will also help you handle fatigue and pain for longer and at a higher intensity.

Visualize a high performance age grouper starting the run of an Olympic Distance race with 1h20min, this athlete has never been able to break the forty minute mark in a 10k run, but this time he decides to take a risk and goes through the first 5k in 19min30sec, that way he has created a cushion of 30 seconds to break two hours for the race and also to break forty minutes on the ten kilometer run leg.

That margin will fade away as the pace was stronger than he should have done, but he may be ableto dig a little deeper than the usual due to the opportunity of a breakthrough performance in his overall time and run leg split.

Another example commonly practiced by professional or high performance triathletes is to exit the transition at a much stronger pace than is planned to hold for the rest of the race, that way the top athletes of the race will drop the weaker athletes and not allow them to take advantage of running in a group or pace themselves from the faster athletes. Just like in cycling, at a very high level of running, to position yourself in the middle of a group will make running easier as your effort shifts from setting your own pace which can be mentally draining, to only have to ‘sit in’ the pack. There is also a marginal gain with less wind resistance.

I believe that most readers of this article will have better performance using options 1 and 2. Option 3 requires a high level of fitness (semi-professional or professional). You can also discuss with your coach the possibility to participate in smaller events and to try various strategies and test what works best for your goal.
Enjoy your training,

Vinnie Santana

Vinnie Santana

ironguides is the leading Lifestyle Facilitation company for athletes of all abilities. We provide coaching and training services, plans and programs, as well training education, health and fitness products to help you learn and live a healthy lifestyle. Come get fit with one of our monthly training subscriptions, event-specific training plans, coaching services, or a triathlon training camp in an exotic location! ironguides also provides Corporate Health services including Corporate Triathlons, Healthy Living retreats and speaking engagements. At ironguides, your best is our business!

Train with ironguides!

Personalized Online Coaching:  Starting at USD190/month

Monthly Training plans (for all levels, or focused on one discipline): Only USD39/months

Event based training plans:

Sprint Distance (USD45 for 8-week plan)

Olympic Distance (USD65 for 12 week plan)

Half Ironman (R$95 for 16-week plan)

Ironman (USD145 for 20-week plan)

X-Terra (USD65 for 12-week plan)

Running Plans (10k, 21k and 42k – starting at USD40)

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Iron-Distance Performance – Preparation Races and Training through a Race

By Alun Woodward, Online Triathlon Coach,

Spring has most certainly arrived and those first races of the season are just around the corner. For most of you targeting a major ironman race you will be coming into the final 2-3 months of your program and endurance should be ramping up now in preparation.

While training is ramping up and the focus must be on following your program training races are also of great importance at this time. One of the mistakes a lot of people make at this time is thinking they need to do lots of endurance events as practice, i believe the complete opposite to be true. An endurance event such as a half ironman is very demanding on the body and will cause a major disruption to your training plan both before and significantly after the event. We all know consistency in training to be the key to performance so we need to choose events that give us the practice we need while not interrupting the consistency of our program.

Ideally if we are looking for training races they should be shorter in duration such as sprint distance or possibly Olympic distance triathlons. When choosing our races we need to look at our preparation and training hours, if you have been consistently hitting 12 hours a week then an olympic distance event should be easy to bounce back from, but if your weekly hours are more in the 6 hour range at this point then a sprint would be the wise choice in order to not over stress the body as endurance is also starting to increase in training.

Remember here this is personal and we need to get out of the habit of looking at what the pro’s do, a typical pro can be training anywhere from 20-30+ hours a week and with that training volume a olympic distance race or even a half ironman can actually be easier than a typical training  day so will not create any disruption to their training program. Also a pro is making a living from the sport and has to go where to certain races for sponsors and of course prize money.

So lets say we have looked at training volume and decided upon some training races to include in our program, how do we now go about fitting these in so as not to disrupt training.

First step is forgetting about the taper, there is an obsession in endurance sport with tapering and freshening up for events but very little evidence this actually improves performance. So often athletes well feel great during training but terrible in races after reducing training into the event, your body is used to performing under a certain level of fatigue and things go wrong when we take that base level of fatigue away.

