70.3 Training Principals, Part 1
By the Silver Fox*
The 70.3 or half ironman is an interesting event in regards to training. There are generally 2 approaches. The first is to train like you do for a standard distance event but lengthen your longer sessions a fraction. Alternatively the training resembles more that of an ironman with a tendency to do a bit less. Although the 2 approaches seem similar they are not.
The mindset for a competitive standard distance athlete is on being able to go as hard as possible for a sustained period while an ironman athlete is focused on pace control over a long period of time.
High intensity or going hard is not part of ironman training vocabulary, going long is.
So what is the answer?
Well, that really depends on why you are doing your 70.3 event.
70.3 athletes can be roughly divided into 5 distinctive groups :
i) The recreational triathlete who wants to step up in distance.
ii) The competitive age group triathlete who does one or two 70.3 ironman events as a lead up to the full ironman.
iii) The competitive age group triathlete who specializes in the 70.3 distance for the season.
iv) The professional triathlete who specializes in 70.3 and ironman events.
v) The first timer who, against better wisdom, has decided to do a 70.3 race as their first triathlon. They are in trouble. The only worse decision they can make is to do a full ironman first of.
The goals for the event between the different groups outlined above obviously differ :
Group i) is the health and fitness group and their sole aim is to overcome the challenge of getting to the finish preferably in one piece.
Group ii) has more lofty goals in mind a bit later in the season so the 70.3 is secondary to their major event the full ironman. Group ii) is best to consider the 70.3 ironman as a training event and do it with an ironman mindset, close to ironman pace and based on ironman type training. Unless, of course they are a pro triathlete and need the money.
Group iii) will train specifically for the 70.3 distance and it is this group which will have more of a “standard distance event” approach.
Groups i) to iv) make up the bulk of 70.3 competitors. I won't spend any time on the last group at this stage.
Before going into the finer details of the different training programmes lets have a look at the basic principles. The basic principals discussed to begin are frequency, intensity and duration of training for the 70.3 ironman. Intensity will be covered in the next article. In the final article of this series I will give examples of how these principles can be applied to individual training programmes.
When you train two to three times per week in one discipline you develop a basic level of fitness which will be enough to take part in events at a controlled pace but which will leave you frustrated if you want to compete. For that you need to train at least 4 times per week in each discipline.
If you are an age group triathlete and you train 4 times per week in each discipline (12 sessions per week, some of which can be back to back) you will be very competitive.
If you are a professional athlete you will need to do 5 or even 6 sessions per discipline to get that extra 5-10% to be able to compete at that level. However you also immediately put yourself at risk for injury or overtraining unless you are a full time athlete and you can spend significant periods of time on recovery and spread your sessions throughout the day.
If you have other commitments like work and family you will likely dig yourself a hole trying to fit in more then 4 sessions per discipline per week. If you are already a specialist in one discipline, for example if you have a back ground in swimming or cycling you can do less in that particular discipline which allows you to do an extra session in your weaker discipline if you have time.
The bulk of 70.3 athletes will take 4-6.5 hours to complete the event. The swim will take 30-60 minutes, the bike 135-210 min and the run 75-120min. The pro males will need to aim for a time sub 4 hours with the females 20-30 min behind, depending on the course and conditions. There is a huge overlap of times in age groupers depending on ability, experience and age. There will be some talented recreational triathletes who will 'out do' more competitive age groupers and there will be older age groupers that will finish ahead of their younger counterparts. A common misconception is that training duration needs to be closely linked to the expected time you expect to do for the different disciplines in the event. That would mean that the older recreational athlete does longer sessions then the pro athlete and of course that does not make sense. Table 2 includes the approximate duration to aim for when you do your training sessions from shorter work outs to your longer sessions. Anything less might compromise your race goals, anything more is unlikely to give you any extra benefit. In particular for your long run you do not have to exceed 120-150 minutes to get maximum benefits when preparing for a 70.3 event.
Tabel 2: Summary of training principles for 70.3 events.
70.3 training principles
Frequency (sessions per discipline per week)
Age group Triathlete 70.3 in preparation for ironman
Age group Triathlete 70.3
Professional Triathlete 70.3 and ironman
The principles in table 2 above apply especially in the 8 weeks prior to the event providing that you have done base training in the three disciplines prior to this time.
* Silver fox comes from the name “the old fox” which is how the author John Hellemans was referred to when welcomed across the finish line by the race announcer when he won his first official New Zealand Triathlon title. Much to his dismay the athletes he coached soon turned the nickname into the grey fox. In more recent years they have respectfully changed it to the silver fox.
Photo by this pages editor 'TriathlonShots'.
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