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home » speed first, endurance second

In writing this article I'm making the assumption that your goal—at least in part—is to improve pace; if your goal is just to finish races the folowing information is irrelevant (and that's OK....really).

When you look at the career of elite marathoners and IM (IronMan) athletes nearly all have one thing in common: They were elite first at short distances, then moved up to longer distances only after finding peak performance at the shorter distances. How fast you will go for an Ironman distance event will be proportional to your speed over shorter distances like sprint or OD (Olympic distance). Three hour OD competitors don't finish IM events in nine hours.

I meet many athletes that get caught up in an IronMan-induced frenzy who didn't take the time to develop their potential at shorter distances first. It's especially unfortunate when young athletes go straight to IM racing. When you're in continuous IM training mode focusing on speed is not possible.

I don't know of any elite marathoner who wasn't running world class times at 5k, 10k, then 1/2 marathon before they attempted their first marathon. For athletes hoping to find their best performance at Ironman distance the same process is necessary.

I've coached many successful IM competitors whose times have plateau ed. They've mastered the challenges of the distance and finished several races all with approximately the same time. Frustrated, they ask me what to do for a breakthrough to the next level. The answer is nearly always the same: They need to go back and focus on shorter distances for a while, hopefully setting some PRs there before refocusing on IM racing.

No doubt some of you like formulas to calculate potential times at various distances. A few years back I looked at the relationship between peak OD and IM racing. I found one AG (age group) athlete who placed well at OD Nationals, then won IM Hawaii, setting a course PR for AG that same year. After converting to minutes, his OD time was multiplied by a factor of 4.48 to get his IM time. This was the best (lowest) OD to IM factor I found. I consider a conversion factor of 4.6-4.7 to be a great IM race day effort in proportion to current OD best. Of course if your best OD was on a hilly course and your IM is Florida a 'fudge' factor needs to figured-in.

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