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Preparing For Your First Ironman

By Tom Piszkin

This series was originally written in preparation for Iroman USA in Lake Pacid, NY 1999.
1: Calling All IronPeople 2: The Road To Lake Placid 3: Bring on the Power 4: Jump to Warp
5: Cruise Control 6: The Need for Speed 7: At the Crest 8: The Two Week Tweak

The Road To Lake Placid
by Tom Piszkin
                           
This is the second installment in a series of articles designed to prepare 
you for IronMan USA--scheduled August 15th in Lake Placid, New York.

The first piece presented a test--a screening device, if you will--to 
separate the casual from the serious among you. How did it go? Are you 
enjoying your yoga sessions? If you're still with me, then lets indulge 
in another bite of the Big Ironman Apple!
The nature and history of our sport (especially at the Ironman distance)
suggests that victory most often goes to the fleet afoot. There seems to be a
larger discrepancy in run times, than in swim or bike splits among pros and
amateurs alike. Perhaps the mechanical advantage of a bicycle and the
bouyancy afforded by water bolster our performances; whereas with running,
there's no way to leverage our efforts: no sucking wheel or toe, no coasting,
no hiding. 
Truth or supposition, this is all to say that your primary focus towards Lake
Placid should be on running--like it or not. (Don't panic, future
installments will prepare you for the swim and bike challenges.) 
So, where do we start? Well, let me start with where you want to be by
mid-July and work backwards. Your running goal is to cover 20-25 miles at a
pace that keeps your heart rate between 75-85% of its max. It's that simple, 
and it: 
   1. Gives you confidence that you can go the distance at this intensity,
   2. Marks the start of your taper,
   3. Allows ample time to work up to over the next six months.
The cornerstone of your running program over the next 26 weeks will be a
weekly long run guided by two simple variables: duration and heart rate.
Heart rate should be held to 65-75% of its maximum. This is close to the
output you'll work with on race day, or race half-a-day long. Start out at
65%, a phenomenon know as cardiac drift will get you to 75% without any
increase in perceived effort. In the absence of knowing your max, subtract
your age from 180 and start here. Either way, use a heart rate monitor to
keep you in this range. Many accurate models are now available for less than
$100. Cateye has a $80 unit that records average heart rate AND doubles
as a full-function cycle computer!
With respect to duration, the trick is to increase your time afoot
from the level of your current longest (non-race) run to the estimated
time it will take you to cover 20-25 miles come your mid-July peak. Let
me spell out two scenarios that might serve as upper and lower limits
to a progression.
A. Say you can manage to run at a moderate heart rate for 60 minutes, 
   covering five miles of flat ground. At this pace, you'd cover 20 miles 
   in four hours. However, due to the training effects you'll experience 
   over the next six months, your speed will improve at the same heart rate.  
   So much so that I'll bet you could cover 20 miles in 3.5 hours (210 min.).
   Consequently, your program should take you from 60 minutes today to 210 
   minutes in 26 weeks. That an increase of less than six minutes a week!
B. Say you can manage to run at a moderate heart rate for 90 minutes, 
   covering 12 miles of flat ground. At this pace, you'd cover 24 miles in 
   three hours. Because you're in better shape now, the training effects
   of your six-month program won't be as dramatic, so I'd guess that come
   mid-July you'd be able to run 25 miles in about three hours (180
   minutes). Consequently, your program should take you from 90 minutes to
   180 minutes in 26 weeks--about four min/wk.   

When you look at it from this perspective, increasing your weekly long run 
by 4-6 minutes is a piece of cake. Ideally, you'll want to increase over 
three weeks and back off on the fourth. This stairstep approach (expressed 
in minutes/long run) might look like this: 90,98,106,101,109,117,125,120,
128,136,144,139,147,155,163,158,166,174,182,177,185,193,201,196,204,212.

Warning, this soft schedule can lead the uninitiated to push for more. 
Don't let yourself be driven by pride or testosterone. If this prescription 
leaves you feeling under-challenged, tune in for next month's installment:
Where's the power? In the meantime, start laying those cornerstones.