The Ironman Marathon

Following a recent interview for TriathlonPlus magazine on my thoughts for how to train for and race the marathon section of an ironman I want to discuss in more depth some of the principles I advise my athletes to adhere to.

Principle 1 – It is not the same as running a standalone marathon.

Seems obvious, but too many people try and emulate the training programs of pure runners.  Training for an Ironman marathon requires a different approach to a standalone marathon.  There are the obvious additions of a swim and bike preceding the run because a triathlon is not 3 different sports joined together, it needs to be treated as a single sport with different components; therefore the run is not prepared for in the same way as a pure marathon.

  • Pacing practice is key for an IM marathon as it is naturally slower than a standalone marathon and thus requires you to teach the body the IM ‘race pace’ in training.
  • Lots of IM-Race pace in your long runs will ensure your body knows what to do on race day.
  • Race execution is far more important than fitness.  All the fitness in the world can’t help you if you don’t know how to race, going off to fast at the start will lead to a greater fade at the end.
  • Practice short walk breaks in your long runs so that you incorporate walking as a strategy not as failure.  These walk breaks will coincide with aid stations so that you can walk for 30 seconds and enable you to get your nutrition in, assess your current status and allow the heart rate to drop slightly.  The walk is not a bimble though, from above the waist you would look like you were running albeit slowly.  Keep your cadence the same as running so there is not a significant difference in muscle action, which can make it difficult to get back into a running stride again.
  • Technique is incredibly important to maximize your efficiency and reduce the energy demands on the run.  By working on technique and core exercises you will be able to maintain a smooth and efficient running style when you are entering the fun in a fatigued state.  Any deficiencies in your running style will be exaggerated by the fatigue from the preceding hours of racing, resulting in increased effort and decreased speed, neither of which you want.
  • Having 3 or 4 technique points that you can focus on in the race will also ensure you maintain a smooth and efficient run and help focus your mind on the job in hand.  Useful technique points are; ‘running tall’, ‘relaxed hands’, ‘drive with the glutes’, ‘light on your toes’, and ‘short stride high cadence’.  But experiment to see what areas you need to focus on.
  • The run volume in training does not need to be as high as a standalone marathon.  Many elite ironman distance triathletes will keep their long runs to a maximum of 2hrs.  Beyond this duration the injury risk increases significantly.

Principle 2 – Nutrition and Hydration

Many races are ruined by nutritional issues such as G.I. distress, nausea, vomiting.  More often than not this is due to consuming too much rather than too little.  Athletes often overestimate the amount of nutrition they need and the amount they can actually absorb during the race and fail to match race intensity in training to learn what works or what doesn’t work for them.

  • You should aim to keep your calories and hydration separate, using gels to provide nutrition at planned intervals but then water as per thirst.
  • It is easier to absorb fluid and nutrition during the cycle portion of the event than during the run, but you don’t want to get off the bike with a full stomach jostling.  Therefore you need to be careful not to overdo your nutrition intake in the last hour of the bike leg.
  • Practice in training!  Find out if the gels/drinks etc provided by the race aid stations work for you.  If not you need to carry your own, don’t wait for race day to find out that a certain brand doesn’t sit well with you.

Principle 3 – it’s all about the bike

Quite simply, the stronger you are on the bike, the less the cycle will take out of you and impact on the run.  Riding 112 miles needs to be ‘easy’ for you to have the necessary energy left for the marathon, otherwise all the running fitness in the world can’t help you.

  • Aim to complete x3 100+ mile rides in the last 10 weeks before your taper.
  • Your long ride needs to have large sections at your race pace so you know you can take on the necessary nutrition at this intensity.
  • Run off every long bike, even if it is only 15-30mins so that you get used to the feelings in your legs and can gauge if you have got the pace correct and not over-cooking the bike.  Short runs like this are far more beneficial than occasional longer bricks which may increase your injury risk.



Triathlon Plus article – low back pain in triathletes

TriPlus back pain article page1

TriPlus back pain article page 2

links to page 1 and 2 of a previously published article in Triathlon Plus magazine.

