Triathletes : The Importance of Shoulder & Spine Mobility

By Ironguides x Le Physio Clinic.

In the rigorous training season, many triathletes find themselves grappling with a variety of injuries. These injuries can range from acute incidents to overuse injuries, with the latter being particularly prevalent due to the high-intensity and repetitive nature of triathlon training. One of the most common overuse injuries experienced by triathletes is shoulder pain, often linked to rotator cuff problems. Understanding the causes and preventative measures for this type of injury is crucial for maintaining a balanced and effective training regimen.

The Rotator Cuff and Shoulder Pain

When triathletes engage in long runs and rides, they adopt an “aero” posture to conserve energy and optimize performance. This posture, characterized by a rounded spine and prolonged static positioning, can significantly limit shoulder motion. Over time, this lack of movement leads to increased tension along the front of the body, resulting in stiffness and reduced shoulder mobility.

 For triathletes, this misalignment can be particularly detrimental in swimming, a discipline that demands substantial shoulder complex control and mobility. The repetitive overhead movements required in swimming can exacerbate existing shoulder issues, leading to pinching and tearing of the rotator cuffs.

Preventing these common injuries

Triathletes can significantly reduce the risk of rotator cuff injuries and maintain a balanced training program. Implementing these preventative measures will not only enhance performance but also contribute to long-term athletic health and sustainability.

A technique that can help improve shoulder and spine mobility beyond daily mobility drills is the Myofascial Release Technique. Myofascial release is a therapeutic approach used to relieve pain and increase mobility by targeting the myofascial tissues, which are the tough membranes that wrap, connect, and support muscles. This technique works on the concept of “Tensegrity”, which influences how the body maintains posture by distributing mechanical stress and strain. Tensegrity allows for a combination of stability and flexibility, essential for movement and adaptation. This balance is crucial for dynamic activities as the interconnected network of fascia and muscles continuously adjusts tension to keep the body upright and balanced, even during movement.

Myofascial Release treatment involves applying gentle, sustained pressure and gliding on the fascia to release tension and improve lotion in tissues, helping to alleviate discomfort and restore normal movement patterns. 

For personalized advice and treatment options, consider booking a consultation with a specialist. At Le Physio Clinic, located in the heart of Bangkok at the Interchange Building in Asoke, our team of experts is dedicated to helping athletes achieve their Goals.

Contact us at 092 246 9955 and use the discount code found in the members area on the ironguides website to receive 10% off all treatments. 

Your journey to pain-free training starts here!

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How to Increase Your Odds at a Kona Slot

By Vinnie Santana —

Vinnie SantanaEvery year a few weeks ahead of Kona all triathletes start to get excited about the big show, wondering if one day they could be a part of the Ironman World Championships as competitors themselves.

Having raced it as a professional triathlete and having worked with many athletes who have qualified for Kona in the past few years, I have found there are some very clear rules—apart from hard work—on what it takes to earn a spot.

This article will cover both how you should pick a course profile that will provide you a better chance of qualifying as well as a rundown on what to expect at most Ironman qualifiers around the world.

Race your strength:

When it comes to Hawaii, there is no easy way—you have to risk it at some stage. If you are fit enough to race with qualifying for a Kona slot as your goal, it is very likely you have done an Ironman before, so “simply” finishing is no longer a goal. That makes it easier mentally to take more risk during an Ironman, even if it doesn’t work out as planned and you bonk at some stage of the race.

If you are a first-timer, then your goal is to finish. Of course there are secondary goals, with the most popular one to run the run, and your whole training and racing should be focused on that objective.

A very common profile of triathletes is the strong biker with a mediocre run. If you want to qualify for Kona, we are talking about high-performance age group triathletes. If running fast isn’t for you, if for any reason you feel that running 3h30 or quicker isn’t possible, but you feel great on the bike, you might do better by riding close to 5h and then do your best to run 3h40-50. With those splits you will very likely break 10 hours, which puts you very close to a Hawaii for most age groups in several races with the exception of the super-fast races in Europe or those with a stacked field.

Of course your training will have to be tailored to that. You will need to develop an extremely efficient run technique and, of course, bike strength.

Swim faster:

The swim is roughly 10 percent of an Ironman. Why bother with the hard work necessary to go from an 80-minute swim split to 65 minutes? In fact, it could take a year of swim focus to improve those 15 minutes—you might think that within that timeframe you could improve more in your bike or run splits.

Think again. Once you are fit and skilled enough to swim 65 minutes, you are not only saving time but starting the bike and run much fresher, with a lower heart rate and less muscle fatigue which will translate into faster bike- and run splits.

Another benefit is that you are around much fitter athletes during races. There is no need to waste energy on overtaking hundreds of riders which can be physically and mentally stressful. Not to mention that you have more space in the water and experienced swimmers near you which usually makes the swim leg less stressful as everyone is confident and knows what they are doing.

Pacing is another benefit of being a front-of-the-pack swimmer. You save a significant amount of energy when you are “riding with” a group of steady athletes instead of playing catch-up.

Attention to details:

When it comes to Kona, every second counts. I have seen a number of athletes who missed out on a slot by a couple of minutes. They might have gone faster by paying more attention to details before and during the race.


The old saying “Never try anything new on race day” is getting more and more important as the triathlon industry throws all those new technologies and gadgets at us. Walking around the Expo days before an Ironman and seeing all those items that you don’t own yet but are supposed to make you go faster can be very tempting. Don’t give in. An extreme example comes from one very fit athlete who was reduced to walking the marathon due to blisters caused by his brand-new compression socks.

First of all, you do NOT need the best and most expensive equipment to qualify. In fact, in many situations you might go faster if you choose the cheaper options, since that what is usually designed for the world-class professional athlete may be out of the age grouper’s range of fitness or skills to handle.


You should have a very straightforward nutrition plan for race day. It has to be something you have tried and tweaked over many races and training sessions. Stick to it—the last thing you need is slowing down as a result of getting your nutrition wrong, which can cause stomach discomfort or lack of energy, which will in turn result in a slow day even when physically you were very fit.