Going out to fast in a race is one of the biggest stumbling blocks many athletes face to achieving their best results – go out too fast and you just won’t be able to recover enough to do yourself justice – the result is the event hurts a lot more than it should and speeds can be lower than training speeds which is very frustrating. Taking fatigue from training into an event provides an insurance policy against this problem, if we are tired we loose that top end speed and are forced to start a little slower than we might want too but the end result is we can progress through the race and perform at or above our training paces and get a great result.

Don’t forget the taper was designed for anaerobic sports, sports lasting under 10 minutes not for endurance sports than are based around aerobic performance.

So looking at fatigue in a more positive light we can go into our training races without really changing the program, i have seen time and time again athletes hitting best ever performances in olympic distance events the day following a long endurance ride and carrying a lot of fatigue.

So if we train as normal into a race do we then just carry on training as normal after the race, this is where things need to change a little.


The training program may well need to change a touch for the first 2-3 days post race depending on the athlete and how the race goes. Firstly we need to look at immediately after the race. If the race was held on a Sunday and this was an athletes long run day then i may have the athlete complete a long cool down run to ensure we still get an endurance run into the program as this is essential at this stage of the year building towards our ironman event. For example if the athlete has completed a sprint distance race in 75minutes and would normally do a 2 hour run on this day i would send them for a 45-60min easy cool down run immediately following the race.

In the 2 days following the race we want to make sure we touch on the systems we would normally be training while reducing the total load to reflect any fatigue or soreness that may be present from the race. For example if you normally have a interval run session on the Tuesday of say 6x1km hard efforts you would not jump into this session as you will have hit a similar intensity on Sunday during your race, instead we just want to touch on the leg speed we would have experienced in this session but not have the same cardiovascular stress put on the body. To do this we could change the session to 6x400m, running at the same pace as we would for the 1km efforts and add in a little extra recovery.

If an athlete has raced a longer event or had a bad run and not really touched on any speed during the race then the Tuesday run may change all together to be a pure leg speed session to make sure the athlete does not go too many days without any speed stimulus but also the session reflects the body is under stress so is not stressful to the cardiovascular system. An example of such a session could be 6x200m very fast with 400m very easy jog between.

Once the athlete hits 3 days after the race they should be good to resume their normal training program.

Within this final 2-3 months before your main event training consistency and endurance should be your priority but following the guidelines above you can easily jump into some training races and not have them impact on your overall training program.

Enjoy your training.


Alun Woodward, ironguides Online Coach 


Train with ironguides!

Personalized Online Coaching:  Starting at USD190/month

Monthly Training plans (for all levels, or focused on one discipline): Only USD39/months

Event based training plans:

Sprint Distance (USD45 for 8-week plan)

Olympic Distance (USD65 for 12 week plan)

Half Ironman (R$95 for 16-week plan)

Ironman (USD145 for 20-week plan)

X-Terra (USD65 for 12-week plan)

Running Plans (10k, 21k and 42k – starting at USD40)

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Navigating the Ups and Downs of Ironman Training

Navigating the Ups and Downs of Ironman Training –


If you have ever trained or are in training for an Ironman, you will know that it is an experience like no other, especially if you are an ironguides coached athlete on a daily dose of The Method training programme.

Whether you are an Ironman veteran signing up for your 7th tour of duty, a top 70.3 age – grouper stepping up to race with the “big boys”, or a (relative) brand newbie that’s caught the bug and wants to get one under your belt (“What’s all the fuss is about?)- The demands of Ironman training will stretch you to your physical, emotional, psychological limits.

The Ironman training cycle is a crazy rollercoaster ride that can take you from good days, filled with hope and confidence to nightmare “off” days that will leave even the fittest athlete discouraged and questioning their ability to even cross the finish line.

This article offers advice on how to spot the patterns of overtraining and how to minimise the “down” days for a more balanced, manageable and effective training cycle.



If you are forcing yourself to get your sessions done for fear of losing fitness and you find yourself half-heartedly “going through the motions”, while getting more tired and desperate as your performance drops, listen up!

The most common presenting symptom of an athlete who is over-trained is not “Coach, I am so tired, I need a break”. Rather, it is, “Coach, I’ve been training hard but I am not improving, I think I need to do more.” The athlete’s drive to excel is so strong that they end up burning the candle at both ends, giving up personal “down time”, recovery and sleep to maintain high levels of work, family and triathlon training commitment. From my personal experience, the most tell tale signs that an athlete is overdone are:

  • Malaise and constant fatigue
  • Immune-compromised state
  • Unhealthy obsession with (lack of) improvement
  • Loss of enjoyment of the sport
  • Loss of trust and faith in their training programme
  • Continual weight loss
  • Decreased motivation
  • Flat/ jaded personality
  • Refusal to admit that they are over-done.

