Question: Are marathons required, or even useful, for triathlon training, especially Ironman?
Rich Strauss: In general, as a training tool I answer with a loud no/not very and here is why:
- I’m a triathlon coach
- You are a triathlete = you want to swim, bike, and run faster
- In my world:
- Faster Bike = interval training creating higher watts/speed at threshold which are translated to faster cycling all distances once we put endurance under it.
- Faster Run = Higher VDot number (per Jack Daniels methods for training with pace), creating faster HIM and IM run times once we put endurance under it.
- Marathon training then creates some significant opportunity costs for the triathlete looking to become a faster triathlete
- At some point marathon training begins to compromise get-faster-on-the-bike training.
- Marathon training, in my experience, is not the best and most time efficient tool to make someone a faster runner, to lift their VDot. Stronger, more durable, can go longer…yes…but for me that’s what we do in the last 16wks or so before an IM. Before that we focus on making you faster.
- The net is that you don’t really get that much faster at either: your marathon training isn’t super great because you’ve still got your triathlete hat on = riding a bike, etc. And your bike doesn’t get much faster because you’re having to compromise your bike training because of all the marathon running you’re doing.
- The significant accommodation/recovery hole punched into your schedule: 2wk taper on the front end, and the 3-4wks required to recover for a marathon on the back end. That’s a BIG 4-6wk “accommodation hole” which, depending on the time of year, distance from your race, etc, can be a total non-starter.
Me, tri coach, says to you, triathlete, that’s NOT a good idea to do a marathon if your goal is to improve your triathlon times.
That said, this is all just a game, your fitness is a vehicle for doing cool stuff and, for you, maybe this marathon is just something you want to do. I totally get that. If you read all of the above and it makes sense…but you just gotta do the Podunk Marathon because you’re running with your twin sisters and dad will be there to watch…go for it! Just don’t expect it to help your tri-mojo, may likely hurt it, but if you’re cool with it, go for it. However, if you are going to run a marathon, I recommend taking off the tri-hat all together and just train for an run a very, very good marathon.
Or train for a marathon and run a half marathon instead, as the recovery cost of that course of action is MUCH smaller than doing the actual marathon.
This opportunity cost, accommodation hole conversation is one I’ve had with about a thousand athletes over the years, especially fast dudes/ettes racing Boston in route to Coeur d’Alene or IMLP. Just a bad idea, but I get it, and support them, when they still want to do it.
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