>If you look at the paces I do on training runs, you wouldn’t think I’m a very good runner. It’s rare for me to go under 7:00/mile average pace on any training run, of any intensity or distance. I often go slower than 8:00/mile average pace on a long runs. It sometimes takes me 8+ minutes per mile when I’m doing all-out one mile repeats. But I’ve qualified for the Boston Marathon in each of my last two Ironman races. 3:10:20 marathon (7:15/mile pace) at Ironman Arizona, and a 3:05:20 marathon (7:04/mile pace) at Ironman Coeur d’Alene. On the surface, based on my training paces, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Even my coach thought I was delusional when I told him my run prediction for Coeur d’Alene. Now here’s the explanation…
(but first, a disclaimer: For recovery runs, ignore all of the following advice – because recovery runs should be as easy and stress-free as possible)
When I do my run training, speed isn’t the goal. Suffering is the goal. Why is suffering the goal? Well, let me ask you this – when’s the last time you raced, but didn’t suffer? I hope not recently, because if it didn’t hurt, then you weren’t going hard enough. I’m interested in teaching my mind and body how to handle suffering better than anyone else, because in long-course triathlon, the fastest people are also often the toughest. It’s not a coincidence. An Ironman is not a speed contest. It’s a durability and suffering contest. If you’re fit, and you’re willing to suffer, then speed and results will take care of themselves on race day.
Here’s how the training goes down:
1) I live at 5600′ ft above sea level. I frequently go to run on trails above 8000’+. Easy enough to see how that slows things down and induces suffering. Racing at sea-level feels quite easy in comparison.
2) When in doubt, go up. Two benefits here: the increased workload of running uphill forces a higher intensity effort, and the increased eccentric loading of running downhill afterward builds leg durability. This also explains my 8 minute miles during mile repeats – because I often do my mile repeats straight up the side of a mountain. I’ve never raced on a course that was even close to the hilliness of the routes I do in training, and this is a great advantage on race day.
3) Run on trails frequently. Not well groomed running trails – I mean backwoods and mountain trails that are typically only used for hiking and/or single-track mountain biking. This is actually more about technique than durability. Running with roots and rocks all over a trail forces you to run with short strides and a high cadence, because if you overstride during a technical trail run, you will likely fall and get injured. It’s like running with a coach constantly looking over your shoulder and correcting your form if you ever lose focus. Side benefit – if you’re a little burnt out from your other runs, then hopping on a scenic trail can be a nice little change that refreshes your mind. Your pace will be slower than usual, but again, the technique benefits of technical trail running are a worthwhile trade-off for slowing down a little bit.
4) Heat. If you’re going to do a hot weather race, then you better train yourself to be very comfortable in hot weather. If you show up to a race that’s known for hot conditions, and you fall apart because of the heat, then you only have one person to blame: yourself. I’m currently in the middle of a heat-acclimation block, and let me tell you: it sucks. A lot. There’s nothing fun about running for 2.5 hours in 95+ degree heat with a relentless sun beating down, and it’s just adding insult to injury when you finish the run and see how much the heat slowed down your average pace. But it’s worth it on race day when you see your rivals melting in the heat, and you’re still going strong. Who cares if they did all their long runs at 6:40/mile pace, but did the runs in cool evening air? All that matters is who can go fastest on race day, in the race’s weather conditions.
So there it is. There are many ways to train yourself to run a fast Ironman marathon, but this is how I do. To follow this method, you have to be willing to swallow your pride during training, and accept that training yourself to be durable often means running at speeds that don’t look very impressive in the training journal.
If you have doubts, then ask yourself what your goal is. Are you trying to post “fast-looking numbers” on some random Thursday training run in the middle of July? Or do you want to be on top of the podium on race day? I know what my goal is. The only speed numbers that matter are the ones on race day.
Until next time, keep training hard, and resting harder,