Monthly Triathlon Training Advice
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:
If you liked this blog please check out my training plans, all with coach email support. Train with structure and motivation, from as little as $3.40 per week. Thanks, Phil Mosley.
This blog is taken from an interview I did for Triathlon Plus magazine back in May 2011. Of all the hundreds of magazine features I've done, this is still my favourite. Normally I give training advice in this blog but seeing as it's November I figured we could all do with some inspiration for the winter months ahead.
(Images by Rich Cruse)
Left for dead by a hit and run driver while out training, pro triathlete Jordan Rapp's life was saved by a passing stranger...
It’s a bright spring evening in California and pro triathlete Jordan Rapp is hammering along a quiet Ventura County lane on his Specialized TT bike. He has high hopes for the upcoming season after winning Ironman Canada and Ironman Arizona the season before. At this moment in time he only has one thought on his mind: “I hope I finish this interval before I reach the traffic lights.”
And that was the last thing he remembers before he was the victim of a terrible hit and run incident. Left in a lake of his own blood, he had minutes to live. Ask him what happened and he won’t know.
Left for dead by a hit and run driver while out training, pro triathlete Jordan Rapp's life was saved by a passing stranger...
“I was finishing up some intervals, preparing for the Oceanside Ironman 70.3 triathlon the following Saturday. The next thing I recall was two days later, choking when the doctors pulled a breathing tube out of my throat. I don’t really have the words to describe what happened to me on that day, because I have no idea.”
Fortunately for Rapp, Chief Petty Officer Tom Sanchez was driving back from his Naval base, 48-hours before he was due to fly to Afghanistan. “I was just on my way home, thinking about my family and what I might be having for supper. I was in no way ready for what happened next.
“At first all I saw was a line of cars. As I drove by two navy guys slowed me down and asked me if I knew first-aid. I could see from their badges that they’d had the same training as me, but I said yes anyway.
“I saw a cyclist lying on his side, in a pool of what I assumed was transmission fluid. It turned out to be his blood. He been rolling around in it and it totally covered his mouth, his eyes and even his shoulders. I rolled down the collar of his cycling jersey and saw this massive hole in his neck, at least seven centimetres wide. It was pretty sick.
“I tried talking to him because his eyes were partially open, but he just moaned. When I tried to lay him down, he would struggle back up like he was doing a push-up. He needed to calm down because I couldn’t help him if he was fighting me. I rolled him onto his back and went to get my combat vest, which contained a medical pack. I took some gauze and tried stuffing the hole but it was ridiculous, like dropping napkins into an ocean. So I pinned him down, put my hand inside his neck and felt around until I felt something pulsating inside. He wasn’t even reacting to it so I tried pinching to stop the blood flow. I couldn’t even feel if I was doing anything. I just held it tight until an ambulance came.
“When the paramedic arrived he swapped his hand for mine, and Jordan was rushed off to hospital. I was left standing there wondering what the hell had just happened. It was surreal. One minute I’m driving home, the next I’ve got my hand in this guy’s neck. To have that whole thing happen to you is pretty intense. Yes, I’m in the military but I’m a carpenter by trade. We do have combat training but I’m not normally the guy shooting guns or breaking down doors.”
While Rapp was being rushed to hospital his wife Jill was at home panicking: “I called Jordan’s phone several times, and it just rang through and nobody answered. Then I started calling hospitals but he wasn’t at any of them. I knew there was something wrong. I was freaking out so I called 911 and gave a description of him as missing. I couldn’t even tell them where he might be. It was getting dark too. He could have gone off the edge of a cliff for all I knew. Within 10 minutes they called me back and matched his description to an accident that had happened.
“Minutes later the Sheriff called me, and the first thing he said was: ‘We’ve found your husband and he’s been the victim of a hit and run.’ So I immediately thought he was dead. I dropped the phone on the floor, but my housemate picked it up and heard the Sheriff saying ‘No, no, no he’s alive and he’s on his way to the hospital.’ He couldn’t give us the full extent but he said it was really serious. It was like one of those nightmares that you never expect to happen to you.
