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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Thoughts on Endurance nation

As I've mentioned before, i like the guys over at endurance nation.  On a recent post on their blog they produced a great article outlining the difference between their approach and traditional IronMan training programs (and endurance training in general).  I think its well written, easy to follow, and largely mirrors my own philosophy about the benefit of intensity vs. volume and does a great job at outlining alot of misconceptions and errors in traditional training methodology.  The entire article is worth a read, but i had a few issues which i think bear comment:

The article states:
Zone 1-2 = your “race-specific” zone for Ironman racing. As we get closer to your race, the volume of your training increases, intensity must therefore decrease, and we spend more time in Zone 1-2 as a consequence. We also want to make you more comfortable, confident, and familiar with all the things you’ll be doing on race day at this intensity (hydration, nutrition, bike position, etc).
and then
Race Prep: volume goes up again because the distance of the race requires it. Intensity comes down a bit so we can get you better at doing the things you’ll do on race day.
I'm not sure, after all the talk about the advantages of training in Z3-4 and how well the physiological adaptations required crossover so well into Z1-2, why they take this approach.  To begin with the idea that training volume needs to increas so that you have time to be confident with hydration, bike position, etc doesn't fly with me.  In my training plan, my long rides will be upwards of three hours long - isn't this enough time to sort this out?  won't i need to be eating and drinking on rides of this duration?  I just don't see the benefit of forcing such rides to lengthen well beyond this and come down so much in intensity - the argument is pretty weak. 

The second bit about the 'race prep' phase says that volume increases because 'the distance of the race requires it.'  I'm not even sure what this means, as they don't specify or back it up with any evidence.  My personal experience is to the contrary.  My longest run before the 14.5 hour effor on the Mantario trail was about 3 hours.  I never focused on running in Z1-2 and, low and behold, was able to do just fine in these zones for a much longer run than i had done in training.  I also remembered how to eat and drink.  I had the same experience on the arrowhead race.  I'm truly doubtful that significantly increasing my biking volume and decreasing the intensity would have helped me get a better result.  There will be serious challenges - both mentally and logistically - that have to be met, without much 'rehersal', on race day.  you don't run and IM in training so that you know what it's going to be like, do you? Race's themselves - the culmination of our training and effort - accumulate as well as the years pass. for someone needing or preferring a highly truncated schedule these events need to act as a sort of training in their own right, and lessons on what works and what doesn't should be gleened by reflecting back on them as new challenges approach.  And while i agree that intensity needs to drop a bit as a race approaches, i think this should happen in the week or two prior to the race and that it doesn't need to be attached to higher volume.


  1. Hi,
    Thanks the comments on our article and the dialogue. I'd like offer a few more details and continue the discussion.

    This is article is written from the perspective of Ironman athletes. As such:

    The volume of our long run builds to 2hrs, with a good bit of z3 running included. It then goes up to 2:15 and then, maybe, 1 x 2:30 long run. Run frequency across the week is 4x, sometimes 5x/wk

    The long ride is a very consistent 3-3.5hrs on Saturday, 2-2.5hrs on Sunday. These are tough rides with lots of intervals.

    In race prep these rides go to 4-4.5 on Saturday and 3hrs on Sunday. These rides include probably...80% of the intensity of the shorter rides above but we have to turn them down because, frankly, they would just be too challenging as 4.5hr rides. I don't know if you train or race with power.

    During this time we want them locked in the aerobars, paying attention to their nutrition, hydration, and, in general, getting good and learning how to handle all of the stuff they'll do on race day.

    Our athletes then do 2 x race rehearsal workouts at 6 and 3wks out from the race, as 100-112 mile bike, 45'/6 mile run. So, in summary, they only ride longer than 4.5hrs twice, as race rehearsals.

    Hope this detail clears up a few things for you!

    Rich Strauss

  2. BTW, ignore the "training and race with power" Was going somewhere, decided this post was long enough and forgot to edit. Sorry!

  3. Rich - thanks for taking the time to give some specifics. It sounds like my thoughts as to what 'the intensity comes down a bit' meant were a bit extreme. your explanation was helpful in this regard. Still would like understand the motivation behind the race distance requiring increased volume, however... wouldn't simply restructuring existing hours be as effective and perhaps even allow for more recovery which might in turn allow for smaller decreases in intensity? in the race prep phase it would seem the goal was to maintain and focus the improvements and adaptations made during build phases, minimize the chance of injury, and make sure they're raring to go come race day. I suppose i may not have a clear idea however, of what is constituted by the 'race prep' phase in terms of the overall timeline, and this could be causing some of my confusion.

  4. Coach Patrick here, just checking in. I can't answer for Rich specifically, but I can say that one of the biggest reasons we dial intensity "down" in race prep phase is because it's specific to the race. Yes, you can juggle hours, etc., to get recovery and keep your training time commitment low, but you'll enter race day with a lot of questions: what will my back feel like at 5 hours on the bike? Will my nutrition last that long? How differently do I need to fuel / pace between a typical 3 hour ride and my race day ride of 5.5 hours, etc. We use the last 12 weeks of the plan to extend the rides (most max at 4-4.5 hours, with 2 x 112 mile race simulation rides) and build the run. I think we are on the same page, you are just pushing the envelope more. Good luck!