Training Insights: Stepping up to the 70.3 challenge!

Pacing skills essential for optimising performance over the longer distance events and a power meter is ideal for these sessions

RST Cycle Clothing & Trigon Bikes

Training Insights: Stepping up to the 70.3 challenge!

Double Olympic champion Alistair Brownlee made a successful Ironman 70.3 race debut in Gran Canaria this weekend following in the footsteps of fellow GB triathlete, and trainSharp coached, Holly Lawrence.

Winning comfortably in a time of 4:03:03, Brownlee was nearly 8 minutes ahead of the second-place athlete, Pieter Heemeryck from Belgium. It was a successful day for GB athletes with Emma Pallant also finishing first in the women’s race.

Holly Lawrence in the Trainsharp lab for a testing session with Elliott

There is good precedence for GB success in the middle-distance events. In her second season racing the 70.3 distance, Holly Lawrence succeeded in winning the 2016 Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Mooloolaba. Whilst Lawrence has now firmly established herself on the Ironman circuit, Brownlee will be using the next year or so to experiment with the longer distance before making any decision regarding the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Given Brownlee’s pedigree at Olympic distance, are we likely to see a new era of Brits dominating the middle-distance triathlon events? It seems like a natural progression for athletes like Brownlee and Lawrence to ‘mature’ into these events but is the step-up to Ironman 70.3 really such a jump?

Insofar as the majority of Brownlee’s training is concerned, there probably wasn’t a great deal of difference between Olympic distance and the Ironman 70.3 event. Having performed consistently at Olympic distance, for a number of years, he has a solid endurance base for the longer Ironman 70.3 event.

Whilst his training volume would have increased, his sessions would become much more race specific and geared towards longer steady state/threshold solo bike and run efforts. The bike segment of an Ironman 70.3 event is performed at effort equating to 80-85% of an athlete’s functional threshold power (FTP).

Longer interval reps of 20-30 mins at this intensity, with relatively short rest periods, should form a key part of any middle-distance training plan. Pacing skills are essential for optimising performance over the longer distance triathlon events and these longer interval sessions provide a great opportunity to practice.

A power meter is ideal for these sessions and for pacing generally during a middle or long distance race. However, without having any idea of your FTP, a power meter is not as useful and could be considered an expensive speedometer! As part of her preparation for the 2016 Ironman 70.3 World Championship, Lawrence carried out regular fitness testing with trainSharp to keep track her training progress and, perhaps more importantly, provide her with accurate training zones and her FTP.

This information was then used to ensure that each training session was accurately paced and targeting the right zone. For Brownlee, the race specific training seemed to have paid off as he looked very comfortable during the multi-lap bike segment and had accrued over a five minute lead by the time he reached T2 and the start of the half-marathon.

Training specificity would also have been the key to Brownlee’s success during the run segment. For any endurance athlete, being able to sustain a high percentage of maximal aerobic capacity (VO2max) for as long as possible is crucial for race performance. Sessions such as 10 x 400-m repeats and much longer steady state/threshold runs are geared towards developing VO2max and increasing the percentage of that VO2max that an athlete can sustain for as long as possible.

Again, pacing is crucial to the longer run distance and this is something that Brownlee has struggled with in the past, particularly in warmer race environments. Off the bike, Brownlee looked strong. His pacing was consistent having gone through 5-km in 17:22, 10-km in 35:14 and finishing the half-marathon distance in 01:11:16. Perhaps a bigger test will come in a couple of weeks when he’ll join the likes of Lawrence, and other seasoned middle-distance athletes in the Ironman 70.3 North American Championships in St. George, Utah.

So, if you’re considering stepping-up to the 70.3 distance, the take home message is specificity and pacing. Try to avoid the temptation to suddenly start increasing the duration of your training sessions. Although you may feel this is important for building confidence, it’s likely to increase your recovery time and expose you to an increased risk of injury. Instead, you should take a lead from elite athletes like Lawrence and Brownlee by focusing on making your sessions more specific and gearing them towards longer steady state/threshold bike and run efforts. Pacing the bike and run segments are likely to present more of a challenge and so you should consider investing in a power meter and incorporate performance testing into your periodised training plan.

For more information on trainSharp coaching and fitness testing packages email or call us on 01892 577802.





Send your results as well as club, team & event news here


Other Results on VeloUK (including reports containing results)

Other News on VeloUK