I often encounter athletes who are stepping up the triathlon ladder, athletes that are new to the sport, and are seeking new challenges, so the 70.3 and Ironman distances is a natural path for them.
However, I also come across athletes who are doing it the other way around. They have trained and raced Ironmans for a few years, and be it for lack of time or any other reason, they feel like training and racing short course races is an appropriate choice at that moment.
But how can one make the most out of this experience, fitness and background in long course races? How to race faster if most of the training you have done in the past, were the long workouts, especially on the weekends?
There are some key aspects that those athletes should know if you want to step down to sprint triathlons and Olympic Distance tris:
At an ironman race, the average age group athlete is racing the course, not other athletes since at an IM, if you are stronger on the bike you can put on 30min on someone, but also lose that much on the run.
Short course is different. Everyone is so close together for the whole race, that you are racing each other and not only the course. This is why race tatics plays much a bigger role and you should consider and use it to your favor.
There will be some parts of the race that can have a huge impact on the final placing, such as swim start, transitions, and mental games. Some of those aspects can be trained, some others not.
Swim start is one of the parts that you can train for and a good example on tatics. If you are racing against hundreds of athletes in your same wave, at an OD race, when the first swim buoy is only 500m from the start, then everyone is suppose to turn left, you want to get to that buoy as close to the front pack as possible, since there isn’t enough space for everyone, if you are left behind, the turn around the buoy will be very slow, you will find yourself behind people swimming breastroke, and after that it will be very hard to catch up to the front group.
So the swim training is something that can be really different from the IM training, you need to be a faster 400m swimmer, than just hang on that pack, while for a long course race, there is no need for speed at all in the water, all you want to do is to swim the course as efficient as possible, that is, at a decent speed, but saving as much energy as possible for the rest of the race.
Long Course races is mostly about fitness, pacing and nutrition. You can still be a decent Ironman athlete even if you can’t corner or downhill properly on the bike, the fitness will make up for that, especially at the average age group level. Short course is a different story, since a mere 5 minutes in your total time, can cost you a podium place in your age group.
Race specific training:
Due to time limitations, ironman athletes spend most of their weekends doing the long workouts, 4 to 6 hours on the bike and 2h plus on the run can be the norm on an ironman plan.
With short course training is no different, you want to improve your racing skills and fitness when you have time and other athletes to train with. I usually prescribe a little and hard bike/run brick every weekend for my athletes, and get them to race as often as possible, any sort of race will do it. Road running, aquathlons, duathlons and even “training races” such as group rides or group open water swims. Each race is a learning opportunity.
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