By Hunter Van Houten, PT, DPT
A few weeks ago, I had the experience of participating and completing the Ironman® Triathlon in Madison, Wisconsin. A grueling event to say the least, participants first swim 2.4 miles, bike 122 miles, and finish with a 26.2 mile run. The total 140.6 miles took me the better part of my Sunday, but upon reflection, I am grateful and thankful that I was able to both participate and complete the event.
What does it take to train for a race like the Ironman®, or any triathlon, for that matter? First and foremost, it takes understanding and patience from significant others, friends, and family members due to the time needed to set aside for miles and hours of training. It takes months of planning, training, sacrifice, and determination. Cue the “Rocky” theme song. Many relentless hours on the bike, endless laps in the pool, and miles up and down the lakefront path dodging cyclists, runners and walkers of all ages were exhausted throughout the training process. However, crossing that finish line was worth it all!
An even bigger question is what does it take to be an elite-level triathlete? I am in no way comparing myself to an elite-level triathlete, and I was just thankful to see the finish line in Madison. But how do the elite men and women in triathlons train? Here is a great video of what it takes on a daily basis to be the best triathlete in the world.
Javier Gomez Noya is now a 5-time world champion at the Olympic distance triathlon (.9 mile swim, 24.8 mile bike ride, and 6.2 mile run) and was a silver medalist at the London Olympic Games.
In a typical week, Javier swims 12-15 miles. For his swim workouts, he works on different phases of his free style stroke, trying to improve his efficiency with each phase. He focuses on improving the efficiency of the catch, pull, exit, and recovery phase with specific drills. He works on developing proper body roll, kicking, and breathing techniques to become more efficient. Better mechanics = more efficient movement = faster race time.
Javier bikes between 215 and 250 miles per week. Yeah, you read that right. Biking 215 to 250 miles a week. Remember that this is his job, and he is solely focused on training and preparing for races in his professional life. Depending on the time of year, (off season vs during the race season) and whether a race is coming up, Javier performs different types of workouts on the bike in different phases of training. During the off season, Javier focuses on cycling-specific strengthening by combining short and long intervals with high tension and low cadences. He also focuses on a climbing phase of training, which can consist of a variety of longer efforts around his threshold power. As Javier’s race approaches, he focuses on his power phase, in which he shifts from sustained threshold efforts to short and harder efforts to increase his VO2 power. Throughout the his race season, he will maintain the gains he has made in the off season through maintenance workouts.
Finally, he runs about 60-65 miles per week. Again, some of this mileage will be longer, endurance-based running at a slower pace. Still, more of the miles will be high intensity, speed work since he runs 6.2 miles for an Olympic-distance race.
Does Javier look familiar? Recently Chicago hosted the International Triathlon Union Grand Final World Championships in September, and he was there. He needed to finish in the top three to claim the Championship, and he did not disappoint. Here is a recap of the race.
If you are considering participating in a triathlon for the first time, I strongly recommend attempting a sprint triathlon first. This is where I started and caught triathlon fever! I look forward to continuing to participate in triathlons for years to come. Hope to see you out there!