Monthly Triathlon Training Advice
Threshold Running Pace is the gold standard measure of endurance running fitness. It’s a useful yardstick because it measures elements of both your speed and endurance. It provides you useful feedback on your current form across all distances from 5km to marathon. This blog explains what threshold running pace is, how to test it and how to use the results to improve.
Knowing your threshold running pace is valuable for three reasons:
What is threshold running pace? It simply refers to your current best average-pace for a 60 minute race.
It is an approximate indicator of your lactate threshold running pace - the exercise intensity at which the blood concentration of lactic acid begins to exponentially rise. Thankfully, testing your threshold run pace does not require blood samples to be taken.
Workouts done at threshold pace can develop your ability to endure a greater and greater intensity of effort for a longer and longer period of time. When used as part of a progressive training plan, threshold training is a potent way to improve your running ability.
There are two ways to measure your threshold pace:
Option 1: Take part in a 1-hour race
This is the most accurate way to measure your threshold running pace, but also the hardest. It requires you to run hard in a competitive race setting, ideally on a fast, flat route. The event you choose will need to take you approximately 1-hour to complete at race pace, give or take a few minutes.
This might be anything from 8km to a half marathon, depending on how fast you can run. It doesn’t have to be exactly 60 minutes long, but as near as possible. Let’s say the race takes you 57 minutes or 63 minutes, that’s still good enough providing you race hard throughout.
Measure your pace throughout the race, using a smart phone, GPS watch or accelerometer watch. What was your average pace throughout the entire race? This figure (in minutes per km or minutes per mile) can be said to be your new threshold running pace.
Option 2: Perform your own field test
This is an easier way to work out your threshold run pace, but it can be marginally less accurate. You simply need to do a 30 minute solo time trial run on a flat route with no training partners. Why no training partners? When you run with others in a race setting you will naturally push yourself harder than ever. This solo 30-minute test should reflect what you might do when pushed in a 60-minute competitive race situation. Again you'll need some way of measuring your average pace throughout, such as a GPS watch or smart phone.
After the test is finished, look to see what your average pace was across the entire 30 minutes. This is your new threshold running pace.
What to do with your threshold run pace
Once you know your threshold running pace, you can compare it against any previous tests you may have done to track your progress. If you did a 10km or 10 mile race to test your threshold pace, you can also start to predict what time you might achieve for various other race distances. There are numerous race predictors, but Runners World have some of the best.
You can also set yourself pace-based run training zones. We have our own training zone calculator, which you can use to set yourself five different training intensities based on Threshold Running Pace. We use these zones in all our training plans at myprocoach.net
When to test again
It’s a good idea to re-test your threshold running pace every eight weeks. This allows you to update your training zones and keeps you updated of your current fitness.
Re-test yourself in the same circumstances each time, for example at the same venue and during a recovery week. Try to limit the effect of variables such as wind-strength, wind-direction, gradients, terrain and turn-points. These will all influence your running speed during a test or race.
Training plans with threshold run pace
We use threshold run pace to set training intensities and measure progress in all our myprocoach.net online triathlon Training Plans. They all include email coach access, so there is always help when you need it.
If you tell us about your training background and goals we can help suggest the best training plan for your needs. Feel free to browse the plans or contact us via the "Email the coach" button on this page.
Good luck with your training, Phil Mosley.
An Ironman 70.3 is the first step towards the world of long-distance triathlon. With its 1.9km swim, 90km bike and 21.1km run it’s an event that will cause any rational non-triathlete to think you’re slightly crazy. Even the thought of practicing these distances separately in training can seem like a big deal.
For this reason, it’s a race that requires serious thought and preparation. So in this month’s blog I wanted to talk about some of the essential things you’ll need to consider in the lead up to Ironman 70.3 race day.
Let's focus on six things that could either save your race or make you faster.
1. Simple Hydration
Seeing as you’ll be riding your bike for several hours it’s vital that you can take a drink easily. If a bottle is hard to reach, you’re less likely to use it. Fact.
Aside from convenience, it’s also worth considering aerodynamics. Standard bike bottles placed in bottle cages on the frame add to your overall drag. Research by Cervelo has shown that a bottle placed in a cage on your down-tube results in a 4-watt drag penalty. Whereas a bottle mounted between your forearms (on your tri-bars) or behind your seat creates negligible drag.
Another option is to use a re-fillable bottle with a straw, which can be mounted on your frame or between your arms. These are aerofoil shaped to help reduce drag and offer a good combination of practicality and aerodynamics. Examples include the Profile Design Aero HC and the Nathan Sports AP Pro.
2. Swim Volume
When you step up from a Sprint or Olympic distance to an Ironman 70.3, the relative ratios of each discipline change. For example, the bike and run are over double the length of an Olympic distance, while the swim is only 400 metres longer. So an Ironman 70.3 is significantly less swim-dependent than an Olympic or Sprint distance triathlon.