As I’ve written in one of my articles before, there is no perfect Ironman race. Something won’t go as planned, period. That said, the more experience you have in dealing with new situations, the easier it will be for you to pick the best choice for each surprise.

If you think you are still a few years away from qualifying, use this time to get to know yourself better, race different courses and conditions, see what suits you and what doesn’t—be aware of your weaknesses and work on them.

However, if qualifying is something is a realistic possibility for you, do a tune-up race in preparation for the big day—ideally a half ironman event 8-10 weeks out on a similar course (consider wetsuits, ocean or lake swim, hills on the bike and run, and weather conditions). Use the same equipment, strategy and nutrition as you plan to do in the qualifier race, even if by doing that you might go a bit slower than you could by racing according to the 70.3 distance.

Understanding Ironman races around the globe:

Now that you have an idea on what to consider when picking a course that will suit your strengths and maximize your chances of qualifying, you also have to understand the specifics of racing on each course and part of the globe.

Things to consider:

Matching course profile & your profile

As discussed earlier in this article, finding a course that suits your strengths and won’t make you lose too much ground on your weakness should be priority number one. Once you have picked the races around the world based on that, consider number of slots, level of competition and travel time, in that order.

Number of slots

Slots per race vary, from as few as 30 to as many as 80—that makes a huge difference as, depending on your age group, you have a chance even if you place 15th or so if you are in the M40-44 age group for example and are lucky that some athletes ahead of you will turn down the slot. On the flipside, races with fewer slots make it much tighter; unless you are in the top 5 of your age group, your chances are slim.

Level of your competition

Certain races tend to attract certain types of athletes. If you want to qualify at the fastest ironman on the planet, you better be ready to race very, very fast. Ironmans in Europe, with the exception of a few races, are known to have very high caliber athletes, since the locals are in peak shape at that time of the year and they prefer to race their “home turf” due to logistical reasons. Showing up at Ironman Frankfurt, which is the European Championships, to qualify for Kona will require a perfect race regardless of your level. It is preferable to choose races where historically finisher times are slower.

Location & Traveling requirements

Apart from the obvious fact that many athletes can’t afford too many days off work or away from home, time zones are also important when racing such a long event overseas. The general rule of thumb is a day of rest for each hour of difference; if you can’t afford that time, make sure you are a good traveler otherwise it may be a wasted opportunity.

Another detail to think about is the time of the race within the year and the qualifying season. Races later in the season are usually less competitive such as those late in August (Canada and Japan come to mind), as most of the very fast athletes prefer to qualify earlier in the year so they can afford to take some time off, recover from their efforts, before building for Kona again. The late-season races are in a way a “last resort” for people trying to qualify, as they need to back it up with Kona in about 5-6 weeks.

So, which race to pick? See the Pros and Cons of the most famous ones below:

Ironman races in the Americas:

Most Ironmans in North America offer a higher amount of Kona slots, which is already a very attractive feature. Another benefit is that the level of the competition isn’t as high, since there are several Ironman races within weeks of each other and the fast athletes tend to spread thin around the races from the country. Few overseas athletes get to go to races in North America. Most races in North America also sell out very fast, another reason that may leave fast athletes outside of the race

Ironmans Brazil and Mexico do offer a moderate amount of Kona slots but the competition may be slighter faster than in North America and Canada. In Brazil, for example, if you are a man between the age of 30 and 40, you may have to break 9h30 to have a chance.

Oceania and Asia:

As of the time of writing, we only have an Ironman race in Japan when it comes to Asia. Local athletes aren’t as fast as those in Europe or Australia, and the late time of the race also makes this slightly less competitive since most of the top athletes prefer to race earlier in the year so they can recover and train specifically for Kona.

On the flip side you have races in Australia that are very different than Japan. Busselton and Melbourne are probably among the hardest races in the world to qualify—they are early in the season on fast courses with fast athletes. If you are in a competitive age group, you may go 9h15 and miss out on Kona. They are great for PBs, but for a Kona slot only if you are a very experienced and fast triathlete. Ironman Cairns and Port Macquarie on the other hand offer less competitive fields, and slower races and courses in general, increasing the chances of intermediate level triathletes.

Ironman Races in Europe:

In Europe you have got everything. From the easier races to qualify such as the UK and Wales that are later in the year, on slower courses with slower competitors, but they can be very unique when it comes to course profile; you better be ready for a lot of ups and downs, both on the technical front and the bike course. If you live in a flat area and aren’t used to technical rides, this may not suit you.

The traditional European races such as Frankfurt & Austria are also a mini version of the world championships—don’t be surprised to see several athletes breaking nine hours if you are in a competitive age group.

You may also find extreme conditions in Europe that may fit like a glove for very few athletes: Ironman Nice for very technical and climber-bike riders, or Ironman Lanzarote for strong climbers who won’t need to be as technical but will need to be able to handle the heat.

With the information above, you have now a clear map for your Road to Kona. Unless you are a very experienced and fast ironman triathlete with several Kona starts already under your belt, picking the right race will increase your chances and make the dream a reality. And make sure you back that decision with specific, smart and hard training.

Good luck and hope to see you on the start line in Kona one day!

Vinnie Santana, ironguides Head 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)

Reference article –

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Triathlon Swimming VS Pool Swimming – Understanding the Differences

I was approached by one of our athletes after our swim training one night and he asked why we don’t technique work and kicking sets. While I welcome pure swimmers to my squad as an opportunity for them to get fit, these swimmers can be very experienced, and this day, this athlete suggested the rest of our group would improve if we spent part of the session working on technique drills rather than fitness.

Coming from a swimming background, more specifically a breakstroker and sprinter, which is a combination that weighs heavily on technique rather than fitness, he just couldn’t relate to the challenges that most of our swimmers, as triathletes, need to deal with when it comes to the specifics of triathlon swimming.

