Part two of our guide to getting up to the standard of a 70.3
Strategies for success
Planning is an essential component of Ironman 70.3. This is especially true for your nutrition and also your training. Here’s how best to prepare for your first or fastest race.
You don’t need to overeat in the lead up to an Ironman 70.3, but you should lean more towards carbohydrates on the day before and for your race breakfast. Don’t eat fibre during this time. Normally it’s good for you, but prior to a race it increases the risk of stomach problems.
Avoid alcohol as even one drink has been shown to limit how hard you can push yourself in competition. Eat a light carbohydrate only breakfast. If in doubt, eat two or three energy bar around three hours before you race. It’s hardly Michelinquality grub but there are several advantages. It means you don’t need to rely on a dodgy hotel breakfast and you can see exactly how much carbohydrate you’re eating.
Energy bars such as PowerBar Energize (£21.99 for 25, probikekit.co.uk) contain two types of sugar (glucose and fructose) which when combined in the right ratio can help you to absorb more carbohydrate.
Don’t mix your nutrition
The longer you race, the more you’ll get sick of eating gels and drinking energy drinks. This is often compounded by extreme temperatures or bad pace judgement, both of which cause your body to divert oxygen away from the gut making it harder to digest anything.
For this reason it helps to separate out your nutrition, rather than combining gels, energy drinks and bars all at the same time. On the bike try just plain water and jelly chews such as Clif Shot Bloks (£29.99 for 18 packs, wiggle.co.uk).
If you feel like you need electrolytes on the bike, carry a few salt tablets such as Saltstick caps (£10.99, sigmasport.co.uk).
Then on the run try sticking with energy gels and water. Watery gels such as High5 Energy Gel (£7.92 for 20, evanscycles.com) work well, as they slip down easily when you have a dry mouth. Later on if you get sick of energy gels, move on to cola. This is pure sugar and it enters your bloodstream as energy without the need for your gut to process it. It also helps you to stay hydrated.
The hardest thing about stepping up to an Ironman 70.3 is the sheer distance involved. From a training perspective you need to get your body accustomed to swimming 1900m, riding 90km and running 21.1km. This means doing longer weekend sessions that often eat up half a day. You can also expect greater levels of fatigue afterwards.
This often impacts your home life, as you’ll be out for longer and you’ll feel less inclined to get involved with household chores or family fun when you get back.
There are a couple of things you can do to help. One is to tell your family and friends what to expect in advance, and limit your hard training period to eight to 12 weeks before the race. The second is to take a recovery week every third or fourth week, giving you an opportunity to catch up with family and friends.
Change your ratios
When you step up from an Olympic distance triathlon to an Ironman 70.3, the ratio of swimming, cycling and running changes. An Ironman 70.3 is over double the length of an Olympic distance triathlon, although the swim is only 400 metres longer. So an Ironman 70.3 is less swim-dependent than an Olympic distance triathlon.
To illustrate this point, the overall winner of Ironman 70.3 UK Wimbleball in 2015 came 95th in the swim, five minutes behind the leaders. This can sometimes happen in an Ironman 70.3 but it almost never happens in a toplevel Olympic distance race.
In terms of training, this means that some of your run and bike workouts need to increase in length significantly. Whereas you could continue to swim train in a similar way as you would do for a shorter Olympic distance triathlon.
Train for middle distance glory
If you can master these four essential Ironman 70.3 workouts over several months in the run up to the big day then you’ll have every chance of having your best race ever.
The long ride
Why? This trains your body to cope with a 90km ride. You need to get to a point where this distance feels manageable in training.
How? Aim to ride at around 65 to 70 percent of maximum heart rate. This requires some focus but should feel fairly comfortable. You should be able to hold a conversation throughout.
When? Once per week is enough, typically at the weekend. Start off with shorter distances and build up to 90km (this might take you several months). Ideally, you want to ride the full 90km two or three times in training before you race.
Tip: Practise using the nutrition you’ll use on race day. For example, train with the exact gels or bars you have planned for your big race.
Example session: Ride 75km at 65 to 70 per cent of your maximum heart rate.
Why? This trains your body to cope with the intensity of an Ironman 70.3. You should start off with a few efforts and build up over time.
How? Aim to ride at around 76 to 82 percent of maximum heart rate. If you have a power meter, aim for 75 to 85 percent of your FTP. This requires real focus but is sustainable for several 30 minute efforts in training. You should just about be able to talk.
When? Once or twice per week. Build up to three or four efforts of 30 minutes each.
Tip: To do this session properly you’ll need an open stretch of road without many traffic lights or junctions. Alternatively, do this session on an indoor bike.
Example session: 3x20mins at 76-82 percent of maximum heart rate (75-85 percent of FTP) with 5-minute recoveries. Include a 15 minute warm up and warm down.
Run cruise intervals
Why? Popularised by esteemed running coach Jack Daniels, these threshold running reps help to raise your lactate threshold in order to help you run longer at a faster speed.
How? You’ll need some idea of your current best time for a 5km or 10km race. Once you know this, you can work out your threshold pace using the chart on this web page: k-b-c.com/daniels.htm
When? Once per week. You couldcalso incorporate your long run into this session by gradually increasing the warm up and warm down.
Tip: Don’t run too fast. The idea of this workout is to stick to your threshold pace (as defined above). If you go too fast, you will lose the specific training benefit.
Example sesssion: Warm up: Run easy for 15 minutes. Main Set: 4x1mile at threshold pace with 60-second jog recoveries. Warm down: Run easy for 10 minutes.
CSS Swim set
Why? Your CSS (Critical Swim Speed) equates to your current best time for a 1500m swim. Training at this intensity helps prepare you for the rigours of an Ironman 70.3 swim.
How? You’ll need some idea of your current best time for a 1500m pool swim. To work this out, time yourself for a 400 and a 200 swim (go as fast as you can) and then go to this CSS Calculator: swimsmooth.com/csscalculator.html
When? Twice per week. You could also include a 400-600m warm up and a 200m warm down, including technique drills.
Tip: Don’t go too fast for the first few efforts otherwise you won’t be able to hold the same pace for the last few.
8 x 50m at 1500 race pace +5 secs rests
4 x 100m at 1500 race pace +10 secs rest
3 x 200m at 1500 race pace +20 secs rest
1 x 300m at 1500 race pace
How to be half distance ready without increasing your training (if you must!)
So you’ve done a few sprint triathlons and your mate kindly signs you up for an Ironman 70.3. Can you blag it or must you triple your training? Providing you’re fit enough to race a sprint distance triathlon without needing to spend a week in bed afterwards, you can probably get away with an Ironman 70.3 although it will be very tough.
The hardest part might actually be the swim, as 1900m is a lot further than 750m so you’ll need to make sure you can cover this distance separately in training for safety’s sake. As for the bike and run, the key is pacing. It’s essential you switch off your race head and enter “easy mode”.
You’ve not trained for these distances so you must take them very slowly. If you can’t comfortably maintain a conversation throughout, you’re going too fast.
For more training plans check out our Training Section