Core stability in horse riders -RDA article

In recent years we have been inundated with advice on “core stability” training, however, there remains confusion as to what qualifies as the core, and how to specifically train these muscles in a useful manner. Riders need sufficient core stability and strength to maintain good posture and trunk stability in the saddle. Reduced flexibility, tight muscles, restricted joints, or simply nervous tension in the rider can all reduce controlled stability by inhibiting the “core muscles” and thus the ability to adapt to the movements of your horse.

It is commonly thought that the core is comprised of the abdominals and lower back muscles (Rectus abdominus, internal and external obliques, and the transverse abdominus). However, when looking at core training and movement patterns we can not be limited to these three muscle groups. For the lower back/pelvis/hip region there are 29 different muscles that each contribute to providing stability to the core, and this area can not be looked at in isolation from the upper body as issues around the pelvis will effect the shoulders and head stability / positioning, and vice versa.

Any low back pain or discomfort which riders suffer from can be attributed to the vast number of muscles that surround and intersect this region, and which may have been overlooked in any core program. If too much emphasis is placed on certain areas such as the anterior musculature (6 pack!) then muscle imbalances can develop leading to pain and injury. It is therefore necessary to emphasise the importance of a comprehensive core development program to cover the whole lumbar/pelvic/hip region.

Prospective Injuries from poor core stability

Lower back pain (lumbar spine and / or sacroiliac joint)

Abdominal strains

Groin strains

Hip flexor / abductor / adductor strains

Pelvic misalignment

Other musculoskeletal injuries due to compensation

Prospective Performance detriments

Poor balance in your seat causing increased tension in your legs and upper body.

Poor postural alignment

Poor transferability of force from lower to upper extremities and vice versa, eg. Changing body position, communication with the horse.

Inability to withstand and balance external forces from the horse

Core stability exercises can be incorporated into both land based training, and when on the horse. With the warmth and rhythmic movements of the horses movements can help relax tight muscles allowing the core muscles to switch on, and once warmed up the rider can practice simple movements such as pelvic tilts and trunk rotations. Instructors should give coaching cues around ensuring the rider is sat as tall as possible, lengthening through the spine, and activating the abdominals and obliques to support the spine.

Land based exercises can be done on the floor, on gym balls, with exercise bands, pilates trainers or IJoyRide trainer. But the exercise program must be tailored to the individual rider by the instructors and physiotherapist.

An often overlooked aspect of core training though, is endurance. Doing 6-10 reps for 3-4 sets will build the strength in the muscles, but to improve the endurance higher repetitions are needed, typically 25-30 repetitions. Holding contractions (isometric) also builds awareness of the correct positioning as well as strength through the tendons and connective tissues.

So in summary- some of the reasons you should look at incorporating specific core stability sessions into your riding, and off the horse training are:

Improved stability and positioning in the saddle

Greater control and communication with your horse

Lower risk of coming off – able to control/stay in the saddle during a spook/unexpected movement

Greater endurance when trotting/cantering

Reduced risk of injury


Post Match Recovery Strategies

No matter how sophisticated and carefully planned a training program, without adequate recovery it will never be optimally effective. Recovery must be an essential part of all training programs, and must be carefully planned and programmed. Optimal recovery requires a multidimensional approach, that addresses all aspects of the athletic lifestyle, such as sleep, nutrition, overall stress levels, etc.

Research has shown that by following a proactive recovery routine will reduce the stress effects on the body and improve subsequent training sessions and performances. Common practices which have been shown to be effective include:

Contrast bathing (1min cold, 2mins hot, x3-6)

Non-impact active recovery (7-10mins on an exercise bike)

Compression garments 12hrs (until the next morning)

The following is an example of a post match recovery routine:

Within the First 5 minutes – Rehydrate and Refuel

Eat/drink carbohydrates and protein, in a 4:1 ratio, utilizing high Glycemic Index (GI) carbohydrates.
A recovery sports drink is ideal.

