Tri Surrey’s newest Ironman finisher Matt Hutchings breaks down his approach to the biggest challenge facing any athlete tackling the full iron distance: the 26 mile run.

Before I completed Ironman Barcelona, as a tubby ex-rugby playing, non-running 17-stone lump, the thought of running the marathon was not something I relished.

I’d competed in shorter triathlons where I would grind my way through the run, but now I had to think hard about how I approached it. I broke it down into three big factors to keep it simple and effective.

Embracing repeats

To make sure I had the right approach, I went to endurance specialists ECS Coaching to build a plan. It consisted mostly of intense one- or two-kilometre repeats, three times a week.

At the start of my program I would run 5 x 1km reps a couple of times a week with 2 minutes rest between efforts, while towards my peak I was able to push out 10 x 2km efforts with the rest between efforts down to 60 seconds, plus my regular club run.

SurreyTri Photograph: Rosie Hallam

SurreyTri Photograph: Rosie Hallam


Ironman Barcelona’s run course is one of the flattest and fastest around, so I didn’t need to worry about doing my repeats on hills, instead I focused on run technique and speed on the flat. It seems counter-intuitive to focus on repeats because you need to run 42.2km in one go, but I found that as the year went on I got gradually quicker and my recovery time shorter which meant I could last over longer distances at a steadier pace.

I planned in a long run, 20km or more, every few weeks, which was enough to feel confident. I focused on maintaining around 5:30min/km pacing on my long runs.

One of my runs also formed part of my weekly brick session. I ran these off a turbo trainer for the convenience, although in my opinion there is no substitute for riding out on the road. My usual set would be 60 minutes steady tempo in an aero position, including some short efforts followed by a 2 or 3km run.

Matt’s run sets:

Foundation: 90 minute run of 30 minutes easy jog, then 5x1k efforts at 3.40 pace with 90secs rest.

Speed development:15x1km splits on 3:50mins, 2mins RI.

Peaking: 21km of 4x5k loops; no rest; 1 km cool-down.

Fuelling properly

There’s so much advice out there on how you should fuel your marathon but the best thing is to try out different techniques to find out what works for you. On long runs, I tried lots of different energy foods from gels to flapjacks but I generally found them quite drying for my mouth.

In the end, I made some sticky savoury rice bars, which gave me a break from the usual energy products. For race day, I had some mojito flavoured gels and planned to treat myself with one when I hit certain kilometre markers as an energy boost. However on race day I changed my mind and took orange segments at every fuelling station instead. Luckily for me this didn’t cause any problems, but general wisdom says you shouldn’t risk it.

Working on recovery

One of the biggest problems I had throughout my year of training was getting adequate rest. I survived on five to six hours sleep a night even with some intense workouts. If there was one thing I would change about my training regime, it would be to sleep seven to eight hours each night.

Sleep is so important for your mind and body’s recovery.

Good advice that was given to me was: “If you don’t need to run, walk. If you don’t need to walk, sit. And, if you don’t need to sit, lie down.”

This will certainly be my goal for the future.