Without timely and well considered guidance, this athlete is headed for trouble.

I find that the risk of overtraining is especially high in the last 6 weeks pre-race. You’ve been working hard for the last 4 – 6 months and now you’re in the middle of the final loading phase- the big push before you wind down and rest up for the big day.  Several factors make this last month and a half a tricky patch to navigate:

1)      You’re consistency has paid off and your fitness is at a high level. You’ve been getting just enough rest and you feel invincible. The temptation is to push even harder through the “home stretch” looking for that last 5%. ** (If you are feeling good at this stage keep up the good work and don’t go “hardcore”. Aim to finish each session feeling great, keeping something in the tank for the next day. Aside from getting more rest- don’t change a thing!)

2)      You only have a handful of weeks left before you need to taper. Your insecurities are surfacing and you want to hammer these last few weeks to squeeze in what you can to make up for those missed sessions earlier on.

3)      Your body’s immune system, normally used to fight daily germs and bacteria, has been working overtime to regulate muscle and tissue recovery and repair instead. As a result, you fall into an immune-compromised state and pick up colds and flus that don’t go away.

If any of these situations sound familiar to you, let your coach know immediately. It will make the difference between “getting though the race” and arriving at the start line, fresh, focused and full of energy. The sooner you speak to your coach, the quicker he can get you back on track rested and refocused on the end goal- a stellar performance on the big day.


A coach’s job should extend much further than dishing out training plan after training plan. Don’t wait until you are a burnt-out zombie, shell-of-a-human-being before approaching your coach for help. Timeliness is key.

Your coach’s role is to get you as fit as possible for race day. At times, this might involve a gentle nudge or cracking the whip- at other times, his job is to rein you in from the edge of burnout. A good coach will know: and be able to tweak

  • Your personality/ lifestyle
  • Your current training load
  • How far along the training cycle you are
  • The current stressors on your life

At times, it can be difficult to consider all these factors from inside the Ironman bubble so make the effort to elaborate on how your training has been going. Together with the usual training parameters and assessment of your current perceived level of fitness, some feedback on your feelings and emotional state will provide your coach with a good insight into how you are coping.

A good coach will not judge you on what training you have/ or have not completed. Stay open to your coach’s inquiries and suggestions and share openly with him your goals and motivations. If you nip it in the bud, all that maybe required is a weekend off or a few days/ week of unloading to get refreshed. But keep these things to yourself and you run the risk of digging yourself deeper into the lonely hole of overtraining.

Finish the race – well

ENVIRONMENT – Setting yourself up for success

Even before you sign up for an Ironman, there are a few simple steps to tip the scales in your favour.

The majority of age–groupers today work a demanding 10 hr/ day, many are married/ with a long term partner and have young families. Before jumping online at 4am to wait for registration to go live, examine your calendar 6 months before race day. Are you getting married/ having a child/ moving house/ country/ changing jobs/ starting a new business/ going to be involved in other big “life” situations? All these things will factor into your training, recovery and performance, especially the 2 months before race day. You will enjoy a much more balanced journey if the forecast of life’s big stressors and events reads relatively “normal” and “boring”. Of course there is no way to predict the future, but an uneventful half year window is a good place to start your Ironman dreams.

Secondly, have that chat with your partner/ wife – The one that starts with “Baby/ Dear/ Darling, I am thinking of doing an Ironman next year…”

It is of utmost importance that you have buy-in from your loved one because, as much as you think you’re doing all the hard work, they will be the ones playing a major supporting role. Extra understanding and support could make or break your race preparation.

Explain what is an Ironman, why you want to do one (or another one) and most importantly what kind of training hours are involved. This will help them to appreciate what you will be putting yourself through and why. Your coach can advise you on the different time commitments required for the different phases a typical Ironman training cycle.

By including them into your decision making process, you are giving your partner a time frame so that they can appreciate and be mentally prepared for those days/ weeks when you could do without the extra distractions and social gatherings and when you will be more tired than usual. In all fairness, it also allows them to look forward to when they can have a fully present and energetic partner back in their lives!

