Maximizing Triathlon Training Part I
By USAT Level III Coach Mike Ricci
In the summer of 2002, I had an athlete contact me right before Vineman Full Distance who was looking for some help. His coach had moved and wanted to talk with me. He mentioned qualifying for Ironman Hawaii since one of his work buddies had and he thought that he had a chance. Since he was three weeks out from his first full distance triathlon, I brushed aside the Hawaii talk and told him there wasn’t anything I could do for him so close to this race, but I gave him some pacing and nutrition advice and sent him on his way. It turns out that he raced to 13:xx hours at Vineman, but he was hooked. He thought triathlon was a great sport and wanted to do another. He hired me to coach him for IM CdA for 2003 – and off we went.
He trained hard leading up to the race in 2003, but IM CdA was terribly hot that year and the drop out rate was one of the largest ever. The race was so hot that for this athlete his legs began cramping on the bike, and eventually he fell over, both his legs locked up as if they were in a vice grip. He managed to start the run, but pulled out within two miles, his race over and a year of training down the tubes. He called me and we talked about the race, the training leading up to it and I left it up to him to continue with me as I knew this was a decision from the heart and soul, not just a snap decision like we most every day. I gave him the honest truth and no rah-rah BS – Ironman racing is hard work and if you work hard (and smart) you’ll see the results. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t hear from him again but I was wrong about this guy, in more ways than one.
I got a call a few weeks later and he told me he had signed up for IM CdA for 2004. Once again we were off and training. That off-season he came out to Boulder, got a bike fit and worked on his uncomfortable bike position. The Boulder Center checked out everything and sent the athlete off to find a special seat as his comfort level was pretty low. It turns out that he decided against the special seat and he went for a more conventional approach; more riding. He didn’t question the workouts or why we weren’t working too much on his strength; the run. We worked on the bike mostly: four, five and even six days a week. He rode in the wind, rain, heat, cold. He rode and rode. He learned to spin up big hills in small gears and he learned how to mash up big hills in big gears. We covered all the ranges and he was dedicated. He did everything I asked and never questioned the plan. Week in and week out, he followed the schedule putting his faith in my plan. To be honest, if it were me; and I had a DNF with the same coach, I am not sure I could have been as trusting.
I am about as optimistic as they come, but a 13:xx and then a DNF made me think long and fast about what the chances of this athlete’s qualifying for Kona. A typical time in his age group would be about 10:30 on a course like IM CdA. From our starting point, a 12:30 finishing time in 2004 would be great, and a sub-12:00 would be even better. After a predictable swim and a solid first loop of the bike, I saw him coming toward me at mile 80 on the bike. I could pick him up out a quarter mile away: he was the only one with a relaxed face and jaw, and he was seated comfortably spinning away up the toughest hill on the course while everyone around him was grunting and mashing, standing and drooling. I knew once he got to the run, he had a good chance at that 12:30.
He rolls off the bike in around 6:12 and I am completely impressed. This guy listens! He never dropped his cadence below 80 and he never stood up on his bike except to stretch his back. I was expecting something along the lines of 6:30 for his bike split, but he bettered that nicely. He was in real good position to break 12:30 and even 12:00 if he could run most of the marathon. Boy; was I fooled! He didn’t run most of the marathon. He ran the whole thing: EVERY single step. He passed 393 people on the run and ran down the finish chute in 11:31! Talk about blowing away expectations. I was floored to say the least. He took over ninety minutes (1:30) off his first Ironman time and he still had lots of room to improve.
The training was admittedly hard going into that 2004 Ironman, and he needed a break from long distance racing. He told me he was taking a break from coaching and racing and he would give me a call when he was ready to race again. Fast forward to September and the next phone call I get is not the one I was expecting: he has been in a mountain bike accident and has punctured a lung, broken ribs and is lucky to be alive.
To be continued…