Perspectives: The Iron run

The most common question I get this time of the year usually deals with suggestions as to what to do in order to have a much better Iron distance race next year. My responses have swim tips and bike tips but the run seems to be the most problematic. Those 26.2 miles at the end are indeed challenging and if something goes wrong the marathon pays the price. It goes without saying that you have to have a good training plan with proper base and proper increase in load and enough running to have a good run. Plus on race day you have to take care of the proper pacing and have good nutrition and hydration to keep your energy stores. But even then some people still fail to reach their potential on the run. Here are my top tips.

Strength training. There is some literature and research that says strength training does not improve performance. But the research was not conducted after 7 plus hours of exercise and often not in extreme conditions. An Ironman marathon is not about speed, it’s about endurance and strength. Even if you are having a good day and you had good nutrition and pacing your legs are still heavy and exhausted, every stride of the marathon will carry a certain stress on your quads and body. Your legs need that tensile strength to sustain that pounding that Iron distance athletes have to deal with.

Do long runs at an easy pace. Do not be in a hurry during your long runs. Remember we are not training to run a marathon during cool temperatures and fresh. If you use Maffetone methods like we do, use your MAF and run below it. Long runs need to be easy and conversational. You do not want to finish your long run so exhausted you need a day off. These run efforts built your ability to metabolize fat for energy and creates the run endurance needed. If you run them too fast and utilize too many body resources you cement an unsustainable pace that you will only be able to maintain for a few miles of your Iron distance marathon.

Develop the ability to run at a steady state. Are you able to maintain pace, cadence and heart rate during your long runs? How bad does your pace deteriorate all things being equal? On race day it is extremely difficult to maintain pace and have a steady marathon or even have the first half be close to the second half. What can you do to change this? My suggestion is for you to figure how to do this during your long runs. You can do it! Many people have although it seems impossible. Do you need calories on your long runs? How many fluids do you need? What pace can you do the first half in and be able to reproduce it on the second half? Try it. If you are able to do this in training now you know what you need to do on race day to be able to finish strong.

The surface you run on matters. Many Iron distance races are on pavement and sometimes on cement. It would be important that you do some training in the last 6 weeks prior to the race on the same surface. It can be crucial. The stress on your legs running trails is totally different than the one when running on cement. Running varied terrain like that offered by natural soft trails can keep you injury free but you still need to mix in the surface you will race in as the race approaches.

Run on race day conditions. The marathon in an Iron distance race often takes place during the heat of the day. These conditions need to be a consideration. I’m not recommending you train in 100 F temperature as that can be dangerous but do not be shy to venture out on warm days. Yes your pace and your steady state I discussed above can be kept more constant on a cool day but try it on a hot day as well. You will learn a lot about how your body handles the heat and help you prepare for race day.

I hope these tips help you become a better Iron distance marathon runner.

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