It is a good idea to take it a step further to roughly plan out your allocated training hours with them.  As daily duties and responsibilities surface, together you will be able to discern much more clearly which are the most convenient tasks for you to stay engaged in to pull your weight.


I hope this article has given you some insights into some of the common pitfalls surrounding Ironman training. In order to do well, training is not all a bed of roses – and it should not be viewed as an excuse for unlimited swimming, biking and running. To get it right and nail it on race day requires a delicate balance of training and recovery guided by a close working relationship with your coach and an understanding and supportive home base from which to launch your adventures and live your dreams.

Shem Leong.

ironguides is the leading Lifestyle Facilitation company for athletes of all abilities. We provide coaching and training services, plans and programs, as well training education, health and fitness products to help you learn and live a healthy lifestyle. Come get fit with one of our monthly training subscriptions, event-specific training plans, coaching services, or a triathlon training camp in an exotic location! ironguides also provides Corporate Health services including Corporate Triathlons, Healthy Living retreats and speaking engagements. At ironguides, your best is our business!

Train with ironguides!

Personalized Online Coaching:  Starting at USD190/month

Monthly Training plans (for all levels, or focused on one discipline): Only USD39/months

Event based training plans:

Sprint Distance (USD45 for 8-week plan)

Olympic Distance (USD65 for 12 week plan)

Half Ironman (R$95 for 16-week plan)

Ironman (USD145 for 20-week plan)

X-Terra (USD65 for 12-week plan)

Running Plans (10k, 21k and 42k – starting at USD40)

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Top 7 Mistakes Age Groupers Make in Ironman Marathon

Here at ironguides, we are often approached for help in improving their ironman marathon time. Some of the stories we have received are along these contexts:
• I have a very decent stand-alone marathon time, why can’t I translate that success when it comes to iron-distance events?
• I have prepared hard for my ironman marathon training. I ran 4 times a week, and have done the required mileage, but come the run leg of the ironman, I hit the wall and walk most of the last 10k.
• I have always been strong on the bike and the run. I have been told that I overcooked my bike that led to a very weak run. What should I do?
There are just some of the stories that we have been told with our years of handling age group triathletes. It is quite obvious no matter how fast your 400m run splits or your record time at a standalone marathon, more often than not, those are not good predictors on how well you will run your ironman marathon. Let us look at the most common mistakes triathletes make in their ironman training, and how to avoid them.

1. Not Developing Good Run Technique
You can get away with a poor to mediocre running form in shorter distances. But when you translate that to ironman marathon, any deficiency in form and technique will ultimately come back to bite you in a huge way.

When you have poor form and technique, you spend more energy, you are more susceptible to injuries, and your heart rate will always be elevated.

It is never too late to develop good running form and technique. There are drills that you can integrate in your training on a consistent basis especially focusing on developing a high stride rate. Or you can have your form analyze via video by a running coach, and have recommendation on drills to correct your form. This is not about on how fit you are, but developing the skill, form and technique will make your runs effortless and efficient.

2. Lack of Strength
If you are training for an iron-distance event, and you focus your runs on fast and speed intervals, then you are doing it wrong. Long distance triathlon is a strength sport where strength and muscular endurance are key components.

First off, early in your base training, consider incorporating strength in the gym, mainly of squats, deadlifts and lunges. These exercises will be beneficial on your bike and run strength and provide you a strong core. Moreover, strength training can prevent injury, and having that good foundation, will make your muscles fatigue-resistant. As you transition to your build-up, strength training in the gym can be replaced with big-gear riding and hilly runs.

3. Not Getting Strong enough on the Bike
If you believe that simply focusing on your run will make you a better ironman marathon runner, then you will be in a deep mess after you biked 180kms in your race. It is also no surprise that the personal bests in ironman marathons are achieved when the age-groupers worked hard on their bike training. Getting the miles done in the bike 5-7 hours saddle time, coupled with bouts of big-gear training will make you stronger on the bike. Getting stronger on the bike and smart pacing means you will be fresh after 180km leg.

