Speed Before Endurance
The following question comes from a reader...
Question: I was wondering if you could write on when it is the proper time to compete in an Ironman. I do not mean so that I can finish one, I mean go there and truly race it for a Kona spot. This is my second year in the sport and I am 23 years old, and have raced Olympic, and half distance with a PR of 4:52:28. I was thinking about trying to step it up to the next level for next year, and race IM Wisconsin and go for a Kona spot. But I have also been told that at my age it would be better to spend some more time in the shorter distances trying to build up more speed before I jump into the big dance. I see the reasoning for this, but just wondering what your thoughts on the subject are.
Answer: One of the best Ironman athletes I have coached was Ryan Bolton. I always thought the way he progressed in the sport was excellent. As a youngster he ran shorter races like the mile. In college he ran the 5,000m and 10,000m and became an All-American runner. He also toyed around with short triathlon events in college. After graduation he began racing Olympic distance. In December of 1997 I started coaching him with our focus on the 2000 Sydney Olympics. After the Games he decided to try the Ironman distance. His first IM race as a pro was in 2001 at Lake Placid. Since this was his first the plan was to just finish and gain experience on which we could build for the following year. I had him race conservatively until the last 13 miles of the run. He took second to Steve Larsen who was also doing his first IM. (Steve recently died.) The following year Ryan returned to Lake Placid and won easily.
From the start of junior high school track racing to his first IM was about 15 years. During that time he was focused more on speed than endurance. I continue to keep my eyes open for young athletes who have progressed as he did from going fast for many years before becoming focused on going long. They have a lot of potential. With some exceptions, this is how most world-class, endurance athletes have progressed.