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.