I had to remind him that our group is a triathlon group and that’s why we do things differently to the traditional swimming master programme.  The article below should clarify the main points, and where your focus should be.


ironguides Triathlon Squad in Bangkok, Thailand

ironguides Triathlon Squad in Bangkok, Thailand

1)      Technique is individual

1.1 Background

At our squad we have athletes who have swam at the Swimming Olympic Trials to a first timer that can barely make it across the pool, and all levels in between. To prescribe one same drill to both athletes would be a waste of time and effort, since their needs are completely different, the experienced swimmer may need to work on specific open water skills or adjust the swim stroke to more sufficient style since the training load is lower than it used to be at peak shape and that impacts the technique used.

The beginner needs to go back to the basics, learn timing of breathing, basic balance work in the water and just develop a better feel and confidence for the water.

As we use a 8 lane pool with roughly 3 swimmers per lane, and prescribing specifics sets to each individual is just impossible. For that reason, I prefer to have our swimmers working on a 1-on-1 when it comes to technique, the coach can focus solely on that athlete, their needs and goals.

1.2 Body type affects technique

On a similar note to the background of each swimmer, the body type also has a huge impact on how you should use your swim stroke.

While the smooth and long glide swimming style is easy on the eyes and may work for a very specific type of swimmer that tend to do very well in high performance swimming, its definitely not the most appropriate style for most swimmers.

To hold a long stroke, one needs a powerful kick to avoid any momentum loss, otherwise the stroke becomes an “accelerate, decelerate, accelerate, decelerate”  type of movement and that is certainly no the most efficient way to swim.

Then we have the main component in the swim kick which is ankle flexibility. Triathletes, especially men, tend to have very pool ankle flexibility due to all the running and cycling, ankles and lower leg muscles are chronically tight which makes kicking almost impossible, in fact most triathletes couldn’t kick across the pool without getting to the other side in total exhaustion.

Another challenge with aiming to build a better swim kick is how much energy, or leg muscle glycogen that work will take that could be better used when cycling or when running.  On race day, muscle glycogen is your primary source of energy and applying a strong kick for the entire swim length will only lower the amount of energy left for the bike and run

1.3 Pool VS Open Water – different environments

Going back to the stroke types, we have your typical ‘glider’ that suits a tall male athlete with a strong kick, and the second option is a short and choppier stroke with a very fast turnover rate, that is the recommended stroke for most triathletes and also used by some pool swimmers, especially shorter athletes doing long distance events. The difference comes from the environment you are swimming at. Quoting my colleague Alun Woodward (ironguides UK) on his article published by Triathlete Magazine:

“First let’s start by understanding that “open water swimming” is not about extending the lane in your pool into an empty, 1500-meter long, flat water course with a lane rope on each side (as some swim instructors have recently suggested). Instead, open water swimming as experienced by the vast majority of Age Group swimmers is a churning, rough-and-tumble experience in which all the rules of pool swimming are broken! How long have you been able to hold a delicate, careful, well thought out stroke in a race?

That’s right – about 10 seconds! With every stroke there seems to be something to impede your progress and stall you in the water: Chop from the wind, other swimmers’ elbows, someone pulling on you or swimming overtop of you, ocean swell, murky water, air bubble froth, feet impeding your ability to catch water, and so on. It’s like swimming in a washing machine and needing to re-accelerate with every stroke! Because of this constant interference and challenge at every stroke, the truth about triathlon swimming is that to improve your abilities in the open water you need to do almost the opposite of what you did to develop swim technique in the pool!”


Choppywaters, wind, 'White caps', sighting, drafting, makes triathlon swimming very unique

Choppywaters, wind, ‘White caps’, sighting, drafting, wetsuit, makes triathlon swimming very unique


2)      Cycling, Running training and its impact on swimming training

Lets start with the fact that triathletes are fatigued all the time from the accumulate training they do. Very often we have some athletes who cycled or ran in the morning of our evening swim session. Their legs are still fatigued, maybe sore and with less than ideal glycogen stores. One can’t expect a strong swim kick out of this combination.

This connects to my favourites training gear in the pool. The pullbuoy, paddles (and ankle bands for very experienced swimmers). They can be used separately or in different variations according to the goal of the session and level of swimmer.

The main benefit of the paddles+pullbuoy is to provide a little help to the swimmer, the pullbuoy will give the swimmer a lift, taking the struggle out of swimming, then one can focus on the workout intensity and other technique details.

The hand paddle will lower the swimmer heart rate while increasing the muscle load, this results in the swimmer being able to train very hard even on a fatigue state from a morning run or ride. The swimming arms will take all the work.

You may ask if this isn’t “cheating” and that on race day triathletes can’t swim with paddles or pullbuoys, then we need to think about the race day circumstances. First, most swims are done in the ocean and due to the different density of salty water to the pool, one can float a lot more and that simulates the same lift from the pullbuoy. So not only using a pullbuoy will help you in training but it is also specific to ocean swims.

The other factor is that fatigue levels on race day will be inexistent unlike in training, any experienced athlete will freshen up some before a race and that will allow him to swim faster and with a better technique than what this same athlete would be able to do in training conditions.

And finally, a lot of races, especially in North America, Australia and Europe, are wetsuit legal swims. And anyone who has swam in a wetsuit knows how much extra lift that provides you and also the extra stress on the shoulders. So other than swimming in a pool in your wetsuit, another way to train specifically for it is to use pullbuoy+paddles for a large part of your swim sessions.


3)      Swimming as part of cycling or run training

3.1 Allocating your training hours to swim fitness

Looking into a weekly training plan of a typical age group triathlete, we would see 2-3 swims per week along with 2-3 bikes for a total of 6 to 9 weekly sessions, to make it simple, lets say that our athlete is spending 2h30 (2x 75min sessions) in the pool every week, and is training for a Half Ironman Distance event, where the swim is 1.9km and will take around 30 minutes, those are average numbers to a working age grouper with family and other commitments outside of training.