“We didn’t really hear anything from the hospital staff when we got there. We just sat there for four hours, totally freaking out, not knowing if he was dead or alive. I confronted them, but they couldn’t tell me what was happening. It turns out they were scanning him for brain damage, while a plastic surgeon was doing emergency work on his severed neck.
“I eventually saw him at one o’clock in the morning and his face was all puffed out. I didn’t know if he’d do triathlons again, but I knew he was going to live.”
Rapp is still unsure of how it happened and can only speculate: “I was riding on this really quiet road. If someone had told me I’d have an accident somewhere, it would be the last place I’d ever guess. It has a really wide shoulder. You could ride two abreast in this shoulder and cars could pass by easily on the road without having to pull out. There’s great visibility, no trees, a long line of sight. It’s a safe road.
“We think I went through the side window of the car, so all the glass caused the marks you can see (he has massive scarring on his neck). You have three main jugular veins supplying your brain with blood and it sliced through two of them. They said I lost almost four litres of blood. When Tom Sanchez arrived I was two and a half minutes away from death. It took another eight minutes for the ambulance to arrive so there’s no question that Tom saved my life. It’s a fact that without Tom I would be dead. No Tom, no Jordan.
“I also broke my shoulder blade and my collar bone, which they plated. I broke my cheekbone too, so now I have titanium plates all across my face. I’m fortunate in a way because my glasses hit my eye and cut me open, so they used that cut as an insertion point for surgery on my cheek. At least the scarring is mostly on the inside of my mouth.
“I had bad nerve damage too, so I couldn’t use one of my arms. You can still see it’s much thinner than the other. I call it my ‘Andy Schleck bicep’ (after the skinny Tour de France cyclist) although it’s grown a lot bigger these days.”
“During my 18 days in hospital Tom came and visited me, but my memory of that time is very patchy. It wasn’t like I recognised him. I was heavily sedated and I only remember it because I saw pictures afterwards. It seemed strange that I had no memory of this guy who saved my life. Shortly afterwards he got shipped out to Afghanistan for eight months, but we kept in touch by email and Facebook.
“At this point I didn’t even think about triathon. I certainly felt like I didn’t to want to ride a bike anymore. So for the whole time I was in hospital, and for at least the first bit when I came out I never imagined I’d compete in triathlons ever again. I felt that triathlon had put me in this place.
“Over time I changed my view. I love doing triathlon and I didn’t want to give it up because I was afraid. You can get hurt crossing the road and almost anything has a risk attached. I heard of a guy at a pool-party who dived in and broke his neck and is now paralysed. But that doesn’t mean none of us should swim.
“I wasn’t allowed to train outside for three months so my first ride after my accident was on an indoor trainer. I was on blood thinners because my neck had torn so badly inside that they were worried I could have a stroke. So if I’d crashed I wouldn’t have stopped bleeding. Even training inside was tough. I couldn’t support my own weight because I’d broken my collarbone, so I was sitting upright and balancing on one arm the whole time.
“I remember going to watch the Wildflower Ironman 70.3 for my sponsors Specialized, which was the first time I’d left the house for a long time. It felt so good to be somewhere other than sitting on the couch. That’s when I first thought about doing Ironman Arizona again, and I remember telling people. Nobody really believed me and I don’t even know if I believed it myself. But I needed something on the horizon to keep me going. Ironman Arizona would only be eight months after my accident, so I knew it would be tough.”
“It took me a long time to pluck up the courage to ride outside again. Every day I was like: ‘Right, I’m going to go and ride today’, but I didn’t have the nerve to do it. Finally I asked some friends for advice. Dan Empfield from Slowtwitch.com cut to the chase by saying: ‘If you want to do it, go do it. If you don’t, then don’t. It’s not like you’re anymore likely to get hit than before.’ So eventually I did and the hardest part was just making it to the end of the block.
