Training for IM Part Two - Volume & Intensity

I thought that I'd share some thoughts that have been rattling around in my head for a while.


IM -- an eight to 17-hour time trial where the average race intensity is between 1.0 and 2.0 mmol of blood lactate (steady pace and below).

Goal is to complete the race as fast as possible, which implies maximizing pace within the average blood lactate zones (steady pace and below).

Because of the risks and need for extended recovery, when an athlete exceeds race pace (steady or lower) in training then there should be clear reasons.

When new to endurance training the goal is to create an aerobic system capable of functioning for the duration of the race (regardless of pace). The longer your race then the greater the challenge this is.


My personal training goal is to have 1-4 hours of max steady state (steady zone) aerobic training every single day. My gut feel is that 1-2 hours is sufficient to make continuous progress. Even on my easy days, I try to get that hour (I don't always get it). I think that consistent steady training is even more important than mega workouts. If you review my training then you will see this goal underlying the whole structure. It's quite challenging to hit this goal on a daily basis, much tougher than one would expect.

The role of supplemental, easy, volume is to enhance aerobic function and increase efficiency/economy. While we can use many ways to increase economy, I've found easy paced volume to be highly effective (two hours of high cadence riding vs 10x30s spin-ups -- for example).

Strength training and sport specific strength work are important contributors to athlete durability and enhancing aerobic power. Sport specific strength work is also an excellent way to increase athlete economy.

Most endurance athletes are scared to go easy -- doubting the physiological value. In my early years, I certainly had a desire to "graduate" to a solid diet of ME training. My current experience is that this will never happen. As the goal is to maximize steady pace, all ultraendurance training programs should hold this goal paramount.

Most endurance athletes have a far lower tolerance for tempo and higher intensity than they think. As a result, illness/injury/burnout result and impair consistency. Due to the fundamental nature of consistency, the inconsistent athlete experiences a results plateau.

There is a strong corelation between the 'unlucky athlete' and the overreached athlete.

Run frequency increases lower leg durability and reduces the impact of running a marathon in a fatigued state.

A plan based on the above is physiologically safe and unlikely to result in an overtrained athlete. Overreached athletes can quickly bring themselves back from the edge through 24-72 hours of increased rest.


There's probably some more and I'll add them as they come to me.

I think this is an important issue and would be happy to answer questions if you have them. There's nothing new or unique here -- this is what I've picked up from studying the training methods of world champions in swimming, triathlon and running. The longer the event, the greater the reliance on daily steady state aerobic training over a very long time.


Training IM - Intensity/Scheduling/Potential Q&A

It seems to me that you regularly get 1-4 hrs of steady work in. Why do you consider this a hard goal?

Think about your own schedule. This is a very tough goal -- I think that a week with 20 hours of steady would be seriously tough to achieve -- I track total volume but don't actually track my exact steady volume as I do a lot of endurance work on feel. At my levels of volume, a lot of the 'steady' is technically below AeT but the pace/power is acceptable.

For example, yesterday was only 25 mins of easy running. This AM my HR was about 60 so no steady today either. So while I'll average a decent number of steady hours for the week, Friday/Saturday will be devoid of steady. In reading about the best athletes in the world, you see 1-2 hours of steady every day for ten years.

Even though you emphasize frequency I'm sure you still believe you need to do the distance if not overdistance for IM biking, and long runs for the run up to 2.5 hrs and long swims, correct? Do you think it is possible for athletes to perform to their potential without doing the overdistance work?

Absolutely, and we spoke about that with your bike volume. However, if you rush the big workouts then the consistency suffers. The way I am feeling after my 13 hour ride is a good example of what six hour rides used to do to me. The difference is that I don't push through when my MRHR is 15-20 bpm above. I back off the intensity and focus on skills.

When I talk about week structuring -- long ride, long run, long swim -- these are the key ones around which your strength training and frequency is placed. We did a case study at the OTC and it was fun to work with the other coaches and show them how I build schedules (for all disciplines). I've done this with my coaching pals as well.

Place BTs
Place strength
Place frequency
Think recovery
Add up daily/sport/weekly volume as a 'reality check'

I've found that most athletes tend to start with volume and work from there. This works but the order above can be more effective.

What do you feel is the affect of AeT training on shorter races? I would assume that there is a huge amount of benefit since all triathlons have a large aerobic nature. Would you be willing to train an athlete for say olympic or 1/2 IMs on the same philosophy or do you think intervals are necessary? Could you get by or achieve your potential with just AeT and/or some tempo type workouts?

If Lydiard can train a gold medal 800m runner using his protocol then I think that his approach can be highly effective for 1-3 hour TTs. I think some athletes resist the approach as it requires an uncommon level dedication to achieve maximum results. People try to short cut with intensity. You can get pretty good using intensity -- lots of folks out there. But my experience and research indicate that you'll never truly reach your endurance potential until you experience the 'trials of miles and miles of trials' (see Once a Runner).

