The Training Plan - Part 4

This is the final part in my Training Plan posts. Here I present the overview of the year's training and racing plan:

1. Develop and maintain a body capable of handling and adapting to the training load
Includes strength training, dynamic mobility and flexibility work, and supporting immune function and workload tolerance. None of these areas requires massive sessions, but needs to be addressed consistently, almost daily.

2. Progressively develop a sound, but not overdone aerobic base
If you can't cover the distance, then you can't race the distance. Sounds simple, and the Ironman is the ultimate in aerobic endurance, but having learnt from my previous mistakes, I am no longer a fan of volume just for the sake of it. Excessive long slow sessions significantly impairs my body's ability to recover and plays havoc with my immune system. There is no point in hammering out a long ride or run if it leaves you incapable of performing the rest of your training.

3. Increase VO2max to as high as possible
This requires high intensity training, and such training is often considered contradictory to many people's philosophies in training for the Ironman. Obviously I disagree. The aim is to increase my Aerobic Capacity to as high as possible, remembering that Ironman is an aerobic event. The higher this capacity, the greater my scope of operating aerobically. Furthermore, certain muscle fibres, principally type IIb and IIa are typically only recruited and developed at these higher intensities. During the Ironman when the type I (slow twitch) fibres become fatigued the body starts recruiting the type II fibres. If these have not been developed, then you have severely limited race day performance. Typically VO2max training involves intervals in the format of 3-6 x 3-9min with 3-6min recovery. Intervals are performed at about 95-100% of VO2max, which equates to heart rates higher than 90% of HRmax. In terms of running paces, these would be between fresh 10,000m and 3000m race paces. Because there is a sizable anaerobic energy contribution during this training, long rest periods are required to remove the anaerobic by-products to prevent these from causing undue fatigue impacting on the quality of the interval.

4. Increase velocity achieved at Anaerobic Threshold
I have settled on using the term Anaerobic Threshold (AT) because it appears to be the most wildly accepted. While the exact definition is often is dispute and terminology has included: lactate threshold, ventilatory threshold, lactate turn-point, aerobic threshold II, OBLA, maximal steady-state pace, anaerobic conditioning pace and many others, I will stick with AT. The basic definition I like to use is it is the pace at which the body becomes unable to effectively buffer anaerobic by-products resulting in increase in blood lactate and H+ ions. The higher your AT, the faster you can go while remaining aerobic. The AT usually occurs between 75-90% of VO2max which translates to 80-90% of HRmax. It can often be sensed by a reasonable increase in respiratory rate and is often considered to be at about 15-21km running race pace. It is strongly influenced by training.

5. Increase ability to sustain Anaerobic Threshold
Once I have increased my AT to close to 90% of HRmax, then I aim to increase the ability to sustain this pace. If developed properly, Half Ironman race pace will average just below AT. Sessions will usually involve 1-3 intervals of 10-20min with short recoveries. The trick is do just enough to stimulate adaptation, but not so much as to develop undue fatigue. I've now noticed that mentioning AT under two points gives the impression that I will focus a lot of training on this, however I must stress that is not the case. Often it only requires some well timed and well constructed sessions to reap large benefits. Development of a sound aerobic base is listed at guideline number 2 and the different aspects of AT listed further down at 4 and 5 for a reason.

6. Develop specific race skills and abilities
Encompasses open water swimming, sighting, transitions, running off the bike, maintaining aero position, climbing hills efficiency, nutrition intake, and pace judgement. The most significant is efficiency at race pace. Some things will be developed in specific sessions, while others will be incorporated into the existing sessions. I'm a believer that if the little things are done well, then this often leads to big accomplishments. For example, small errors in pace judgement of only 1-2km/hr on the bike can mean the difference between running or walking the marathon.

7. Recover appropriately
Where to begin? Super compensation. The aim of recovery is to allow the body to regenerate and build to a higher level of performance than it was capable of before the training stimulus was applied. I know this is very general. The ability to recover from certain training sessions will change throughout the training year. A guideline I like to follow is never to train hard when stiff from a previous effort. When stiff and/or sore it indicates there is still a degree of muscle or connective tissue damage and that recovery isn't yet complete. I have a history of overestimating my ability to recover, so I aim to begin easy by being generous with recovery days and take it from there. For myself I'm not following a traditional up/down program of say 2-3 weeks of building up training followed by a reduced week of training. Rotating shift work doesn't allow me stick to a 7 day routine. My approach will be more of a constant assessment of improvement and taking regular recovery days, rather than recovery weeks.

Day number one starts on Monday 2nd April. For the first 2-3 weeks I will maintain my key run sets of a long run of about 2.5 hours; a VO2max set on the track, an AT set and maybe a couple of easier fartlek style runs depending on how I feel. Cycling will be just about getting used to riding and will include a fair amount of commuting (I'll say goodbye to my car for a while). The initial sessions will be short, about 30-80min with no heart rate guidelines. I'll reassess my set-up during these rides, and ride just on feel. I'll approach swimming in a similar manner to cycling, but with a specific focus on assessing my current technique and efficiency. At the end of the 2-3 weeks I'll have a rethink and take it from there.

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle


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