5 – 20 minutes—Cool Down
Move lightly for five to eight minutes.
Stretch for eight to ten minutes.

15 – 20 minutes—Neural Recovery
Use a hydrotherapy tool (e.g. contrast showers or cold bath).
Self massage. (Using predominantly shaking techniques to stimulate neural recovery).
Continue to hydrate.

Within the First Hour—Refuel and Psychological Recovery

Continue to rehydrate.
Take in solid food (high and medium GI carbohydrates and protein) to replace carb stores, amino acids and electrolytes.
Carry out a performance review.
Start to unwind, using music for example as appropriate.

In the Evening—Psychological Recovery

Relax as appropriate
Continue to hydrate and refuel as appropriate with a focus on high quality protein to rebuild muscle tissue, maintain glycogen stores, prevent or reduce any inflammation, and optimise body weight.

Prior to Bed—Sleep Optimization

Use relaxation skills to switch off.
Follow your sleep guidelines.

For detailed nutritional advice Claire Harrison ( is available for consultation.

Further reading

Gill, Beaven and Cook (2006) Effectiveness of post match recovery strategies in rugby players. Br J. Sports Med. 40:260-263

Strength and Conditioning, phase 2

The NUMBER ONE principle in exercise physiology 101 is the Overload Principle. Simply stated, this principle tells us that in order to elicit change on our bodies we must OVERLOAD it or go beyond what we normally do.  (Nick Grantham

With that in mind, it’s time to change the S+C program to further develop strength and skill sets in the gym.

Day 1
Semi supinated chins 2020 x8
Incline rotating chest press 2020 x15
Bulgarian split squat 2020 x15
X3-4 90sec rest 
Glute bridge 4141 x10
Deadlift 30x0 x15
Step downs 30x0 x15
X3-4 90sec rest 
Reverse fly 8-10 control
Reverse lunge with overhead DB 2020 x15
Bent over barbell row supinated 2020 x10
Incline bench reverse curl 3020 x20
X3-4 90sec rest 
Day 2
Push press bb 30x0  8-10
Back squat with DB heels raised 20x0 x15
Single arm row 8-10 3010
Gym ball hamstring curl 3010 x15
X3 with 120 rest
Single arm clean and press DB 10 each arm 1010
Power shrug with triple extension x8
X3 120 rest
Dips x8  4020
Seated DB rotator cuff 3010 x12
Ab crunch feet on bench toes inverted x15 3010
X3  90 sec rest


Ironman Training/Racing Plan

Ironman Training

Austria 2011

Goal 1 – Completion (first IM race)

Goal 2 – Sub 12hrs (realistic)

Goal 3 – Sub 11hrs (ideal)

Goal 4 – Sub 10hrs (dream season)

Some keys to performing are:

  • Consistency in training every week, month,
  • Frequency of sessions weekly,
  • Specificity to the distance and time goals,
  • Recovery. 8hrs a night.  Quality nutrition.  Soft tissue work.
  • Trying to raise one’s LT / FTP,

Monday- am-  Swim day- S+C  pm- Run
Tuesday- am- Swim  pm- Bike
Wednesday – am- Run day- S+C  pm- Bike
Thursday – REST
Friday- am- Swim day- S+C pm- Bike
Saturday- Long run with spin on bike after. (Maximum recovery required)
Sunday- Long bike with short run off.

Try not to do 2 long, or hard, or long and hard days in a row as this could lead to a culmination of chronic fatigue. Very difficult to recover from running hard intervals when your running long the very next day.
Think about how long it takes to recover from such sessions.
Recovery is the key here.
In between such sessions work on technique, drills, efficiency, form, economy training.


Swim and transitions in under 1.15. Under 1.10 preferably


5.20 – got to stay areo, and have your nutrition strategy nailed on the bike.

Bike setup – Things that can make a considerable difference in efficiency include an aero helmet a rear disc and a deep front. Also paying attention to the little things all add up. Idea’s include: cleaning up the excess gear and brake cabling, not carrying excess bottles (you only need two max), keeping your flat kit out of the wind (e.g. under the saddle), having a new(ish) chain, keeping your brakes from rubbing against the rim.