Which training programme do you think would get you not only faster to transition one, but also fresher for the bike and run:

Option 1: Traditional Pure Swimmers programme, 50% of Main set/Fitness work (1h15 focused on specific fitness)

Option 2: Triathlon Swimming programme, 100% of Main set/Fitness work (2h30 focused on specific fitness)


3.2 Balancing your swimming training with cycling and run training

The next step that impacts your swim session is the type of work you did before that swim session on the bike and run, and the type of work you will be doing tomorrow.

ironguides training approach is based on hormonal balance, and the reason why our swim session is on Monday, and is focused on speed and strength, isn’t a coincidence. After a long weekend on the bike and run, usually the only available time for age groupers to go long, the endurance stimulus that you got from the weekend will trigger a catabolic hormonal reaction on your system, and Monday’s session mitigates that process by triggering anabolic stimulus such as increasing growth hormone and testosterone levels.  You know those all out sprints with hand paddles? They aren’t much different than lifting in the gym, but specific to your sport.

This not only allows you to train hard, but also is healthier as avoids the typical ‘aerobic breakdown’ that most triathletes deals with.

We like to say that triathlon is swimbikerun and not swim+bike+run, both in training and race day all disciplines are connected. Your swim training of today is planned based on your cycling training of yesterday and the run training of tomorrow


4)       Swim fitness impact on bike run on race day

Now that we’ve discussed the training differences of a pool swimmer and a triathlete, we also need to look into the race day requirements

We saw that triathlon is swimbikerun and not swim+bike+run, or in other words, your swim fitness on race day will have an impact on your bike and run splits.

If you are walking the last third of your ironman marathon for example, the culprit could be in your swim fitness.  The fatigue only accumulates during the day and it may ‘pop’ on the run especially if combined with other poor race day decisions related to nutrition and pacing.

One very typical scenario is the experienced swimmer who thinks he can get away with very limited swim training over the long course races, while this swimmer may still be able to finish the swim at a decent split, is very likely he will pay a high price later in the race. One thing is to be fast, another is to be fit, and fitness is everything when it comes to triathlon.

I hope the above article clarifies the difference of pool swimming training VS triathlon swimming training and help you to focus your efforts on what works. Make sure the swim program you are following understand the needs of triathlon swimming.

Happy laps,

Vinnie Santana, ironguides Head Coach

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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Improving Open Water Swimming


With summer in full swing, lakes and oceans are warming up, making open water swimming a more inviting prospect than our regular pool sets. Open water swimming is race specific and a great way to add something new to refresh our minds at a time when training stress tends to be high and boredom can be setting in.

Adding open water swims to your program allows a change in training stimulus that can lead to improved swimming for race day and also allows you to develop skills needed for racing that you simply can’t develop in a pool. Besides, many athletes can panic in open water and training in this environment quickly allows you to get over any fear or certainly learn to cope better to improve confidence for the race.

Fear factor

While not affecting everyone, it is common for athletes to panic in open water while they are totally fine swimming in a pool. Many factors are at play here, from early childhood experiences with swimming, to fear of not being able to see anything under water, and many, many more.

Such fear manifests typically in hyperventilation, a sense of restriction in the neck and just wanting to get out the water. These symptoms normally strike straight after getting into the water or after a couple of minutes, and then gradually fade until the athlete is able to swim just fine.

We can use our experience with this to prevent it from happening during a race: if we know we are going to panic, then we can accept it as normal and make sure to get in the water early for a good warm-up and allow that panic to occur—and subside—during the warm-up.

Typically a 10-minute warm-up in the water will allow the panic to pass and have you ready to race.

Swim warm-up:

2min very easy continuous swim

Breathing intervals: 20 strokes breathing every 2 strokes, 30 breathing every 3, and 40 breathing every 4.

2×12 strokes hard without breathing, take a 30-second to 1-minute break after interval

2min very easy continuous swim

This set gets you used to being in the water and fully opens up the lungs readying them for racing, or your training session.


When we do our first open water swims, we normally find that our arms fatigue very quickly which totally affects the speed we swim at. The reason for this is the constant swimming without turns; while a turn in the pool only takes a second or 2, it gives the body a mini break and allows us to swim harder for longer without fatigue. This can already be noticed when moving from a 25m pool to a 50m pool but is even more pronounced in open water.

When starting out with open water swims, do not think about speed—simply swim easy and relaxed and get used to being in constant motion without rest. The strength adaption to open water swimming only takes a couple of weeks and at that point you can start to work on more specific sessions. I like to test this development of strength using a simple test.

Test for strength:

Swim – 3x (5min straight ahead easy effort, then turn around and swim back moderate)

If you take the same time or more on the way back, then you’re not ready to progress to harder open water swims without compromising technique. Ideally you should be coming back 30-60 seconds faster (note that currents and waves can affect this though and need to be taken into account).

An extra point that may be leading to fatigue is the fit of your wetsuit. While modern wetsuits are extremely flexible, you must make sure you put them on correctly; if you don’t, it will affect performance. I always like to spend at least 10 minutes putting on a wetsuit before swimming; make sure the suit is symmetrical on both legs and arms, not twisted. Also the neck should be high and comfortable instead of leading to a pulling restricted feeling.


The one thing you simply can’t practice in the pool is navigation. You can get used to looking forward while swimming but navigation in the pool is too simple due to the black line on the floor. When we swim in open water we normally have buoys to show the course. Often these can be hard to see from land when looking out over the course and they become even more difficult to notice from the water.

When swimming open water, it is best to use landmarks to sight off as these will be much easier to see from the water. For example, check out the race course on the day prior if possible—get in the water and sight to the buoys you will be swimming around, then look for a major landmark in line with the buoy and you will use this as your primary focus on race day.

