In my first post of this series here I talked about the lessons I learned in 2016 while chasing a qualifying slot for Kona in 2017.
In this post I’ll talk about training volume, training consistency and we will look at the actual numbers and how they stacked up. The reason I’m dealing with these three things as one post is that I think they are all tied together.
Kona Secrets book available
Kona Secrets: Lessons learned from over 50 Kona Qualifications.
Knowledge doesn’t produce results, action does. Just knowing how to do something doesn’t guarantee success, especially something as difficult as qualifying for Kona; you have to put in the hours. In this book I share some of the lessons I learnt between being a back-of-the-pack beginner to qualifying for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.
You can’t have enough volume without consistency but conversely if you over do the volume the consistency will again suffer. The numbers are an easy way to measure both. These aren’t subjective like some of the other things I need to be able to qualify like desire or self control. These factors are easily measured. How many swims, how many bikes or runs? How many meters swam or kilometres ridden? How many hours? That’s really all it boils down to.
I remember asking my first coach what was the minimum hours or distances needed to get to Kona. From memory (it was 5 years ago) it was along the lines of 10-12k swimming, 300-400k of biking and 60-80k of running each week.
As I said last week Ironman coach Alan Couzens puts the number at 800-1000 hours a year. Irish Ironman record holder and coach Bryan Mc Crystal puts it at about 13-15 hours a week which comes out to between 675-780.
So with all of that to measure up against how did I stack up against the numbers?
The swim by the numbers
- Swim Hours Overall: 95
- Swim Hours weekly average: 1.8 hours/week
- Swim Sessions overall: 90
- Swim sessions weekly average: 1.7
- Swim meters overall: 273750m
- Swim Meters weekly average: 4,780 excluding biggest week which was a bit of an anomaly
- Swim biggest week: 25,150
- Swim smallest week: zero meters
- Swim: number of zero weeks: 12
Starting with the swim which I am most inconsistent at I had a whopping twelve weeks or three months of no swimming over the course of the year. There is two main reasons for this.
1. We naturally default to either running or biking in the off season and swimming is dropped then. It is also the first session that is squeezed out of the schedule and replaced with a run or bike when time is tight.
2. We purposefully built the year with a bike/ run focus knowing that these are the two areas I’m strongest at and also the two longest portions of an Ironman so they are the obvious areas to focus on initially as they will result in the biggest gains.
There’s an oft quoted phrase that you cant win an Ironman in the swim but that you can certainly lose it. An easy swim course like Ironman UK will forgive a weak swim but it will also maybe disguise just how much a weak swim can damage the rest of your day. Like in my last post examining 2016 here I said there are things I’ve learned before that I frustratingly had to re-learn again in 2016. One of those things that we teach all of our athletes is the importance of being swim strong and fit. We believe for Ironman being fast in the water is often less important than being really strong and fit.
Often an easier swim course can mask a lack of swim fitness. The result of that can be that an athlete doesn’t then appreciate just how much the swim takes out of the rest of their day.
This was really brought home for me in Ironman Fortaleza where I had my worst swim in any Ironman I’ve done, coming out of the water 15-20 minutes slower than I would have expected.
The result of not being swim fit on that day was to massively expose the flaw in my approach to swimming this year. On the day the lack of swim fitness also had a huge knock on effect on both the bike and run.
Another oft repeated Ironman cliché is that for most athletes the swim should take nothing out of you and is often described as being treated as a warm up for the rest of the day. I think just looking at the number my swim time in Mallorca wasn’t too bad or too far off my target. The problem though is that I think it took a lot more out of me than a 1:07 swim would have a couple of years ago.
I may have retained a lot of the technique I learned over the four years I spent training hard from 2010-2013 but that seems to have only allowed me fool myself into thinking I could get away with less work than I needed to do. Because I got back to a decent level of swim speed (which I mistook for fitness) relatively quickly I mistakenly thought I had turned into a swimmer and like lots of former swimmers who get through an Ironman swim in under an hour with only the occasional dalliance with a swimming pool I neglected to allow for the fitness gains that regular swimming would add.
I also neglected to allow for the fact that the same lack of fitness would have a really big knock on effect on the rest of the day.
This has to be the single biggest swim lesson and the main thing to correct for 2017. This is number one on the list of “low hanging fruit” to be picked. It will be interesting to see how well I do. It’s easy to say “I will swim more often” it’s quite a bit harder to do when it’s so much easier to throw on a pair of runners and head out for a run…
The bike by the numbers
- Bike Hours overall: 342
- Bike hours weekly average: 6.6 hours/week
- Bike Kilometres overall 9111km
- Bike kilometres weekly average: 175km/week
- Bike biggest week: 647km
- Bike smallest week: zero
- Bike sessions overall: 132
- Bike Sessions weekly average: 2.5
- Bike number of zero weeks: 6 including 2 after IM Fortaleza
The bike looks a lot better than my swim numbers but it is still a long way off where it needs to be and that reflected itself in my bike times this year. All year I felt I was “off” on the bike. When training with others I never had the feeling that I could ride off the front of a group like I’ve had in the past. I didn’t have the aggression on the bike that comes from the confidence that is a part of being really strong. I think there are two big reasons for this.
1. Bike fit: This is one I’m almost embarrassed to admit as a bike fitter myself but I had a lot of problems with my bike fit this year. A bit like the cobbler with holes in his own shoes I never quite got the bike fit right and it was only in December when I had a session with Ivan O’ Gorman that a lot of pieces of the puzzle finally fell into place in my mind and I realised what had gone wrong. I’ll write a detailed piece on this as I think now it’s one of the most important parts of the years analysis.
