Learn to run like an Ironman pro with exclusive tips from world-class triathlete Mirinda Carfrae

Chris McCormack is a master of the Ironman run (Photo: Bakke-Svensson/Ironman)

RUN LIKE MIRINDA CARFRAE (AUS)
She holds the women’s Kona run record (2:53:32), set when she won her first title there in 2010.

Take it easy
You might wonder what “easy” means to someone who can bash out a sub-three-hour marathon at the end of a long, hot Ironman, but Carfrae says that her easy run days are just that – very, very easy. For you that might mean a 30-minute walk/run with a mate who’s just taken up the sport, to make sure you’re not tempted to speed up; or if you’re pushed for time, you could cut out easy runs altogether. For Ironman, that would mean doing two fasterpaced runs and one long run (one-and-a-half to three hours) every week, and leaving your base aerobic training and general conditioning for the long rides, which will be easier for your legs to recover from.

Then run hard
As with straight marathon running, the secret to a fast Ironman run split is learning how to run hard for long periods of time. Carfrae does her run speedwork at 70.3 pace or just slightly below – “anything slower is just a jog”, she says. Try throwing in 10- or 20-minute blocks at your half-marathon pace into your weekly long run to practise running harder when you’re tired (for most people this is lactate threshold pace; around 80-85% of your maximum heart-rate or a perceived effort rating of 7/10). Alternatively you could try 800m reps – another of Carfrae’s favourites: use a treadmill or track to do sessions building up to 10-15x800m at your half-marathon pace or slightly faster, with two- or three-minute recoveries.

Have confidence
When Chrissie Wellington had to withdraw from last year’s Ironman World Championships because of illness, Carfrae had to deal with the pressure of becoming a race favourite; after winning the race, she had to contend with the question of what would have happened had Wellington raced. But she ran her own race, saying she knew she was in good shape for the run and that conditions were in her favour. Facing down stiff competition including her good friend Julie Dibens, she ran the race of her life and says she believes Wellington is not unbeatable. “I’m excited and really looking forward to Kona this year because Chrissie is going to want that title back more than anything, and I’m hoping to keep improving and to take another step on last year. I think I can go a little bit faster,” she said just before Ironman New Zealand this year. You might not have to face down any world champions on your race day, but when you reach the run you’ll find it’s an incredible mental battle; remind yourself of all the training you’ve done, forget about your competitors, and you can win it.

RUN: BE PREPARED
The run is the moment you’ve been waiting for all day – almost. Be ready for:

THE WALKING

  • In a straight marathon, only the slowest runners take walk breaks. But in long-distance triathlons, walking might just save your race. Accept this before you start, plan in your walk breaks (through aid stations is the obvious place) and you could avoid hours of painful run-limping.

THE CRAVINGS

  • Conventional race advice says have a nutrition plan and stick to it, and that is certainly the ideal approach. If, however, you find yourself at mile 20 running on empty and retching at the thought of another gel, adopt an ‘anything goes’ approach: pretzels, bouillon, flat cola – all of these things have saved athletes’ Ironman races.

THE ABYSS

    • You know that Ironman will be tough, but you won’t realise just how tough until you hit the run. The appalling realisation that ‘nearly there’ means up to five hours of painful crawling can make you want to sit on the curb and cry. Expect this to happen and then, on race day, remind yourself that you expected it and you can deal with it. It’s just part of becoming an Ironman.