Sighting the course is not the only navigational issue. Even if you can see where to go, that does not mean you are going to swim straight. With doing most of our swimming in a pool, we tend to have a stroke that is not very symmetrical. We never notice this in the pool as our brains auto-adjust stroke to the sight of the black line along the bottom with every stroke we take.

Once we head into open water and no longer have this black line, we tend to see athletes veer off course unintentionally, swimming to either the right or left side of where they want to go. To start correcting this, we can use a series of breathing and sighting drills.

Drills for developing a straight swim:

To start, swim 40 strokes breathing every 2 strokes and sighting every 4th stroke. Once successful in swimming straight, do 40 strokes breathing every 2 strokes and sighting ever 6th stroke. Continue on this path until you can swim 40 strokes maintaining a straight course without sighting.

Race specifics

All the above is about getting us used to the open water and making sure we can get around the course without concern but it does not look at some other race specifics that will significantly improve your performance. Drafting in open water, as on the bike, saves us a lot of energy or significantly improves our speed for the same effort.

Learning to swim on feet should be a big part of your open water training. On race day we will be looking to get onto the feet of a swimmer who is faster than us and take a ride with them. This sounds a lot simpler than it actually is. The problem is that no two swimmers are the same and none of us swim totally straight so we end up having to adjust position often in order to stay on feet. This has to be done every 2 to 3 seconds at times or else you lose the feet and quickly slow down as a result and then there is no way back!

Swimming well on feet requires extreme concentration and for whatever reason most of us tend to drift of and lose focus more during swimming than in any other discipline. There is another situation here we need to be aware of: we might have a swimmer who is terrible at navigation but very fast. It may be annoying to swim on their feet always changing direction but most times you will have a faster swim if you stay on their feet, even if it means you swim a longer course.

When you train in open water, it is always best to swim with at least one other swimmer for safety. On top of that, having a group allows for great specific training. For example you can set out a course and have one swimmer at the front purposely going off course several times but your job is to follow and always stay on feet. You can get used to doing this very quickly and you will find that your concentration in the water improves rapidly.

Open water swimming will add a new element to your triathlon training and can lead to a big improvement in your race performance.

Enjoy your training!

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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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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Triathlon Heresies: ironguides in Triathlete Magazine

It’s said that genius speaks its own language but seldom understands it. If you’ve had the opportunity to spend a little time with geniuses in different fields, you’ve probably noticed something else – they share the ability to master complexity to produce simplicity.

Triathlon remains a pretty small field but we can lay claim to a few technological innovations and feats of endurances that can be called inspired genius. But when it comes to the ability to develop winning athletes, the field narrows to the point that only one man merits the label of genius – Brett Sutton.

I had the good fortune to spend a good deal of the last eight years in almost daily contact with Brett. His achievements leave little doubt that he has a unique ability to generate consistent top-level results in a very complicated sport, working with the finicky personalities of professional endurance athletes no less. A quick summary of his coaching pedigree lists eight ITU world champions, over a hundred ITU World Cup wins, wins at every major triathlon held including the Hawaii Ironman, and more podium finishes than the pages of this article could list. Today a second wave of coaches around the world emulates Brett’s methods in the hunt to develop the next generation of champions in the pro ranks.

My discussions with Brett totally transformed my views on human performance, focused perseverance and human psychology. Although my days as a professional triathlete were over by the time he and I started our dialogue, my understanding of endurance and triathlon training was only beginning. Elsewhere our sport was gravitating to the increasingly generic training protocols that I used to rely on, including zone training, power targets and lactate testing, but Brett’s methods were entirely unorthodox and challenged convention at every step. The more I learned, the more I let go of my quantitative ideas and outdated notions on training and embraced the common sense of his approach.

Imagine – little to no periodization throughout the year, but instead a steady diet of skills acquisition and working on one’s weaknesses. No “key” races and generic tapering formula, but rather a flexible approach that takes into account recent training context. Weekly recovery derived from the structure of carefully designed programs that had athletes training every day, often using a strongly repetitive program. No reference to triathlon’s component sports to train, but rather triathlon-specific techniques to develop skills in each component more relevant to triathlon.

Although professional and Age Group triathlon are two very different sports, there are principles and perspective on training that you can learn and apply to your own training to make it more effective, save time, enhance recovery, all in a more enjoyable, qualitative way. No need to sift through the tea leaves of daily heart rate or power downloads, no need to spend money on expensive gadgets, and no need to plan daily training months in advance.

In this series of articles, we’ll take a look at how we’ve applied some of the principles of professional triathlon training to create a counter-intuitive approach to training we call The Method. By the end of this series, hopefully you’ll come to understand triathlon training from an entirely different, simplified and holistic perspective.



To understand triathlon you need to look at our sport not as the sum of its parts, but as swimbikerun – a single event taking place in changing environments, requiring different skills applied at similar levels of exertion. Training in each component needs to take place in a broader context than single sport training, so when you see someone referring to what swimmers, cyclists or runners do to prepare for a race – tune out! Triathlon takes place under completely different scenarios.

We’ll take a look at specific training for each of triathlon’s components, but here’s a few examples of what I mean. In a triathlon, you’ll rarely ever find calm, flat water. Instead you’re faced with flailing arms, chop and murky water. If you’re a relatively unskilled swimmer, long distance-per-stroke glide phases open you up to “stroke interruption” every time you pause, leading to time-consuming re-acceleration at every stroke. It’s much better to adopt a short, choppy but powerful stroke that minimizes glide and maintains forward momentum with a more rapid arm turnover.

Likewise, contrary to conventional wisdom for cyclists, triathletes benefit from a lower cadence on the bike, not just to preserve fast twitch fibers for the run, but also to make maximum use of training time to generate strength on the relatively limited number of miles we ride. And on the run, it pays to train at a high stride rate (greater than 90 steps per leg per minute) because taking more, smaller steps is a more efficient way to run faster on tired, depleted leg muscles. We’ll take a detailed look at how to we structure training in each component in later articles in the series.

