With less than 7 weeks left before Cobra Ironman 70.3 Cebu, the most important thing on the agenda right now is to practice your specific race pace. Race pace effort should not be confused with a hard time trial effort as the name might suggest; rather, this is the highest intensity that you can sustain for the 1.9km swim, 90km bike, and 21km run. This is a balancing act between going hard and holding back; the idea here is to hold a pace that is fast yet sustainable.
For this phase in training, going too hard is a common mistake. Most believe that training at paces faster than their target effort will make them faster. While there is definitely benefit in going hard in training, too much of this is counterproductive. At this point in time, we need to teach our bodies to adapt to the specific intensity that we will endure. As we accumulate more time in a particular zone, our bodies become more efficient and thus help us sustain the effort longer. Think of it as a rehearsal for our race; by logging in the hours, our race pace becomes automatic.
Furthermore, by training at our specific race intensity, we are able to determine our nutritional demands and address them accordingly. While it’s pretty obvious that people have different race paces, it is actually more complex than holding a particular number. For example, compare a top age grouper and a back of the pack recreational athlete. The top age grouper can probably nail the 90km bike leg in the low to mid 2hr range while the back of the pack athlete would be closer to 4 hours. This means that the faster athlete is racing at a higher intensity than the slower one (high zone 3/tempo vs. mid zone 2/endurance). “The faster you are, the harder you go” is a good phrase to summarize this.
Now what does this imply? Simply put, the energy demands of the top age grouper are higher than the slower one despite covering the same distance. This is not only in terms of calories but also in terms of fuel source. Since the faster athlete is racing closer to his anaerobic threshold, he will consume a higher percentage of carbohydrates compared to the slower one. Going too hard in training during this crucial period will only teach our bodies to burn more calories (and carbohydrates) than needed. Simplified for our purposes, one can say that for any long distance event, the primary source of fuel should be fat as the glycogen in our bodies is limited. A carbohydrate deficit will force our bodies to go into ketosis and radically slow us down.
Going back to the idea of pacing, how do we determine what our race pace should be? There are quite a few ways to go about this. Time trials and previous race experiences are an example. However, these are time consuming and often inaccurate especially when external variables aren’t controlled. Heart rate zone formulas based on age are quite common but extremely inaccurate. Age does not precisely dictate how our heart functions and from experience, most are better off not making such an assumption. There are also some devices that estimate lactate threshold (i.e. through blood oxygen saturation or SpO2). While this might seem appealing, it does not actually measure lactate levels in the blood. It merely estimates where the threshold is by looking at oxygen levels using LEDs (it's essentially a pulse oximeter). Furthermore, zones are also merely calculated in terms of percentage relative to the computed threshold.
To determine an athlete’s race pace for any given distance, the best option would be through blood lactate testing: the gold standard for endurance training. This approach measures real lactate values across the power range of an athlete. By looking at absolute values, the specific intensities for Olympic, half Ironman, and full Ironman races can be pin pointed. Furthermore, by looking at how the lactate values rise across the range, the threshold points can be determined accurately. No more guess work involved!
All these points taken into account, what should we remember as we inch closer to our big race?
Know your race pace and practice it!
To help you finish strong this coming August 2, we're giving a special offer of 20% off on Bike + Run lactate testing and is exclusive to all Cobra Ironman 70.3 Cebu participants.
Let us help you out in your pursuit of excellence! Book your slot now! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.