Photo by Sergio Piquer Costea
I’m racing in Kona this year and wanted to incorporate the ideas I saw in your recent LAVA article and video on “Racing in Training.” Could you explain more why I need to go so fast in training if my speed in Ironman is actually going to be much slower than my fastest efforts?
-Slow and Steady
Dear Slow and Steady,
There are both physiological and mental reasons to train anaerobically in your longer workouts. First, it resets your perception of what fast really is so that in a race like Ironman when you’re going slower your body knows that it has indeed achieved faster speeds. In a workout the hard bits are for shorter duration than the amount of time a race takes, but it recalibrates your absolute top end speed. This makes the perception of the race easier, which then reduces the overall stress it causes the body.
Second, going really fast in training stimulates the anaerobic system which strengthens your body and increases all your fitness markers—even your aerobic pace once you absorb the workout. If you only go race pace in training (which is a big pitfall for many Ironman athletes), then that becomes the “hard” effort your body is used to both perception-wise as well as physiologically.
If you’re doing an Ironman, the main thing on race day is to pace the bike so that you feel like there’s never a point where you’re “racing,” regardless of your heart rate or power output. And again, this pace is going to be perceived as relatively easy compared to your “racing in training” efforts. Make it feel like a very strong training day, but if you find yourself feeling like you are putting out a “race effort”, try backing your effort off by just a percent or two so that it once again feels like just another very strong training day. Keep that same feel on the run as well, knowing that you’re still pacing yourself until you get to about 15-16km from the finish. At that point you can switch your mindset to feel like you’re really going to race. This strategy will help you have your best race in Kona.