Ever wondered what it’s like to train for an Ironman? We sent Rhalou to the K-Swiss Ironman training day to find out
Despite being a die-hard running fan with one marathon under my belt and the ING New York Marathon in my sights, the idea of undertaking a triathlon has never really appealed. I like swimming and cycling, but the concept of combining all three seems like hard work! Triathlons are a serious business and just the training alone is a huge undertaking. However when the opportunity arose to meet elite Ironman coach Gordon Crawford, I jumped at the chance.
A former Scottish international athlete, Gordon Crawford is an Ironman coach with a multitude of elite triathlon champions under his wing. The likelihood of me ever doing an Ironman may be slim to none (but I said that about running a marathon so don’t quote me) but these guys know their stuff, so I figured Gordon was bound to have some great training wisdom to impart. Along with a few other willing journalists I headed off to Bootcamp Revolution in Braintree, Essex for a few lessons on how to prepare for the gruelling training required to undertake an Ironman. Here's what Gordon had to say...
Can you gauge straight away how mentally strong individual athletes will be to prepare for an Ironman, or do people ever surprise you?
People do surprise. You need to know the person first and foremost. What you do to support people preparing mentally for an Ironman is to create training opportunities that would replicate being out for that amount of time, or taking food on, or training in the heat. There are things that are called brick sessions where you would do quite a long or hard bike and then quite a long run off that. That would take you not only physically in a particular way, you will also have to get your nutrition and your food right during that process as well. So there are definitely things you can do in training. Nothing beats experience of taking part in events and longer distance events though. That’s what training’s about, it’s preparing you for competition. Whether you’re a participant or an elite performer.
Have you ever been surprised by someone dropping out?
Because of the nature of triathlon, dropping out can happen for a variety of reasons. A lot of people may get panic attacks swimming in open water in their wet suits, or you could get a problem on your bike, you’re at the vagaries of that. You could come off your bike, you could hit the wall during the marathon, you might get your nutritional strategy wrong, or it could be the weather conditions. There are a lot of things against you; you need to do your preparation on what is the nature of an Ironman event, where it is and how you prepare for that. It’s how much training you would acquire to deliver on that. It’s taking that time.
Do you mean thinking about the course and simulating your training? For example if you have a hilly course.
Exactly. If you have a hilly bike, you do a hilly bike; if it’s an open-water river swim make sure you swim in rivers. If it’s an undulating run course which is two laps make sure you replicate doing things like two laps. You need to do a bit of homework. Then you have to go back to what time and think, do I have the time and how am I going to break up that time? What’s my strongest discipline and what’s my weakest? You would then work a bit more on your weakest discipline.
Out of the three disciplines, what is the precursor to a good Ironman?
You have to be a really good runner at the highest level; because what you take for granted is that you can swim and bike. And that sets you up for the race to start in earnest on the run. If you look at any of the top races it’s about a running race, whether it’s Olympic distance, half-Ironman or an Ironman. For most people it’s about swimming and then swimming open-water, which is slightly different from pool swimming. You have to swim with a wet suit and there’s a different fitness. A lot of people have to overcome fear – black water, deep water, cold water, wet suit, quite a number of bodies around you, you’re not in a lane and having to sight/navigate. And people make the mistake of navigating at water level when it should be geographical landmarks. These are skills that you have to learn, how you’re going to navigate, because an Ironman isn’t going to take part in a pool.
What would be a typical daily diet for an elite Ironman?
You would be looking at snacking five times a day and eating at least five small portions.
How many calories would you need throughout the day?
You would probably look at, on a normal training day anything from between 3,000 and 5,000 calories.
For people wanting to get into a multi-discipline event, what are the routes to injury that you’ve seen, or the common mistakes that people make that they can avoid by just doing common-sense things?
Look at what time you have, plan your time well and have a balanced programme. And the beauty about triathlon invariably, unless you come off a bike and get injured, is that it’s a hybrid of cross training. If you specialise in one thing too much the likelihood of you getting injured are increased. If you’ve got a balanced programme where you’ve got a bit of swim, a bit of bike and a bit of run, or if you’re in triathlon, if you can’t run, you could invariably still swim or bike.
You talked earlier when we were doing the core training about the superfluous muscles. Do you think, especially in men’s magazines, that’s focussed on too much?
Magazines are obsessed by body-image and how it looks whether it’s very light and svelte, to guys being obsessed with huge shoulders, big pecs and a six-pack. Some of the men’s magazines have started to address the core stability and there’s a bit more of a balance to that and we’re moving away from older, traditional training methods to new.
Coaching is an art based on science, but a lot of people coaching triathlon now have an obsession with the science bit. Science has its role but if you’re all at a certain level why is one person better than the other? It’s the individual programme, it’s the communication style you use, how you deal with people and that’s where women have an advantage to men because they get that whole bit, they like the talking, they like the listening, they buy into the whole bit.
If you were not professional but someone wanting to get into triathlons, have you got any tips on how you want to take on that amount of training?
It depends what distance you’re doing. If you’re going to do a super-sprint, which is the shortest one, break it down, the minimum you can get by on is one swim, one bike and one run per week and you’re off. You could successfully complete a super-sprint triathlon on that. It depends on who you are and what you’re motivated to do. It’s the health and the balance of all of that and getting that right. The beauty is that triathlon takes all shapes and all sizes.
So you treat each person individually?
Absolutely. Whether you’re new to triathlon, an age-group triathlete, or an elite triathlete, the real detail is what you do individually with people.
Can you do the whole thing on the cheap?
You can. It depends what distance, it would be really difficult on Ironman, you need a semblance of a decent bike. You could do it but it would be uncomfortable. Get the best equipment you can afford to get. A lot of guys for triathlon get the shiny stuff that looks great. Just get what’s good and performs well and helps you function.
What types of food would a triathlete typically eat?
It varies on what your tastes are, some in the morning would be porridge, some would be toast, some would be toast and porridge, some would be fruit, smoothies, recovery shakes. Lunch can be anything from sandwiches to pasta to health bars. Evening meal would be a lean type of protein, slow-release carbohydrates, ideally wholemeal if you can or organic, two types of vegetables invariably one green. It’s the normal things you would want to have as a balanced healthy diet anyway, but you just need a bit more volume.
Is that ever an issue trying to eat enough calories? Because that’s quite unnatural to some people.
It can, you can hit the wall and it’s called bonking, where you’ve just got no energy and you just grind to a standstill and that’s you done. You’re walking. One of the best things you can actually use in Ironman and everyone uses it now is drink cola during the race. Coca-cola, it’s fantastic. It’s a good electrolyte when it’s flat because you’ve been on gels and you’ve not been eating properly your stomach gets upset. It’s got quinine and caffeine in there so it can stimulate you but it can also settle your stomach. It’ll be out there for a while anyway and it will be flat and they’ll pass it to you at drink stations.
What about rest and sleep, do you need to sleep more?
Yes, at all levels, whether your just starting out or your changing your programme, you’ll need more sleep and need more rest but there are recovery methods as well. K-Swiss do great recovery shoes, there are compression socks, there’s different ways you can help yourself recover from training.
K-Swiss is the Official Footwear and Run Course sponsor of Ironman UK. For more information visit www.k-swiss.com