4. Neglecting Recovery
Yes you still need to do the Long Runs of 2.5 hours and hilly runs. But there are times in the middle of your build-up, your legs are so wrecked, you need to step back, and listen to your body. Otherwise you risk being too fatigue to train with a decent technique and that will not only create bad habits but also increase chances of injuries

There are options for recovery, one is active recovery of easy swim and a spin ride. Others will be a sports massage or a flexibility session. Use these recovery strategies after your key runs to boost recovery and get you ready for the next main sessions

Remember, make your easy days easier, and your hard days harder. And you can only do that if you listen to your body.

5. Not Enough Brick Sessions
This is a very specific skill that every multisport athlete must master. And make it natural on all their training programs. There are mostly two types of brick sessions: the transition run, and the long brick. Transition runs are 15-20 minutes runs off the bike, focusing on finding your proper form, and shaking off the wobbly legs you feel after a long bike. Try to have 2-3 times sessions of this transition runs. You can even do them as a cool down of some of your weekly bike sessions, take it easy and focus on stride rate.

The long brick is a break through workout and must be done at the tail-end of your build-up, or when you are nearing your peak period. Usually this is done on the weekend when you have more time, and the runs are longer (30 mins + runs after a long ride) than the short transition runs. Allow necessary recovery after a good hard long brick session.

Acing these workouts means you are more than ready and shake the wobbly legs feeling you will experience on the first few minutes on your marathon. If the wobbly legs did not wear off, it means you have not done enough brick sessions or you overcooked your pacing on the bike…which leads us to….

6. Wrong Pacing
Your pacing on the bike will matter most on how well you will perform on your marathon. You have done the training on the bike and run, and have significantly improve your strength on both discipline. But on race day, something went wrong. You bonked on the run again. Better to look at your pacing discipline. You saw a competitor on the bike course, overtaking you, and zooming past you and your steady pace. You reacted, and surge to keep up. Or you are within minutes of a goal time, but you ignored the terrain and wind conditions and simply exerted more power just to save that 3-5 minutes off your bike split. Remember, if you paced it wrong, those 3-5 minutes may mean more in terms of your run time.

Whether you will pace via a power meter of do it by feel, having the proper steady pace means no over-exertions on your muscles, making them fresh for the ironman marathon.

7. Mishandling the Nutrition Training
Nutrition is the 4th discipline, specially when it comes to long-distance traithlons. How many times have we seen athletes bonk on the run, vomit and have GI stress issues. Nutrition is a personalized thing. What may work for you, may not work for others, as our bodies are different in reacting to certain fuel and nutrition. The most given advice though is to practice your nutrition on your training. It is not smart to change on on race day what you have been eating on training.

Make sure you also don’t blame on nutrition, an error you’ve made in one of the previous 6 mistakes. For example, you may blame nutrition if your stomach shuts down on race day and you can’t process any calories, but most times these are a result of a combination of factors including wrong pacing.

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Speed: A Key Skill for Every Endurance Athlete

Conventional wisdom and training practices have created a void between coaching of endurance sports and that of high-skill sports such as basketball and soccer.

Are these sports really so different in their demands and as such should the training be so different?
In endurance sports it seems almost set in stone that any program must start with building a base, aimed at spending all available training time logging slow easy miles to build aerobic fitness. This practice has even created a paranoia and fear of speed sessions and interval work.

Many endurance athletes now only start working on their speed shortly before their main race, typically eight weeks out. That is a very short speed phase and it is during this time that injuries typically occur.
Speed training itself is not at fault here – the fact that these athletes have not developed the skills needed to go fast is the cause of such injuries.

Athletes focusing on improving their speed only within the final two months before a goal race are forcing a new skill on the body at a time when they’re tired and under pressure – a recipe for poor development and disaster.

Speed is the essential skill for performance as a triathlete – we need to develop this at the start of our program. If we take basketball as an example: they don’t start training programs with developing fitness to ensure they can last throughout game time.

Instead, they start by building the skills for success: athletes learn how to shoot, how to move on court and how to pass at speed. Essentially it’s not worth being ultra fit so you can run around the court for for two hours like a headless chicken if you can’t pass, shoot, block and score with a high percentage of accuracy and success.

The same goes for triathlon. We can train to be ultra fit so we have no problem with the race distance. But without developing our skills to go fast through consistent speed work our performance capacity is going to be limited.