Always Aero on the Bike – Assuming you are correctly fit on your time trial bike, you should be spending 97% of you time in the aero position. That leaves around 10 minutes (for a 5:20 split) where you are not in the aero position. This 10 minutes could mean: stretching, standing on more difficult hills, and going through aid stations etc.

Bike pacing – too hard on the bike and you’ll suffer at some point in the run. A lot of people state they went easy on the bike, but then seem to suffer on the run – this always raises the question of if they really went easy enough. Ironman bike pace is really not that hard an effort I think many over estimate their pacing.

Bike nutrition – not eating enough or eating too much on the bike is going to lead to nutritional problems on the run. Whether it’s energy lows and poorer performance or stomach cramps. It’s always hard to judge on the first race, but worth really examining what you need. If you’re going sub 10 forget comfort foods eat for racing and be focussed on eating what you need to keep going at race pace – no more or less.


3.30 for the run, which is 8 min miles and pretty straight forward as long as you dont go off like a mad man or run into any problems

Run pacing – I always feel great in the first few Ks off the bike and do tend to go out too fast. Reign that in and look to start conservatively. As mentioned get it right and potentially you can pick things up in the last 10km or so. Your pace may not improve, but your perceived exertion will, sometimes that just means you maintain speed.

Run nutrition – stomach issues on the run can again come down to mixing nutritions, taking on board things you wouldn’t normally or not enough fluids. Keep things simple, go for what you know works and opt for frequent, light fuelling (e.g. a gel every 20 minutes rather than stuffing yourself every 40). In part let the need for energy override some of the stomach discomfort. If you’re running low on energy later in the run, you need to take on more during the bike/earlier in the run.

Cramping on the run – can be an electrolyte issue certainly, but also can simply be a muscle fatigue issue. Both have been known to cause cramps. It’s worth ensuring you take something in with electrolytes during the race (how much depends on how you sweat – I need very little) I just sip energy drink at some aid stations on the run. Muscle fatigue issues will come from insufficient fitness to support your pacing strategy – i.e. you’ve been going too fast at some point at least.


You can bleed time in transitions if you are not prepared. Keep your bag contents to a minimum. I had one energy bar in my T1 bag, the rest was on the bike, although thinking about it now I could have put on my helmet while running to the bike. For your T2 change you only need to stop to put your shoes and socks on, the rest can be put on while running (hat, sunscreen, fuel belt, garmin). Consider putting your race number belt and arm warmers on under your wetsuit – you won’t feel them.


This amount of planning can make the lead up to race day stress-free and straightforward. Even planning your meals etc can prevent making poor decisions in race week. Having a race day equipment list as a minimum can make setting your bike and transition bags very simple (and you can use it again and again and refine your approach). Less stress = less wasted energy.  Lists for the supporters too, so they know what you’re doing and when, where to see you on the course, etc.

My Pre Season Prep Phase

In preparation for my Iron-man training I’ve been going through a series of reviews, from Strength and Conditioning to nutrition, as well as the usual heart rate testing and time trials to establish my baselines.

During this phase I’m laying the foundations for what is to come, and ensuring that I’m working as a 24hr athlete. Rest and recovery are the key factors to ensure optimum performance come July 3rd 2011. The main areas I need to improve on is the timing of my nutrition, especially protein, and getting enough sleep!


My nutrition review with Claire Harrison of The Performance Clinic ( has identified the following areas to improve on:

Increase fruit in am/breakfast especially berries, rather than fruit in the afternoon.
Increase protein overall:

Ensure protein in am
Red meat x3 per week
Fish x2-3 per week
Eggs in am

Pro-biotic Yoghurt +/- sandwich mid pm
Nuts on non-running days
Multi-vit and vit C daily
Ensure get solid real food in stage 4 (1-2 hrs post workout)
Increase vegetables in stage 5 (main meals)
Reduce tea, and don’t have with food

Trial increased electrolytes in drink at start of ride
Protein mid-later stages of ride
Increase food intake on recovery days

Strength and Conditioning

My Prep Phase S+C program currently consists of:

Warm up with:

Hip activation with bands, side step with squats, X-band walks, crocodile walks, YTWL over a gym ball.