The difference between shorter and longer racing lies in the duration of the longest workouts as well as the max steady state applied by elites. Think about me, if I condition my body to accept 35-40 hrs per week of training and then drop the volume to 20-25 hrs -- I'll be able to add about 5 bpm to my steady and substitute some higher intensity BTs -- when the time is right.

As an aside, my monster ride was a good example of my theory on aerobic threshold endurance. 4 hrs easy pace, 2 hrs steady to upper steady, 2.5 hrs easy pace, 1 hr steady to upper steady, 1 hr easy, 2 hrs steady to upper steady, 0.5 hrs easy. I'm a pretty fit dude and that's about my limit in an unrested state (5 hrs steady). Rest me up and you'll get 8:30 of steady to upper steady.

Intervals are absolutely necessary to achieve your fullest potential. Many folks mis-interpret me here. I do not deny the physiological benefit of higher intensity. However, here's the profile of the average athlete in our sport:

athletic age of 1-3 years
10-35 pounds over ideal racing weight
30-50 hrs per week work
sleep deprived (at least 1 hr per night short)
AeT endurance less than expected race duration
flexibility poor
nutrition poor

By the way, this person is likely pretty darn healthy in a big picture sense. If you crank the intensity up on this athlete then something is going to break. We see it all the time. I've blown myself and few clients up over the years -- volume doesn't do it -- intensity/lack of sleep/weak nutrition is the main culprit.

Achieving our potential... the only person who visits this board who's come close to their ultimate tri-potential is Molina. Even then, I bet he only touched it at certain races. His 1988 win in Kona would have to be one of the greatest races of all time -- physiologically, he wasn't supposed to be able to finish.

How many people in the world, know what it's like to truly achieve their potential in anything? How many people in the world have even tried? Truly dedicated themselves to it -- shed all distractions, moved into a plastic bubble, spent all day thinking about it, answering questions on it, trying to learn about it, baring their whole lives to the world so that there is no question/no doubt about what it takes. We can debate about the GI of wheat germ, on drafting, on whether 85kb of code is showing off, on whether to use 10K or 5K race pace for intervals -- or we can buckle down and train all day, every day.

So, our "potential" is a moving target. What I do is try to train myself (and my crew) to the best of our ability. Then we work on mental skills and race execution so that we are able to race to the maximum potential of our fitness. True satisfaction comes from working towards a goal and then performing to our potential given the circumstances.

I touch on this in an XTri article I wrote at the end of last year. What's the secret to success? -- J.F. train (tris), J. F. love (relationships), J. F. work (business) -- [managed two out of three so far, but my female pals have, for the most part, forgiven my flaws].

When you find something where you can work your ass off with a smile, then jump on it and roll with it. Simply persist with a smile. Give yourself about five years to see results...

You didn't ask for all this but it's been on my mind for a bit.


Anaerobic Threshold Training For IM Q&A

Coming from a Olympic Dist. racing background, I'm used to do this kind of training on the bike and run.

I've noted that many O.D triathletes are doing far well in IM racing (Oscar Galindez, Macca, Walto) and recently my best friend raced an ITU points race who was won by this guy from Venezuela, who finished in 4th in IM BRAZIL 2004.

I was wondering after reading the kind of training that RIch and Gordo does for IM, should I do some sessions that would work my lactate threshold (riding @ 172 HR), or just stick to TEMPO riding, 'cause I'm guess then if you ride say 30' a week at your AT, you would improve your TEMPO speed also, wouldn't you?

Thanks, Fred

As a short course athlete, you will likely have all the LT speed that you require. While some LT work can be useful, your critical limiter will be steady state aerobic endurance. With regards to an off-line thread on VO2 Max Training, I recently wrote...

A general point about the use of these workouts for long course triathletes.

For Half Iron and Ironman distance athletes, I've found these workouts to be highly attractive to the athletes. They like to "go hard" -- however -- the critical limiter in nearly all elite and AG athletes is the ability to hold their aerobic zone for anticipated race duration (not a key an issue for elites at the half IM distance). I've found that much of the popular athletic press over-emphasize intensity and, as a result, athletes do not do enough max steady state endurance training. As an example, elite triathletes love to do group rides -- I think that most of these guys are simply making themselves more tired (not more fast). Same thing in the pool with intervals swum at VO2 pace. Of course, individual tolerance for this kind of work is highly variable. As I started late, my tolerance is greatly reduced compared to the career athletes.

This is a general point -- I agree with the VO2 protocol and have found it to be effective especially with running (see Sustained Speed on my tips page). The point that you make about higher intensity leading to prolonged recovery is a great one. I find that Zn 3 or higher results in extended recovery in all but my strongest athletes. By reducing these sessions, we are able to achieve (and recover from) greatly increased steady state volume -- this gives great results in my AGers as it directly hits their critical race limiter.