When I mention speed work it scares most athletes as they picture pushing their body to its limits. This is simply not the case and it is not the way to teach your body new skills. Let’s first define what skills are and how we learn them, then we will look at pure speed work as a whole other area of training that I like to call hyper-setting.



A skill is simply another word for motor pattern. This is a pattern of muscle movements controlled by the brain to bring about a specific movement. For example, if we want to run at 4-minutes per kilometre pace we need to train at this speed to develop this motor pattern. Creating a skill requires practicing something repeatedly for short durations (up to 60 seconds) so it is committed to our short-term memory. Then over time it will be transferred to long-term memory (up to 5 months) – in other words it will become automatic, a skill we don’t need to think about.

Top performers in all sports perform with ease. It appears as if they are not thinking but are simply doing. They are in the zone, performing with effortless skill. This is possible as the skills they display are so deeply ingrained that they can switch off the thinking process and just achieve. We can all accomplish this with a well-designed training program.


Developing a skill is a lengthy process. It’s not something we can perfect overnight. The longer we spend developing the stronger and more efficient that skill set becomes. We can train for speed in an eight-week period, as many studies have shown. But, as I mentioned above, it comes with a very high risk of injury and the skill is not deeply set into our long-term memory. In other words we have speed but we don’t have efficiency at speed.

The true factor in endurance performance is this efficiency. When we can perform at speed and use as little energy as possible to do so then we can approach our own performance potential.

Developing your speed.

If we want to run a fast 10km off the bike we want to train to develop the skill of running fast off the bike. If our goals is, say, running a 40-minute 10km in an Olympic distance event it means that we want to train our body to perform at 4min/ km pace.

So we need to consider how we commit something to short-term memory: we must perform the movements repeatedly in short intervals and we must allow the brain time to reset and recover before repeating again.
Intervals of 200m are great for this. We can set a session of 8km broken down into, say, 40x200m with 30-second rest intervals. The 200s are performed at race pace, so 48 seconds. This is within the 60-second limit for short-term memory development.

TOTAL RUN = 51 minutes, not including warm-up and cool-down. If we asked the athlete to wear a heart rate monitor then we would expect to see a similar heart rate in this session as the athlete would show in a straight 51-minute easy to moderate run.

RESULT = we worked on developing race-specific skills, we achieved aerobic conditioning similar to a 50-minute easy run and the recovery due to the constant resetting of neural patterns and catabolic processes will be faster than it would be for an easy run of similar time. The Number One point missed by most endurance coaches is that in developing skills we are still developing aerobic fitness.

If you run 40x200m at 10km pace you may consider it a speed session but you are not going to produce the fatigue and soreness like a straight 8km run at 10km pace. This is not a demanding session but it is a skill development session. Repeat this often enough and you will become very efficient at running 4min/km pace and come race day it will be automatic. By following this procedure we make much more efficient use of our time.
There is another form of speed work that is performed at above-race-pace and compliments this skill development that I like to call skill hyper-setting.

HYPER-SETTING (hyper-learning)

This phenomenon is used frequently in the business world by typists looking to increase accuracy. Say a typist wants to touch type at 100 words a minute with 100% accuracy. To do so, they will practice typing at 120 words per minute. This will bring about more errors but when they then lower their typing back to 100 words per minute they will now feel like 100 words per minute is slow. That means they have a perception of having more time and as a result accuracy increases because they no longer feel rushed and out of control.
In the context of sport we can hyper-set all skills (and – another very important factor – we can hyper-set for pain too but that is the context of a whole separate article and exploration of Dr. Tim Noakes’ work on central governor theory).

The process of hyper-setting allows us to more easily achieve a zone-like performance or simply enhances our feeling of control. By performing at above-race-pace we teach our bodies to perform faster than they need to, then when we come to perform at race pace we are given the perception of extra time/ease. Running at race pace now feels much more controlled, we do not feel so rushed and stressed, thought processes are more relaxed and as a result that feeling of being in the zone is enhanced.


By focusing on skill development – not base – we streamline our training and we still get the aerobic benefits anyway. The only difference is come race day we have the skills necessary to perform deeply set into our long-term memory. We can just switch off and perform and if we have added some hyper-setting into our plan we increase the chances of achieving the zone-like performance of top pro athletes!

Enjoy your training!


Alun Woodward, ironguides Online Coach 

Alun Woodward

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