Returning to cycling was one thing, but it was running that caused Rapp the most problems: “Everything got hit so hard and knocked out of whack from my accident that when I tried to run I got really bad ITB pain. It was so bad that I had to stop after a minute. I couldn’t even see a chiropractor because I had to wait three and a half months for everything to heal first.
“So I used the gym to start from scratch again. Slowly I built up my running, but the first time I ran for an hour was only eight weeks before Ironman Arizona. Other than that I guess I was running 15-minutes three times per week.
“My goal was still to win the race though. I asked myself how much the other guys wanted it. Some of them were only there for Hawaii qualification points and I knew I wanted it more.”
While Rapp was building his fitness, Tom Sanchez was still serving in Afghanistan, albeit with a few special perks thanks to his new found hero-status. Rapp can’t help smiling as he recounts the story: “Tom said that if he added up all the parcels he got in his entire Naval career it would be less than he got on that one trip. He was getting presents from people even I didn’t know. People I’d never met were emailing me and asking for Tom Sanchez’s postal address in Afghanistan. The triathlon community came together and put together a whole care package. One guy who worked for a bedding firm sent him a set of expensive sheets and pillows. Tom said he had nicer bedding in his barracks then he did at home! There was another guy who worked for a company who made casino supplies and he said he’d send Tom some playing cards. I guessed he’s send a few decks, but he sent 2000! It became like a running joke. He couldn’t even give them all away.”
The US Navy even flew Sanchez back home two days early, so he could travel to Arizona to watch Rapp make his eagerly awaited Ironman comeback: Sanchez recalls: “The gravity of everything that happened hadn’t really hit me until that point. I was sitting on the side of Tempe Town Lake, listening to the announcer before the race start. It was cold and misty, we’d got up early and I was tired. And I wasn’t even the one competing. To think about the level that Jordan was about to race at was so physically amazing. Eight months earlier I thought this guy was dead. And now here he was racing an Ironman. Sitting beside his wife Jill I began to choke up, and she said: ‘don’t you start, you’ll get me going too’”.
Amazingly, just eight months after his life threatening accident Rapp finished in fourth place, recording a time of 8 hours 16 minutes. In almost any other year his time would have guaranteed him first place.
“I was first off the bike, but Timo Bracht was hot on my heels and he broke away in transition. He’s not the sort of guy who’s going to fall apart. I was in second place for most of the run, but at the 25km mark I went from four minutes per kilometre right down to four minutes thirty. It was like a light switch that came on almost immediately. I knew I’d given all I’d got.
“When I reflect on that result am I happy with it? I wanted to win, but I was still proud of finishing well. Whether that was fourth or sixth didn’t matter so much.”
His wife Jill adds: “If you see pictures of Jordan at the finish you’ll see he’s very emotional.”
Rapp agrees: “Tom was at the finish line and gave me a really big hug, along with mine and Jill’s families. We’ve become great friends since the accident. There was also a guy who came up to me who’d set a course record in his age-group the year before. A car had hit him in September and he was still in a rough condition. He was getting choked up telling me his story and I was getting choked up listening to him. He said seeing me made him believe he could make a comeback too.
“I’m not happy about what I went through, but I don’t think I’d take it away. Helping other people who’ve been through something similar is remarkable. It’s such a good feeling. I’ve had a lot of luck too, from Tom Sanchez being at the scene, right through to the specialist trauma team that treated me; many of whom don’t work at that hospital anymore.”
Sanchez prefers to think it was karma rather than luck. “When I found Jordan lying on the road he’d been training for Ironman 70.3 Oceanside to raise money for a charity that helps disabled naval personnel. It seemed like karma that he was saved by someone in the Navy. Had it been two days later I would have been in Afghanistan.”
Jordan’s come a long way from that day he was found lying on the roadside, and getting race-ready again from his near-death experience shows just what a truly inspirational triathlete he is.
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Phil Mosley is a triathlon coach and writer.