Five Systems

From a general perspective, fitness can be divided into five categories: Aerobic fitness, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition. At ironguides, instead of viewing your training as “Zones”, which take into account only your level of aerobic fitness, we refine the above aspects of fitness further to come up with a more triathlon-specific view on training needs.

We call these categories the Five Systems and use them to classify all our training so that we can achieve a more complete training structure that stimulates multiple components of fitness consistently, shifting emphasis to one or the other depending on the time of year, race calendar, individual needs, life circumstance, and so on. Looking at training this way helps you understand how training can be structured to enhance recovery while continuing to train hard everyday.

The Five Systems we use are Strength, Speed, Neuromuscular (or Skill), Tolerance and Endurance. All of these can be combined to various degrees, but by viewing training with these categories in mind and understanding how they relate to one another, you can create a training structure that helps you become “the complete athlete” without ever having to refer to a training zone or power output. With a properly structured plan you can focus your training more specifically and gain aerobic fitness anyway!

You’re so hormonal!

An obscure study from 1995 entitled Blood hormones as markers of training stress and overtraining. (Urhausen A, Gabriel H, Kindermann W. Sports Med. 1995 Oct;20(4):251-76) showed that an athlete’s testosterone/cortisol ratio indicates the physiological strain of his or her training load. To understand why this matters and how you can use this information to create an optimal training structure without falling into the trap of zone training, you need to have a basic understanding of human endocrinology.

Our hormones govern how our body responds to stimuli, including training stimuli. While all training is by and large a “catabolic” process (it breaks your body down through the action of cortisol), if you incorporate short, intense training such as strength work or very fast, very short intervals (which demand high muscle recruitment), you can promote a higher release of testosterone and human growth hormone and support a more “anabolic” training response (a building up of the body). By incorporating Strength and Speed training in your weekly routine at the right times, you can mitigate the effects of more catabolic Endurance and Tolerance sessions, while still using your training time in a sport-specific way.

By categorizing training into Five Systems and understanding how training in those systems affects your endocrine system, you can structure your training to maximize training effort on a daily basis while still permitting day-to-day recovery. While one System rests, another works! In this very basic way, you can design a training program in which you can always train hard.

For example, we like to assign a set of Power Intervals on the bike (such as 10 x 60sec of very high resistance at very low cadence on a spin bike, with equal rest) the day after an athlete has completed an Endurance effort. The anabolic tendency of the interval set mitigates the catabolic nature of the Endurance effort.

Upgrade your skills!

Much of the credit for the incredible performances by single sport athletes can be attributed to the high volume of work they do performing a single or limited range of motions over and over again, which develops extreme efficiencies of movement. As triathletes we don’t have this luxury, so you need to incorporate into your training some form of skill work to really make each session count. Through the use of the right tools or terrain you can do this without impacting the quality of your training and recovery.

For example, instead of heading out the door for 40 minutes in “Zone 1-2”, take a broader view on your run training and incorporate some leg speed training using a treadmill or light downhill gradients. You’ll teach your muscles to fire more rapidly without compromising the workout because you’ll be running faster than on flat ground at the same aerobic intensity. Using the right tools and approach, you can incorporate skills training into almost any session. Swim paddles and pull buoy permit better body position in the water and help develop strength, while a spin bike can help develop your cycling strength.

Keep in mind that if you’re an older athlete, you’ll struggle to acquire new motor skills but that doesn’t mean give up! Instead, you need to train more frequently in the more technical sports (such as swimming) to maintain current skills.

Common sense recovery

Age Group athletes face particular demands that mean life often interferes with our best-laid plans. Instead of taking days off when the schedule says, why not take them when life demands it due to work, family or other commitments or unforeseen events? Training this way ensures consistency and frees up time when it’s most needed – knowing you have trained your best in recent sessions means you’re less likely to worry about missing the odd session due to other obligations.

Cyclical periodization and repetition

The basis of traditional training periodization was founded decades ago when scientific knowledge was far from complete and athletes’ workloads and demands were much lower than today. More recently, progress in sport science has reinforced the contradictions between traditional periodization and the successful experiences of prominent coaches and athletes using a more cyclical approach. The Method stresses repetition and a cyclic approach to training to concurrently develop motor skills, fitness and mental strength.

A cyclic training approach enables you to continually train all aspects of fitness while emphasizing specific components according to your needs, race calendar and other factors. As the race season draws near, you can begin to emphasize more race-specific factors. For example, our Olympic distance and Ironman athletes train in very similar ways for much of the year, but as Ironman approaches our long course athletes pick up the volume. Rather than having fatigued themselves with high mileage and unspecific training all winter long, they arrive at the final race preparation phase with a strong foundation and arsenal of skills.

And, rather than planning training sessions months in advance, we use a more repetitive training plan based on a weekly routine that you repeat. Not only does this remove the guesswork from setting your weekly routine, it also means you use your training sessions as performance benchmarks. By performing the same training session for several weeks, you can also better develop your intuitive feedback skills and learn to “ride out the rough patches” in your training, coming to better understand the effects of recent changes elsewhere, such as in your sleep, diet or stress patterns. Over time you also learn to better gauge and interpret fatigue levels so that you can better predict when you need time off, and when it’s worthwhile continuing a session.

* * *

Combined with a few simple intensity guidelines no more complicated than “easy”, “moderate”, “hard” and “all out”, you can reach new levels of triathlon performance by training more consistently, with less reliance on gadgets to guide your training, while freeing up time and putting the joy back in training.

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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How and Why to Train Through Races, Instead of Tapering

As we head full on into race season, tapering is the topic on everyone’s mind. Should we taper for every race, how do we recover from the race, and how do we get back to productive training as soon as possible. The process of tapering I have talked about in previous articles. What I want to talk about here is the process of training through smaller, less important races that we use as stepping stones to our BIG races.

We can only really go through a full taper process 2 or 3 times per season without losing fitness—these tapers should ideally be a month or more apart.

