Sunday, April 19, 2009

Ironman Big Day

One of the triathletes I coach did his first Big Day yesterday as he prepares for Ironman Couer d’Alene. We had planned on doing it the previous weekend but he was sick the week before that, so we delayed it a week. He’ll do another of these, only a bit longer, four or five weeks before IMCdA.

The Big Day is just that: Three workouts in a single day with each on the long side and an emphasis on Ironman goal race intensity. I got the idea from Gordo Byrn a few years ago when we were writing our book, Going Long. The following is what I had my athlete do and is typical of the Big Day.

Swim: Warm up: 200 building speed each 50 (slow-mod-faster-fastest). Rest 30 sec. Then 5 x 400 (10 sec recoveries) building speed on each 100 (slow-mod-faster-fastest). Recover 10 seconds after last one. Then swim a 500 time trial. All out. Your average 100 pace for this is your T-time for future workouts. Then swim easy, 300 cool down. (3000m/y)

My Comments: (We don't have the technology to chart data for swimming yet. I'll write about what is needed to do this at a later date.) His swim went as planned. Pacing was on but the final 500 was a bit slower than expected.

Rest: Take a 90 minute break after the swim. Stay off of your legs and eat a light meal.

Bike: Warm-up 15-30 minutes. Then do 6-8 x 20 minutes at power zone 3 (10 min easy spin recoveries). Very aero with head tucked in. Eyes rolled up so you can see ahead. How many you do of these intervals depends on how you are feeling. It is OK to do fewer. If so just finish the ride at whatever effort feels appropriate. Eat/drink on bike just as you will do in race.

My Comments: Here you can see the chart of his bike workout with heart rate (red) and power (black). The yellow bars are the 20-minute intervals. You can see that he did 8 of the intervals. His power for each was in the upper portion of power zone 3. His heart rate stayed in the upper portion of zone 2 on each. And his decoupling was less than 5% on each interval. He nailed the bike workout!

Rest: Take a 90 minute break after the bike. Stay off of your legs and eat a light, liquid meal.

: Run 2 hours at upper HR zone 2. Take in carbs and fluids as you will in the race. Drink to thirst—not a schedule. Our goal is to see what your pace is at this HR and also to see if HR and pace remain coupled for 2 hours. A faster pace but with significant decoupling is counterproductive.

My Comments: The accompanying chart shows that he had a near perfect run. His heart rate stayed in upper zone 2; normalized, graded pace per mile was 7:46; he ran 15.2 miles; and decoupling was almost perfect as you can see in the graphic.

The purpose was to ingrain pace awareness, confirm that aerobic fitness is coming along by checking decoupling of heart rate and power or pace, to see how well the nutrition plan works and to see if he is up to the stress of such a day which is similar to what he will experience in the race. Of course, it’s easier than the race because he needs to spring back in a few days and get right back into training again. If the workouts were longer, more intense, or done with the rest breaks between them he would end up losing a lot of training time in the following week due to fatigue.

The next Big Day in a few weeks will be a bit longer with a 1.25-hour swim, 5-hour bike and 2.5-hour run—if all goes well with training between now and then.


At April 19, 2009 5:54 PM , Anonymous Peter said...


Would you recommend a similar, though scaled-back, approach for HIM? If so, how might you modify it?


At April 19, 2009 11:36 PM , Blogger Paul Fleuren said...

Hi Joe,

Thanks for sharing this data. Much appreciated.

In terms of his zones, what itensity does this guys intend to race his next IM at?


At April 20, 2009 2:06 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Hi Peter--Thanks for your note. Yes, it could work for a HIM scaled back. This would probably be better for those who are doing their first HIM than for experienced athletes. At the typical durations of a HIM it is much less challenging to complete a day of workouts simulating the event. This workout is effective for IM simply because the event is so long.

