Feel like a hero at your first IRONMAN by including sprint- and Olympic-distance races in your season build.
I recently had a ticket to catch an early screening of Man of Steel, the new Superman movie. I declined, because I knew my wife and dad wanted to see it with me. But between you and me, the real reason is that I had to get up early in the morning to train.
Train for what, though? Less than a week removed from my return to racing in Boise after a bike crash last winter, I should be thinking about recovery. But I’ve got another race to think about—three in fact. In less than a month, I’ll drive up to June Lake near the Sierra Nevada mountain range to simulate racing at altitude as a tune-up for Ironman Lake Tahoe.
The race is “only” an Olympic-distance. What’s the point of going short when my A-race of the year is long? Drawing from my own experiences using short-course races to prepare for my IRONMAN events combined with wisdom from top coaches, here are three Superman-themed tips that will leave you feeling like a hero on race day.
Speed: Faster than a speeding IRONMAN
Typically, endurance-focused beginner IRONMAN triathletes are taught not to worry much about speed. Luis Vargas, co-coach and co-founder of MarkAllenOnline, believes that a lack of speed training is a key reason why winning IRONMAN times 20 years ago are roughly the same as today. “IRONMAN triathletes do not take short races seriously anymore,” he lamented. He recommends that athletes race monthly to hone their competitive spirit while TN Multisport’s Teresa Nelson cautions against racing at the end of recovery weeks.
Nelson says that a balanced season may include one IRONMAN, one 70.3-distance race, an Olympic and a couple of sprints. If the races don’t fall in the right timeframe, both Nelson and Vargas advise athletes to add run races, bike time trials or a Masters swim meet. Nelson added that you can use the data from each race for tracking improvement and A-race goal-setting. The key is making sure each short race has a long-term purpose.
“Don’t go into the race just to race, go in with specific goals to aid in your development as an athlete,” Nelson says.
I’ll be using shorter-distance run races the next three months as a form of rehab and confidence building while preparing for IRONMAN Lake Tahoe, and will continue to train weekly at the track even though my IRONMAN marathon pace is nearly dialed in.
Strength: More powerful than a locomotive
Superman was born with supernatural abilities, but we humans were not. Big efforts quickly make us tired, and in an IRONMAN, we want to save energy. That also means it’s more difficult for beginner triathletes to know their limits, which Vargas says can be hard when dispensing advice to hold back in longer races.
“How do we know what going at 50 percent is if we’ve never gone 100 percent,” he says.
Nelson adds that by racing at or near threshold you are gaining fitness that will make you stronger for your A-race. I found this to be especially true in my first year of IRONMAN training. I completed several Olympic and sprint triathlons and learned the hard way that I couldn’t simply transfer that intensity to a 70.3. My first 140.6-mile adventure might have ended in disappointment had I not raced shorter distances and experienced what “holding back” felt like.
Certainty: Confidence to leap tall buildings in a single bound
Cramps may be the triathlete’s version of Kryptonite, but our real weakness often lies between the ears. Using short-course races to prepare for an IRONMAN gives beginners the confidence to succeed when it matters most.
“You get the opportunity to decide what works and what doesn’t,” Nelson says.
Uncomfortable with a mass swim? Get out to a sprint triathlon where the distance is shorter. Transitions have you confounded? Practice a few different set-ups at your next local race. If it wasn’t for my early sprint triathlons, I’d still be wiping my feet off with a towel in T1 and sitting on the ground to put on socks.
I certainly wouldn’t be faster than a … well, you know.