Foam roller tissue mobility work.

Day 1
Chins 3010
Chest Press with twist 3010
3×8 90sec rest

Front elevated Split squat with DB 2010 x15
Stiff leg Dead lift 2010 x10
X3 90sec rest

Bent over barbell row 3010 x8
Petersons set ups with DB x15
X3 90sec rest

Rotator cuff LR x12
Reverse hyper 3010 x10reps
X3 90sec rest

Day 2
Push press with static stabilise 20X0 x10
Hamstring curls on ball 3010 x15
Single arm DB row 3020 x10
X4 90sec rest

Dips 30X0 x10
Squat heels raised 30X0 x12
Trap 3 extension 30X0 x15
X4 90sec rest

Hanging leg raise 30X0 x15
Prone Horizontal abduction 2320 x10
Saxon side bends 2020 x15
Rotator cuff LR 2121 x12
X4 90sec rest

Physio exercises

Continued work on thoracic mobility, hip mobility and facial chain mobility. Soft tissue work around left shoulder girdle. Single leg exercises focussing on right leg 60:40.

Musculoskeletal Screening

The runners we send to the Olympics are not necessarily our top runners, but they are very good runners who have avoided injury at critical times” (Daniels, J. 2005 ix)  This quote is equally applicable to all sports.

Studies have estimated that between 47% – 75% of triathletes sustain overuse injuries during each season (Burns et al 2005).  The risk factors that contribute to athletic injury are extrinsic (independent of the athlete) and intrinsic (inherent to the athlete) in nature.  Extrinsic factors are difficult to avoid, however, the intrinsic factors can be reduced to a minimum.

Physiotherapy musculoskeletal screening falls within the continuum of athlete testing procedures, with injury prevention at one extreme (where, arguably, the science of medical screening by a doctor and full scientific testing would come) and pure performance enhancement at the other (screening by a strength and conditioning specialist). In this continuum, musculoskeletal screening comes somewhere midway.  Given that there is a direct relationship between the ability to train and the competitive performance, and that failure to achieve optimal training loads is primarily due to injury, the screening process plays a secondary role in optimising competition performance by keeping the athlete injury free (McLean, B).  Therefore if you manage to prevent even one injury during the season by correcting a biomechanical problem highlighted during screening, that athlete will have performed better.

At a more technical level, musculoskeletal screening is invaluable for revealing deficits in muscle/ joint flexibility and in muscular stability/control, any biomechanical faults, or asymmetry between the left and right sides that might lead to overuse injuries.  Although these relationships between deficits and injuries are difficult to prove, the popularity of musculoskeletal screening among professionals over the last few decades lends a heavy weight of anecdotal and clinical evidence to support its efficacy.

A second core aim of screening is to record the details of significant past injuries, and to assess for any ongoing effects on the mechanics of the injured and non-injured parts of the body.  Recording of injury rates and areas of injury across the whole of a season, or several seasons, can enable us to identify and correct any patterns of injury which may arise from any number of external factors, such intensity of training or competition, etc.  Thus aiding the coaching staff in the delivery of the long term athlete development programme, and enhancing the athletes’ willingness to adhere to their training regimes.

Screening is best carried out during the out of competition phase, or off season.  This is a time when training loads are reduced and athletes are injury free, allowing them to focus on any specific injury preventative measures.

Once the findings have been collated into a report for the athlete and their coach, detailing strengths, weaknesses and recommendations, a follow up session is then required.  This allows the coach and athlete (and parent if dealing with young athletes) to fully understand what is the recommend action.  If any relevant factors are detected, the athlete will be prescribed an individualised training programme to rectify the fault and reduce the risk of future injury.  What I have found to be most beneficial is to identify 3 action points, and 3 monitor points.  The action points are the specific exercises or stretches to be done, and the monitor points are any potential issues which the coach should keep a close eye on.

