Stepping up to the Half Ironman distance
While it is almost double the distance, transitioning from Olympic distance racing to Half Ironman racing won’t exactly require double the training. A few changes to both your physical and mental preparations will have you ready to conquer a half ironman before you know it. Let’s take a look at some changes you’ll have to make in all three disciplines to gain the appropriate fitness to complete your first long course race.
The swim is the sport that you may not need to make too many changes, after all a half ironman swim is ONLY 400 meters longer than an Olympic which typically will take athletes an additional 6-8 minutes to complete. However, half ironman races may tend to have a bigger field than your local Olympic, which means that your wave may have a significant increase in participants. At the start of the race, when anxiety is high and arms and legs are moving everywhere, things will be a bit more congested. Here’s a great half ironman swim workout you can do to help with overcoming wave congestion and develop some speed to get out in front of the pack:
Warm up: 400 easy free, 300 pull, 200 build, 100 kick
Main set: 5 x 400 freestyle, the first 100 is all out, then settle in to goal race pace (:20 recovery)
Cool down: 200 easy backstroke
Here is where the majority of your training changes will occur. Moving from essentially a “hard as you can go” 40k to focusing on appropriately pacing a 90k bike ride will be the key to your race. You will need to add significant volume to your weekly long ride. Where your long ride for the Olympic race was 2 hours long, a half ironman weekly bike workout will get to 3.5-4 hours. With the increase in duration of this long bike, your intensity will decrease as well. As you move closer to your goal half ironman race, the intensity within your long ride needs to replicate the demands that your goal race will put on the body. Simply put, you need to train like you are planning to race. This three hour bike workout will help dial in your race specific intensity as you approach your goal half ironman race.
Warm–up: Perform a 30 minute easy spin including several short, fast paced surges. Main set: Hour #1 Do 2 x 25 minutes at goal race intensity with 5 minutes recovery
Hour #2+ Do 20 minutes at slightly faster than goal race pace, 5 minutes easy, then finish with 40-50 minutes steady aerobic effort
Cool down: Easy spin to finish.
Much like your bike training, another area of significant change will be in your run volume. You will more than double your run race distance moving to half ironman, so accordingly the duration of your runs will need to increase. The good news is that you probably have some good “speed” from racing 10k off the bike, which will translate very well as your race distance gets longer. But a key run during your week will be the long run, and it will need to approach the two hour mark. One major challenge will be to cover the distance of 13.1 miles, and as a result you should cover that distance once or more during your training. These runs don’t have an emphasis on speed; rather they are designed to adapt your body to the needs of running over 90 minutes. Here is a great long run that you can do to assist with preparations for a half ironman:
Warm-up: 15 minutes of easy jogging, including several pickups to race pace
Main set: 80 minutes steady paced run. If you use a HR monitor, this is about 20 beats below your lactate threshold. If you use perceived effort, this should be about a 7 on a scale of 1-10. Aim to run the entire 80 minute main set with a slight negative split. Try to run the second 40 minutes slightly faster than the first 40 minutes always staying within your aerobic zone.
Cool down: 5 minutes of easy jogging
Racing an Olympic distance triathlon, you can get away with minimal nutritional
requirements. You might have a bottle on your bike or a gel on the run, but for the most part, your body can sustain itself in a 2-2.5 hour race. However, this isn’t the case in a half ironman race. While nutritional needs are very specific to each athlete, you should generally aim for about 300 calories per hour on the bike and 200 calories per hour on the run. Again, this is a very general rule, and you should always try to err on the side of caution when eating/drinking during a race. You will do far greater damage eating or drinking too much then when you eat too little. If you feel low on calories or can identify “bonking” symptoms, you can solve that problem by eating. On the flip side, if you fill your stomach with too much nutrition, you have a greater chance at your stomach shutting down. When your stomach shuts down, it is very difficult to continue to race at the level you expect. Your nutrition plan should be something that you have tested thoroughly in training and are confident that regardless of the environmental factors, it will work for you. DO NOT try to use a new strategy on race day!!! It is important that you know exactly what will work for you when you toe the line to race.
The last thing you should keep in mind when transition from an Olympic distance race to a half ironman is you will need to do much more pre-race planning. It would do you very good if you developed a race plan. This race plan will include the what, when, where and why’s of your race starting from the evening before throughout your race day experience. Ideally, this document will include your pacing strategy for each of the disciplines as well as your nutrition plan. Allow yourself LOTS of details and when finished review it many times prior to race day.
Stepping up in distance might be a daunting challenge, but with a few tweaks to your preparations, you can do it efficiently and enjoy success in long course racing. Happy training!!