At April 20, 2009 2:12 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Hi Paul--Yes, the issue of intensity is key here, isn't it. He will be racing on the bike at 70-75% of FTP. This is upper 2Z. The intervals were done at this intensity. That should produce a bike split of around 5 hours or perhaps a little more depending on the conditions. He will run based on how he feels. The key here is having held back a bit on the bike so he has legs left for running. He could probably ride 15-20 minutes faster but then he'd be walking the marathon.

At April 20, 2009 8:08 PM , Blogger Paul Fleuren said...

Thanks for sharing.

I have always wondered if it would be possible to ride the bike leg towards the top of zone 2 and still set yourself up to run well.

Would that be close to the limit in terms of intensity of the bike? I can't imagine riding any harder and still being able to run well.

In fact riding at the bottom of zone 2 still feels like a decent push on the bike. Maybe I have just identified my own limiter?? LOL

Is this guy an FOP?


At April 20, 2009 8:17 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Hi Paul--Thanks for your comment. What zone you will ride in for an IM depends on how long you plan to take. The less time you are out there the higher your zone/effort will be. Since this athlete will be riding around 5 hours he will be in upper zone 2 mostly. If he was an hour slower he'd be in lower zone 2. If he was faster he'd be riding in zone 3. Of course, time is relative to wattage. Someone who can push high watts can go fast, will therefore be on the road a shorter time, and so races at a higher percentage. Part of the reason we train is to discover what the zone/effort should be on race day.

At April 22, 2009 9:43 AM , Blogger Ryan Denner said...

Nothing to add here except that big day training is an incredible experience, and I thought one of the biggest confidence builders in my leadup to lake placid last year.

masters in the am.
90 min break
5 hour ride
90 min break
90 min run

I get back home, and realized what I did and actually my first thought was "this ain't normal!"


Good stuff Joe!

At April 23, 2009 12:17 AM , Anonymous Deniel Hopkins said...

that was very informative and interesting to read!! I hope you keep those interesting columns coming!

At May 7, 2009 6:21 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article Joe. I have a few athletes doing a very similar 'big day' very soon in their lead up to the Ironman. It's a great way to see where they are physically and mentally and gives them a big heads up for what to expect on race day. For many 1st timers, it's here when the reality of the Ironman sinks in and can either be a very daunting training day or a real confidence booster!

I find a 1hr open water swim or tri club endurance based swim then 90-120min break (with breakfast), then a 4-5hr ride with zone 3 intervals of 20-40min with 90-120min break (+liquid meals and stretching) and then a 90min run at Ironman pace (with the last 5-10kk just above Ironman pace) works really well for me.

Look forward to chatting with you soon,
Mark Tickner
Master Coach TrainingBible UK

At May 11, 2009 9:44 AM , Blogger Marc said...


The training bible and Going Long were invaluble in helping me train for my first IM, which I completed successfully at Wisconsin.

In Going Long you describe some BT workouts (3-4 weeks pre-race) with 3-4 hour bikes followed immediately by runs of 60-90 minutes.

I recently read this article with great interest, as well as your piece on the ironman marathon in which you advocate no "bricks" longer than 15 minutes.

Is your philosophy now only to to the Big Days and otherwise only 15 minute transition runs after long rides?
No more longer bricks?



At May 11, 2009 11:44 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Marc--You're a very thorough reader. :) I have the IM athletes I coach do 15 min runs after every long ride (3+ hours) in the Build period. In Build some will also do 1.5 to 2.5 hour runs after 1 - 1.5 hour rides (usually with intervals). I've moved away from longer runs after longer rides with everyone except the truely elite athletes who are highly injury resistant.

At May 11, 2009 2:28 PM , Blogger Marc said...

Thanks, Joe.

Wow, that must strike some people who advocate the big bricks as heresy. But I guess with the short ride (I assume you mean intervals on the ride)and longer run, you get the benefits without the risk. And then you have the big days to put it all together.

Still, it may be hard for me to break away from the 3.5/1.5 (essentially half IM) that you mention in Going Long for about 4 weeks out, and the shorter BTs after that. :)


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