Ideally, this screening would be done at the end of the competitive season prior to the winter training, and then 4-6 weeks before the competitive season a follow up to ensure there have been no new problems arising over the winter, and that the previously identified issues have been addressed by the athlete and their coach.

So in summary, the purpose and benefits of the screening are thus:

Highlight any predisposing factors that may lead to injury

Reveal risk factors to injury so that personalised interventions can be used to rectify any musculoskeletal problem areas and hence reduce the likelihood of future injury

Prescreen athletes before events to ensure they are fit and injury free for competion

Assess any current injuries

Assess any deficit resulting from previous injuries

Assess any musculoskeletal factors that may impact on performance

Provide individual injury prevention programmes based on results.

Tim Pigott

Sports Physiotherapist


Burns, J., Keenan, A-M., Redmond, A. (2005) Foot type and overuse injury in Triathletes.  Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association 95:3  235-241

Daniels, J. (2005)  Daniels’ Running Formula 2nd Edition Human Kinetics p. ix

McLean, B.  Optimising Olympic Distance Triathlon Performance – A biomechanist’s Perspective.  Biomechanics Laboratory, Australian Institute of Sport

The important things

“If it’s important, do it everyday.”

This message is taken from Mike Robertson’s blog/podcast “In the Trenches” and I would highly recommend you subscribe to it if you have an iPod (or similar), and while you’re at it, subscribe to the newsletters and get his e-book on self massage and myofascial release. Although the focus is on strength training, powerlifting, bodybuilding, etc, a lot of the messages can be extrapolated to our endurance population. But most importantly, the content is absolutely top class.

Back to the message.

Now Mike refers to Dan John’s suggestion that you should squat every day. Not heavy every time, obviously, but to ingrain the right technique. And technique forms such a large basis for our sport. Swimming is well recognised for its need for technique sessions, but don’t forget the other three disciplines as well. Yes I did mean to say “three”…… transitions.

So should we be doing a triathlon every single day? No. I’m not suggesting that. But we do need consistency. What we should be doing every day though, is working on our weaknesses.

The clients I have that come back and (honestly) report that they have done their rehab religiously, every single day, on the whole… get better. Those that do them two or three times a week, they sometimes get better, but a lot slower, or they loose faith and stop altogether. Whether that is my motivational skills are lacking somewhat, or whether it’s because they don’t want to put the time and effort into getting better, is another question for another day.

So, if you have weak glutes and poor posture because you drive a desk all day at work, then every day, you need to be doing corrective exercises to counteract the effect of your modern lifestyle.

If you have chronically tight hamstrings, then you need to stretch them. Every day.

If you have shocking core stability because you sit on the hypermobile end of the mobility spectrum, then you need to work on your stability and control exercises, every day.

If we take this back to the reference to technique, then the same principles apply. If you know you have a technique flaw, be that in your swimming, your cycling, or your running. Then practice that component, every time you train that discipline. For me, this is currently balance and timing drills (a mix of Swimsmooth and Total Immersion style) in the pool, cadence on the bike, and posture on the run (I tend to mince a bit otherwise).

Take the message away from the training and sports field for a moment.

Diet, we all know a good diet is important. So ensure you eat well, every day. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have the odd bit of “junk” food, but balance it, and make sure that at somepoint during the day you consume something more healthy.  I’m about to sit down to a Pizza, but I cooked a corn chowder from scratch for lunch, which I’m hoping balances it out! oh, and it’s a vegetable pizza…..

And one final thought, don’t forget the loved ones! Our obsession with training and racing can take a toll on the other area’s of our lives, arguably, the more important areas. So make sure you tell them, every day, how much they mean to you.

I think I’ve rambled enough for now, I’m off to eat my Pizza.

So thank you Mike, and Dan John, for another lesson. I’d encourage you to go to the source, and listen to Mike’s podcasts. I’ve certainly learnt loads over the past few months listening to them, and hopefully will continue to do so.