To illustrate this point, the overall winner of Ironman 70.3 UK in 2015 came 95th in the swim phase, over five minutes behind the leaders. And yet he was still able to catch and pass everyone during the bike and run sections. This almost never happens in an Olympic distance race.
In terms of training, this means that some of your run and bike workouts will need to increase in length significantly. Whereas you can continue to swim-train in a similar way as you might for an Olympic distance triathlon.
For more a specific look at swim volumes for an Ironman 70.3 you can preview my training plans from here.
The bike section of an Ironman 70.3 lasts anything between two hours 30 and four hours, most of which you’ll spend perched on the end of your saddle. Not surprisingly, bottom discomfort can be a real issue.
Nagging saddle soreness is a form of fatigue - a pain in the rear end that'll sap your morale and make you want to quit. Thankfully over the last few years saddle designs have evolved to benefit the backsides of long distance triathletes.
Split-saddles such as those by ISM and Cobb are now common at long-distance triathlons. They are designed to spread the load and reduce the pressure on the sensitive areas of your under-carriage. They are often slightly heavier than standard racing-bike saddles but they make up it by allowing you to maintain a comfortable aero-position for longer.
Some bike-fitting studios even let you try various saddles while they measure the pressure-points as you ride, so that you can find the right model for your unique shape. You could Google the term "bike saddle pressure mapping" to see if this is available near you.
4. Pace Judgement
Perhaps the biggest difference between racing an Ironman 70.3 and a shorter triathlon is the importance of pacing on the bike. Get this slightly wrong and your run split will suffer big-time. You could even end up walking the run section due to muscle soreness or cramping.
A power meter can really help you here, because it tells you exactly how hard you’re pedalling versus what you're capable of in training.
Research suggests that the optimal power output for an Ironman 70.3 is 75-85% of your Functional Threshold Power (FTP). Slower athletes should aim for the lower end of this range, while potential race winners might aim for the full 85%. For more information read my blog about Ironman 70.3 pacing.
To make life easy you can estimate your FTP by doing a 20-minute maximal cycle time trial, recording your average power and then multiplying the outcome by 95%. If you don’t have a power meter you should consider investing in a Stages or Garmin Vector S. They aren’t too expensive and you can switch them between your training and race bikes.
5. Race Suit
In a relatively long race such as an Ironman 70.3, your choice of clothing takes on greater significance. After all, anyone can cope with rubbing or discomfort for 90-minutes but having it for five hours requires a different level of suffering.
The first consideration is whether to have separate bike and running gear or just one outfit for the whole thing. If you’re more worried about comfort than time, you should use two outfits. If you're chasing a time-goal you should race in one suit, so you don't lose 10 minutes in transition while you change clothing.
Wind tunnel research has shown that a one piece skin suit with short sleeves can save you 5 watts in an Ironman 70.3 versus a sleeveless suit. And another 5 watts versus a two-piece tri suit.
Whatever you go for, I recommend finding a suit that has thin but dense padding for your bottom and handy pockets for carrying gels. Just make sure you train in it first, so you’re confident that it’s comfy enough. And apply plenty of lube such as Vaseline or BodyGlide to all your moving body parts.
6. Planning For The Worst
If you puncture during an Ironman 70.3 you could end up stranded 20-miles away from the transition area. I know, because I have experienced this! You'll also lose precious time while you attempt to fix it. So it’s well worth planning for the worst case scenario, because it does happen.
Rule one is to use relatively new tyres, as these are always less likely to puncture. Rule two is to use tyres with an optimal blend of puncture protection and low rolling resistance. Check out this website that shows the latest research on rolling resistance and puncture proofing.
Rule three is to use a puncture protection sealant, such as CaffeLatex or Stans NoTubes. These foamy products are designed to fill small punctures as you ride. They don’t work 100% of the time but they’re still better than nothing. They work better if you have tubeless clincher tyres.
Rule four is to carry two CO2 quick-fill canisters and a Presta adaptor for speedy inflations. They will save several minutes versus using a pump and they'll get your tyres nice and hard. Just make sure you practice using them first.
Rule five is to inflate your tyres properly in the first place. Read the guidelines on your tyre walls but normally you should aim for 100-120 PSI. If your tyres are too soft you're more likely to get pinch punctures.
And finally, rule six is to carry a spare inner tube and tyre levers. Or if you use tubular tyres you could carry a spare tyre - or just rely on rules one to five instead.
Fingers crossed it doesn't come to this!
What made Simon Lessing one of the world’s greatest triathletes? I ask the athletes who trained and raced against him...
Note: This blog is based on a magazine feature I did for Triathlon Plus in March 2010. It is about Simon Lessing, who is still one of my triathlon heroes. Back in the day he was virtually unbeatable and in this blog we get some insight into his training methods. They are not what you might think...