For smaller races we do not maintain our full training schedule right up to the race either. Instead we have a mini refresh before the race and train as normal immediately following the race, essentially treating the event as an important training session.


As we head through a training program at ironguides, we have our athletes training with a certain level of fatigue. This fatigue is an insurance policy against going too hard—it allows really good consistent training without the risk of going too hard as the body is too tired to do so!

When we have a small race coming up and we are in full training, the idea is to allow the body to freshen up without dropping all the fatigue and to not allow the body to change its hormonal state to one of deep recovery. With this, you are never going to be fully race sharp but you will be surprised at what you can do on a little fatigue.

I also use this to show athletes how hard they can push their bodies—tired body will not give you that top 5% speed but without that level you can’t blow up so you can really hammer away at your limit without fear of crawling home. This race suffering is a great lesson to take to your main races.

So how do we go about that freshening up?

I like to take the 3 days heading into the race as freshen-up time; any longer and we lose the training pattern and risk the body shutting down and going into deep recovery.

DAY 1: 3 days before the race

This is your day off, but I prefer it to be an active recovery day with just 1 training session, which is best done in a non-weight bearing sport so either swim or bike. The session should be all easy and 40 minutes is the maximum you should do. Listen to your body and just enjoy your training. I personally love to choose a route I know to be around 30 minutes and to not take a watch; BE FREE and feel your body. If you feel like a little more then go for it and if you feel terrible do not push through.


*   easy 40-minute swim or bike

DAY 2 – 2 days before the race

This is an easy aerobic day, training the same hours as normal but the intensity is lower. This maintains fuel burning as normal within the body. This day would normally include a short run and a longer bike. The run would include a short period or set of moderate-pace intervals, while the bike includes a few 10 second ALL OUT sprints to make sure all muscle fibres are activated and kept in motion for the race. During a period of heavy training these 10-second sprints can really refresh the muscles very quickly—at the end of 10 seconds you get a short but intense burn throughout the muscles and this is exactly what is needed to produce a short secretion of growth hormone into the body to accelerate recovery.


*    RUN – 30 minutes with 10 minutes of moderate pace intervals
*    BIKE – 60-90 minutes easy with some 10-second sprints

DAY 3 – 1 day before the race

This is a short training day where we touch on all systems, so a little strength, a little speed and a little tolerance work. It is always good to do a little swim on this day and I prefer the bike also as it’s non-weight bearing and allows for faster recovery than a run session.


*    SWIM – 20 minutes with some short accelerations to above race speed.
*    BIKE – 40 minutes ride with some short all-out intervals and some moderate-paced strength intervals on a climb if possible.


As we are still going to be a little fatigued heading into the race, a good warm-up is essential. This does not need to be fast but, just as in training, sometimes we need 20-30 minutes for the body to wake up, you should also be prepared to not feel great for the first part of the race, just keep positive and keep faith in the fact your body will come around.


This is the important part to maintain consistent training; it is essential you do not stop as soon as you cross the finish line. It’s always tempting, but think that you would never do this after a hard session. Keep mobile, walk around a little or a small bike/ jog as you would after any hard session—remember, you have to think of the race as just a hard training session.

The next day you are right back into your training plan as though you had done a hard session, not a race. This style of training is the reason pro athletes can maintain such good shape all year despite racing almost every weekend; they do not taper for each race and they are straight back into training following the events.

Most ITU athletes will race Sunday, wake up sometimes crazy early on Monday morning to run before traveling home or to the next race. Running at airports etc is all part of the lifestyle to not allow the body to go into rest mode and then on Tuesday it’s back to the hard work. Typically these athletes are back to track intervals on Tuesday, training through the fatigue!

Alun “Woody” Woodward, Certified ironguides Coach – Europe


* * * Your best is our business.™ * * *


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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New Year resolutions: key to success

Another year has flown by—we are heading into the new year and all the challenges it will bring. Making New Year’s resolutions can be very rewarding and actually lead to significant change—however, for 99 percent of us it is just a thought that lasts a day and then is forgotten as we go about our daily lives.

Read more »

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Rest Days: Learn How to Read Your Body Before Taking One

Time for the next session—but you’re tired and unmotivated to head out of the door. You’re not sure if the fatigue comes from having had a stressful week at work, or if you went a bit too hard at those weekend sessions. You are a dedicated athlete who feels very guilty whenever you miss a session. At the same time, you know that training through fatigue or illness is bad for your health. So what to do?

For this scenario, The Method athletes are given a few simple guidelines to “test drive” their bodies to help decide if they ought to skip a training session on any given day.

The key? WHEN IN DOUBT …  try it out!

This does NOT mean that you train when you’re sick.

But on those days when you’re unsure whether your should train, or not, The Method encourage athletes to simply try out your body to see what it tells you. Start the session with a very, very easy 20 to 30 minutes before making that call.

If you feel better, continue your session as planned. If needed, back off and take it easy later in the set if you find that you’re deteriorating.

If after that initial 20-30mins you feel the same, i.e. neither much better nor much worse, modify the session so that it places less strain on your body. For example, if you’re to do a long endurance effort, cut the duration. See how you feel later in the session before deciding if you’ll carry on. If you’re to do a lactate-tolerance session, greatly moderate both the duration and the intensity of the efforts and give yourself a lot more rest between each effort. You still engage your high-end aerobic system and fast-twitch muscle fibres, helping to maintain your accumulated fitness gains until you feel strong again.

If you feel worse after testing your body for that very easy 20-30mins, pack it in and head home. Your body’s telling you that it’s not prepared to train today; you might be fighting an impending illness or simply need to recover. Heed the warning and take the day OFF.

A stitch in time saves nine—if you’re ill or fighting illness, having a few days of rest from training will prevent a prolonged forced break from training and racing.

Use these simple guidelines to judge the most appropriate response on days when you feel sluggish or off. Often, you’ll have a great training session on a day you might otherwise have written off.