2. There wasn’t any really big weeks which I’ve always responded to really well in the past. I normally had 2-3 weeks of 800-1200km on the bike which had a fairly dramatic effect on my biking each season. I’ll aim to get a couple of weeks like this in again this year.
3. My “normal” training weekly mileage was also off. As I mentioned above I remember my first Ironman coach telling me that Kona athletes typically biked 3-400km a week as a normal part of their prep. I was a long way off this and only went over 300km 11 times in the year and only had one week with more than 400km.
4. There was over a dozen weeks with one or less bike sessions. That adds up to three months of less than one bike session a week. There’s no way that I can get strong enough to ride a decent Ironman bike with only one big week in the year and a total of three months of the year riding less than once a week. The second aspect of not being bike fit is that it badly impacts the run, regardless of how run fit I might be.
The bike is typically my strongest discipline, actually for years I thought of myself as a bike/runner as opposed to a triathlete. Funnily despite spending ten years in the sport it was only in 2013 that my swim had improved to the level that I started to think of myself as a proper triathlete.
It’s been a very frustrating year struggling most with the discipline I normally do best at. Hopefully with the changes in the bike fit and a better handle on the allergies I’ll see a return to more normal biking levels in 2017.
The run by the numbers
- Run hours overall: 207
- Run hours weekly average: 4 hours p/week
- Run Kilometres overall: 2293k
- Run kilometres weekly average: 43k
- Run Sessions overall: 182
- Run sessions weekly average: 3.5 p/w
- Run biggest week: 103km
- Run smallest week: zero hours
- Bike number of zero weeks: 2
The run is sort of our default “go to” in the off season. Whenever we travel or are time constrained it’s what we fall back on and Aisling is actually a runner who oftem really only does Ironman because I do. So it stands to reason that it will have the best numbers as regards consistency with only 2 weeks with zero running, one of which was the week after Ironman Fortaleza. The other was in January when I was sick.
The run was an area that I only had glimpses of where I thought I should be physically during the year. I would have the occasional session where I would hit all the numbers or I would feel like I was floating and could just run and run but these were less numerous than in previous years.
Going by my very last run of the year in the Lock Up The Year Half MarathonLock Up The Year Half Marathon I’m probably in better run shape than either of the Ironman’s would have indicated. I think this is because the bike fit compromised my running so badly that it became a liability rather than a weapon at the back end of the race.
Again if I’m right about how badly the bike fit was affecting me then the changes we made on this should make a big difference to my running, particularly in racing.
With our season kicking off with the Boston marathon in April I’m aiming to get my run into good shape and if I can string together three months of solid training I’ll start to look at an Ironman for 2017. Until I know that I can train properly there’s no point in setting a big Ironman goal only to discover that I’m unable to put any decent training blocks together.
- Zero weeks in the training diary are bad and I’ve way too many. 12 in the swim, 6 on the bike and 2 in the run.
- Consistency is the one thing that has been my biggest failing this year. I had 10 weeks with 6 hours or less overall training meaning that if I spend a month building fitness and that is followed by a week or two with almost no training then I’ve lost a lot of the gains that I’ve worked so hard for in the previous month. I never really felt fit and strong this year the way I did back in 2011, ‘12 or ‘13 and I think the lack of consistency was the biggest part of that.
- I need to swim longer and more often. I thought that I could get through this year a little bit on the history of four years of decent swimming. I was very wrong. Fitness gained in the swim also transfers to the run and bike. It’s not just that I would swim better if I swam more. I’d also bike and run better.
- I only had one moderately big bike week at 647km which wasn’t enough.
- Going on Couzens and Mc Crystals numbers I fell short by at least 100 hours with a total of just under 650 for the year. That number alone doesn’t tell the whole story. The reason for the missing 1-200 hours wasn’t that I did too little each week. Instead it was because of the woeful lack of consistency. But going on how close I was in Mallorca I reckon I can qualify at the lower end of those numbers, probably 750-850.
- I’m working on my bike fit with Ivan O Gorman over the next couple of months and I feel this will make a big difference to both my bike and run.
The Coaches take on 2016
Aisling feels that the biggest issue I had was my lack of consistency this year. The training never really had a chance to work as it was so disrupted. I might have had a couple of decent blocks of training going but they were all eventually brought to a stuttering halt by either sickness or allergies.
She has suggested that we take a slightly different approach to 2017 both in training and race timing. As I said above the first focus is Boston marathon once we establish a decent training and fitness base we will start to plan the rest of the season.
The overall picture according to the numbers is one of several gaping holes. This is both good and bad. Bad because it meant I never got the results I was looking for. Good because there is a whole lot to improve for 2017. If the only thing I improve on is my training consistency I reckon that’s enough to qualify. If I fix that one thing I’m confident that I can not only qualify but I can get very competitive in the age group again.
I guess that I’m inherently positive and an optimist so I’m always liable to go into something looking for the best possibilities but because I have been there before I don’t see any reason I cant get there again.
For now I’m content to just start to tick off first daily and then weekly training sessions. I’m excited for the year ahead as I think we’ve identified the main reasons I didn’t get to where I’d hoped to be and they are (for the most part) things within my control to address. I’m not going to jump in to another Ironman undertrained in the hope that I fluke a slot. I’ve been painfully reminded that there is no fluking Kona.
If you made it this far thanks for reading.
Chasing Kona eBook available
From smoker to back of the pack triathlete to the Ironman World Championships.
Read about how I overcame all of the odds and discovered what it would take to get to the Ironman World Championships – my eBook is now available to buy as an eBook on Amazon UK, Amazon US, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes
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