Speak to anyone who has trained with multiple World Champion Simon Lessing back in the 90’s, and you will hear a similar story. His arch rival Spencer Smith puts it best when he says “Lessing’s training, like his personality, was to the point, and deadly effective”.
Famed for his daily high intensity sessions, the South African born Brit didn’t waste his time with long slow runs or steady bike rides and his record speaks for itself: Four world Olympic distance titles, three European titles, a World long distance title and race wins at Ironman and Ironman 70.3, among others.
His race record may be impressive, but to those who’ve trained with Lessing it’s his mentality and training strategy that really stand out as the stuff of legend. Here I speak to three of his former training partners, Rich Allen, Julian Jenkinson and Nigel Leighton, to see what lessons we can learn from the great man.
I also speak to Spencer Smith, the man who fought tooth and nail, head to head with Lessing in countless epic triathlon battles, to see what he made of Lessing’s training strategies.
“Only one world title is given out each year, and Simon Lessing and I never had any intention of sharing.”
Spencer Smith: It would be an understatement to say that Simon Lessing and I were fiercely competitive during our years of racing each other. Only one world title is given out each year, and Simon Lessing and I never had any intention of sharing. Simon and I rarely trained together, but I had heard stories of what went on his in his camp. He was as fierce a competitor in training as he was in racing. He subscribed to the philosophy of keeping his friends close but enemies closer. The trail of wounded athletes that he left in his wake was considerable.
Simon Lessing’s personality is consistent with his training philosophy. He trained hard, very hard. He wasted little energy in day-to-day niceties. He has always said what he thought and his training, like his personality, was to the point, and deadly effective. Many people may not have understood Simon Lessing or his training philosophies. If you don’t agree, you just might want to ask yourself, “How many world titles have you won?”
Rich Allen: I think his constant ability to destroy many top triathletes in training built his great mental strength. Beat the competition in training and you will beat them in a race. I think he certainly had that affect on me as I couldn’t beat him in training so believed I probably could not beat him in a race. It’s almost like he was running through the race in his mind in training and this is something we can all learn from. He also used to surge during hard workouts and this was certainly him practicing race tactics during training. This is how he would beat the competition in races.
Julian Jenkinson: Simon didn’t train like other pro triathletes. While all the rest were swimming 5km, Simon would turn up half-way through a session, jump in and swim for about 40 minutes and then go home. During those 40-minutes he swam as hard as he could. He was doing less than half the distance of everyone else, and yet he was the fastest swimmer of the lot. It took a lot of mental strength to buck the trend and swim the way he knew worked best for him, ignoring everyone else’s training.
Nigel Leighton: Simon was definitely the figure head of the swimming group. He seemed to know exactly what he personally needed to be in the best shape for his various target races. He wouldn’t suffer fools gladly in training and even avoided training with women, once saying “train with girls, race like a girl!”
Rich Allen: The problem was he loved to train with other people, but no one could hang with him day in, day out. On the British team camps in South Africa athletes would try to train with him because they wanted to be like him. After a few days they would be worn out in bed and Simon would be fresh as a daisy! I quickly learnt that I had to say no to him every other day and train easy on my own. It allowed me to freshen up a bit and then do my hard training with Simon. Many rooky pros and top age group athletes would show up to train with him. They would all be spat out the back on a bike ride within five minutes. Every time the lesson people quickly learned was that you need to do what’s right for you, not what’s right for Simon Lessing.
Julian Jenkinson: Even though he was a world champion he somehow felt he had to prove himself in every session. People know him as a fast runner and swimmer but often don't realise just how fast he was on the bike. I would ride next to him in training and he would always edge a few inches in front of me. Every time I caught up the gap, he would edge in front again, both of us getting faster and faster until I was completely blown. His cycling prowess helped him win big races like the long distance World Championships in Nice, where it was imperative that you had a super fast bike split. He could really mix it up with the bike specialists, he was that good.
Nigel Leighton: There was genuine specificity to Simon’s training. From what I saw, there was never any junk mileage. When it came to intensity Simon excelled, never showing any weakness during sessions. I remember regular run workouts in which Simon and five time world cross country international Rob Whalley would go head to head along the canal towpath. Others would call this session a two man race, and neither gave an inch as the intensity gradually increased to beyond warp speed. It was the ideal session for Mr Lessing, fitting into his preparation for the Olympics. By pitting himself against the best in each individual sport, whether it was in the pool, on the bike or running, Simon was maximising his potential by constantly challenging himself.
Rich Allen: Simon did all his training at what I would call tempo pace. It may not have been perceived as that hard by him, but it was hard for me! He is the only triathlete I have met that can cope with a high intensity day in day out, with no easy training to speak of.
How To Train Like Lessing:
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Phil Mosley is a triathlon coach and triathlon magazine writer.