And on days you feel great?! Go for it! Just remember, the goal is not to deliver hammer blows to the body, but to generate a long-term, consistent training stimulus.

Try as we might, there is simply no way to avoid getting sick once in awhile. For these times, The Method stipulates you take time off and recover. Remember: With The Method everything is relative. When you’re sick, the body is weakened and needs to recover from training. The goal is to achieve maximum, effective consistency.

With all that said, The Method doesn’t set in stone when you’re to take rest from training. Unfortunately, this heretical notion of The Method has led to more misinterpretation than any other of its principles.

Life has a funny way of throwing curve balls at us: work, family and community commitments often cause us to miss out on training. Rather than worrying about missed training when this happens, take comfort from the fact that you’ve been training consistently and diligently until then.  Your days off due to commitments elsewhere become your rest days from training, and are automatically suited to your life schedule since they come when you truly need the time elsewhere, rather than when a schedule hammers them out.

You can also look at it this way: No schedule can accurately predict what you’ll be doing each day for months down the road. Quite simply, what The Method tells an athlete is rest when you need it.
Many amateur athletes spend the better part of their day physically recovering from their training at a desk or otherwise in their daily work. The Method accepts that most amateur athletes do not have the luxury of a daily routine dedicated to sport alone.

For this reason, The Method distinguishes between mental rest and physical rest. For example, a stressful work-travel day on which you can’t train may cause you much mental fatigue while your physical training systems have been resting. Consequently, that stressful day counts as a rest day, even though you might be tired from it.

Keep in mind that everything is relative in The Method training. The hormonal context in which The Method places you determines how you ought to train subsequently. If the stressful travel day
comes on top of a lot of other stress in your life, it can create a significant catabolic experience for your body. In this situation, The Method’s approach advises you to avoid endurance work or excessive lactate-tolerance training immediately following or during this (or other) high-stress period.

After taking a day off, be smart when getting back into the training. If circumstances required you to rest, use these simple rules to get back on the plan:

* Add some volume to the start of the workout in order to kick start your body again before trying any intensity. You don’t want to go too hard while being too rested. Rather, add volume to tire yourself a little bit without pushing the intensity. Then do your intervals. For example, add 30 minutes of easy running before the main set.

* If you are a performance-oriented athlete, then take an easy day in each of the sports after your day off. The reason is that you probably needed the day off due to deep fatigue levels, and the extra bit of easy training will help you recover back to normal fatigue levels. Then you’re most likely good to go again!

Learn how to read your body and stay consistent to your plan!

Enjoy your training,
the ironguides team


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!

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3 Key Bike Workouts in Building your Ironman Training Routine

If you have a mid-year Ironman race, there is no better time to start building your routine for the long Ironman training ahead. This is the base period, and if you are an intermediate athlete, and have not lost much fitness in the off-season, this phase will allow you to immediately jump in a formal structured training plan. For intermediate athletes who have been doing this for years and have several ironman finishes on their resume, it is important not to start early and immediately build it up, to prevent an early peak and burnout prior to your A race.

In contrast, if you are an ironman newbie, it is imperative to train the body first before jumping to the formal 20-week ironman training ahead. That means a 8-12 weeks of basic training that will serve as a foundation in developing the motor skills needed in building up in intensity in later phases of the training.

Since more than 50% of your ironman training will be spent on the saddle, we will give out 3 key bike workouts in this building-a-routine phase of the 20-week ironman training plan. The repetitive nature of this period will teach your body to acquire the motor skills and improved strength that you will definitely need in the build stage of the program. The following workouts will be your staple for the 1st 4 weeks of your base period or Building-A-Routine part of your Bike Leg ironman training:

1. Bike Power Intervals
On stationary bike, do:

20min easy warm up

Full session: 20x POWER Intervals [1min at 40-50 cadence HARD RESISTANCE / with 1min VERY EASY recovery]

Cooldown: 10min EASY

Tip: Make each effort ALL OUT against VERY HIGH resistance! The cadence should be low (40-50 rpm per leg per minute) because you can’t push any harder because the resistance is so high! We are aiming for rubbery legs.

Note: Build up to the full session: On your 1st week, start with 5x interval. By the 4th week you should be able to do the full session. You can also do this interval set on a steep hill, seated on your bike with a very gentle touch of the brakes to stop forward momentum. This session works your cycling-specific strength without stressing your aerobic system too hard – so it’s important that you make each effort count! If you find your knees are sore after this, raise your bike seat slightly and ensure you use ice (see and keep your muscles loose between sessions with gentle stretching and easy self-massage or a treatment from a masseur.

2. Weekly Time Trial Effort
60min on road or stationary, as:

20min easy w/u

Main Set:

WEEK 1: 60min easy cycling on stationary or outside
WEEK 2: 75min moderate cycling on stationary or outside
WEEK 3: 6x [3min FAST / 2min easy]
WEEK 4: 6x [5min FAST / 1min easy] •

Ride in Heavy Gear, cadence 70-80 • Easy gear for VERY EASY

Recovery 20min easy cooldown

Tip: You will build this, the week’s only high-intensity session on the bike, into a weekly Time Trial effort. When it says ride Fast – make it count!!! This is your only opportunity all week to push a hard time trial effort. You can ride this on a stationary or on the road, but try to hit a known, measured course that you can test yourself on once every 3-4 weeks after Week 4.

3. Long Bike
WEEK 1: 120-180min easy and flat
WEEK 2: 120-180min easy and flat
WEEK 3: 180min as 120min easy / 60min moderate
WEEK 4: 190min as 90min easy / 90min moderate

Tip: Push a bigger gear and keep your muscle tension high – but not maxed out! Aim for cadence around 70-80 – this will mean pushing quite hard at times.

This bike workouts if done in the first month of your ironman training will adapt your body and help you cope with the more demanding phase of the plan. The key tip here is to build it slowly. If you missed a workout, no need to make it up or add to the next work-out.

Enjoy your training!


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