The challenge: Take a short-course specialist and adapt his training for back-to-back long-course world championship races, first in Vegas, then in Kona. Age-group triathlete Kim McDonald tells you how to successfully make the leap to long-distance triathlon. Note: This article originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of Triathlete magazine.
Racing short-course triathlons is what I’ve done mostly and what I do best. I’ve won two sprint national championships and an ITU sprint world championship in recent years. But long-course triathlon is an entirely different beast, one that I had never quite figured out. Last year, after qualifying for the Ironman World Championship 70.3 and Ironman Hawaii at Ironman 70.3 California in Oceanside, I had to put together a real-life training program that would make me competitive in the two races, yet fit into a 40-hour-per-week work schedule and busy family life. By the end I’d not only be a better triathlete, but could share some lessons with other triathletes who, like me, are fast at short-course triathlons, but are either rookies or consistently underperform at the longer distances. Herein, some insights and tips gleaned from my own experience:
Identify your weaknesses and revise your training to improve them early in the season.
Ask yourself whether you’re doing too much training in the disciplines you’re good at, which is a natural inclination. I tend to favor swimming and running, as both fit well into my 9-to-5 work schedule and don’t cut into family time like all-day rides. And I look forward each week to the social aspects of my open-water swims and group runs. But when I looked back at my race results, it was clear my lack of cycling was seriously limiting my performance in long-course triathlons. I had done Ironman Arizona twice and Kona three times in the previous four years, and my performances in those races were far from stellar. While my iron-distance swims have ranged from 56 minutes to an hour and my run times are better than average, my bike times have been embarrassingly slow. Five- to six-hour rides on Saturdays had helped me bring my Kona bike splits down from the six- to the high-five-hour time range, but I’d get off the bike in every Ironman feeling physically trashed, stiff and completely out of contention. I realized that to succeed at two back-to-back long-course world championships without my usual “crash and burn” bike legs would require me to come up with a totally different approach to bike training. I also knew that to be reasonably competitive in my age group, I had to train myself to run faster half-marathons and marathons off the bike.
I started by bringing my bike to work in my car and rode at lunch as many days of the week as I could. My typical Saturday and Sunday rides, plus the additional rides back and forth to my daughter’s weekend soccer games (a 45-minute drive away) doubled my average weekly saddle time from seven to about 14 hours. (My total weekly training hours stayed in the typical “working man’s” range—usually 20-plus hours a week for my base and build periods, and 12 to 13 hours for my recovery weeks.)