For extreme starts such as the Norseman, low-intensity training (run/velo) as well as long intervals at an intensity close to the target competitive pace is an important element of training. Can shorter, more intense workouts (threshold intervals) provide additional benefits in terms of performance gains?
Is it possible for shorter, more intense workouts (threshold intervals) to enhance performance gains in addition to low-intensity training (run/velo) and long intervals at an intensity close to the target competitive pace, which are crucial for extreme starts such as the Norseman?
In long triathlon it is important to achieve the highest possible speed with the least amount of energy. Thus, training is aimed at being able to:
- Maintain a given speed for a longer period of time expend your energy more efficiently
- Increase your speed without increasing your oxygen or fuel consumption
- Physiologically, the above properties are reflected in muscular endurance, overall efficiency and running economy.
Long-term analysis of triathlete training suggests that long-distance athletes train extensively at high volume with low intensity. In addition, triathletes prefer long intervals at moderate intensity – tempo, threshold training. This observation is supported by a number of studies, one of which was published in 2014 in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance.
On the other hand, if an athlete has a goal of getting off to a good start, specificity, or simply training at the pace of the planned race, should be considered. One study that included 18 amateur triathletes showed that cumulative training time spent in the moderate intensity zone (between VT1 and VT2) was associated with better performance at the Half-Ironman distance.
Regarding high-intensity training (HIT) – it is still unclear whether such training can lead to improved long triathlon times. An interesting fact is that in Norseman, the intensity of the race itself is well below the anaerobic threshold. Given this, is there even a need to train at an intensity close to VO2max and above the anaerobic threshold?
- A 2014 study came out that showed that high-intensity interval training combined with low-intensity training not only increases VO2 max, but also improves performance and running economy at lower intensities.
- The principle of variability must be remembered. One observational study that included 13 amateur triathletes showed that increased moderate-intensity training time was associated with slower finish times at Ironman. The athletes included in the study spent about 28% of their training time on moderate-intensity training, which was higher than in the study above. Some experts suggest that high volumes of moderate training cause more autonomic stress, which increases the risk of overtraining.
- The very nature of the Norseman imposes a number of requirements on the athlete’s training, which cannot be realized without high-intensity training. The cycling stage includes several climbs with a significant gradient. In addition, higher power may be required when overtaking other athletes in the cycling stage. Short, high-intensity intervals at the intersection of aerobic and anaerobic zones can help with this, as well as improving the ability to tolerate higher lactate levels. Thus, incorporating short intervals into training can allow for better tolerance of sudden peaks of increased intensity throughout a long-distance race.
- It has been shown that even a short 3-week period of short interval training will lead to adaptation in the form of increased lactate tolerance.
- In addition, there are a number of papers evaluating the relationship between moderate- and high-intensity training and pain tolerance. In particular, studies have shown that high-intensity training helps train tolerance to discomfort than moderate training.
In conclusion, while the debate over whether or not to include high-intensity training in a long-distance triathlete’s plan is ongoing, there are many strong arguments for why you should do periods of high-intensity training in preparation for a long run.