Q&A: How Can I Train for a Faster Ironman Run?

Q. Dear Gale,

I just wanted to drop a note to give you an update on my status and ask a question. I am currently using your 13-week Intermediate Ironman training program. My event is July 25th, Ironman Lake Placid.

Last weekend, I had a 70.3 event as a check point and despite having a bit of a cold and the run being very hot, I did reasonably well. I feel I can do a bit better going forward. For background, know that this was my third 70.3 race and fourth triathlon—I'm still learning. Last weekend was my second time doing this particular 70.3 event.

For results from the 70.3, on the swim I was only 26 seconds slower than last year. I feel both transitions are slow and can improve. I put a lot of focus on the bike and was able to better my time by 10 minutes. It is the run where I need some help.

I ran near 2:16 for the half-marathon and I'm not happy with this. It was about 92 degrees and humid; but still I think I should be able to do better here, and I'm open to suggestions. Know that I would normally run a hilly 13 miles in around 1:40. I would expect (and/or desire) a time closer to 2:00 or less in a 70.3 event.

How to Focus Your Run Workouts

A. Thanks for training with me on Active Trainer. You asked about the slow run time you had. I will make some training suggestions, but do know that a cold (even a small one) can affect your endurance. Additionally, if you are not acclimated to heat, it will negatively affect your speed as well. I suspect the combination of those two items definitely slowed your run time, so don't be too hard on yourself.

Since you have moved into the Ironman training plan, I'll focus on suggestions for that event. For the Tuesday workouts, there are intervals scheduled. If you have a watch or heart rate monitor that gives you pace, aim for a steady pace that keeps your heart rate from creeping out of Zone 3.

Try to hold that pace for the workout series, though the intervals get longer. There may come a time that you have to slow down a bit to keep your heart rate in Zone 3, and that's OK. You can also allow some creep into Zone 4—but don't get carried away.

The second suggestion is for the brick workouts at the end of the rest weeks. The run portion of the brick is assigned as a negative-split run, going out in Zones 1-2 and running back in Zones 1-3.

If you can run a half-marathon at roughly a 7:38 pace per mile, one estimation is that your open marathon time would be around the eight-minute-per-mile mark. (Speed slows by roughly 5 percent if you double the race distance.) After a bike ride, your pace may slow by some 20 seconds per mile (plus or minus). Some people slow more than others, as much as a minute per mile.

Plan the brick workouts so that you can be at a track for the last 35 minutes of the run. Do two to three 1-mile repeats, aiming for an 8 to 8:30 pace. The goal is to go as fast as you can...without your heart rate going out of Zone 3. Take two-minute easy Zone 1 recovery intervals between each mile.

By using a specific pace in conjunction with heart rate, you can likely push your speed potential higher.

Hope this helps!


Gale Bernhardt was the USA Triathlon team coach at the 2003 Pan American Games and 2004 Athens Olympics. Her first Olympic experience was as a personal cycling coach at the 2000 Games in Sydney. She currently serves as one of the World Cup coaches for the International Triathlon Union's Sport Development Team. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale's pre-built, easy-to-follow cycling and triathlon training plans. Let Gale and Active Trainer help you succeed.

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