How much training does one need to do in order to really race an IM?
As a coach I should have a definitive answer to this question. But I don't. I have had three different coaches, I have trained for and completed 4 Ironman races, and I've coached athletes of mine to do the same, I have read copious books about training and I have completed gobs of course work on the matter. I have been at this for quite a long time now. But I still don't know the answer, or even if there IS an answer.
It's a question that intrigues me--or plagues me--depending on when you ask it. I'm not talking about the training volume required to complete an IM. I think that question is less interesting. I'm talking about the training required to actually compete in an IM; attempting to race the thing and get to the end in as quick a time possible.
There seem to be two general camps when it comes to training for IM: I call them the Volumists and the Qualitiers. Oh sure, there are folks who stand between the two, but in general I find triathletes lean to one side or the other.
The Volumists believe that a great IM time cannot be achieved without logging the necessary hours. What is "necessary" is up to debate, but generally people in this camp get in and/or prescribe plenty of 20-25 hour weeks. The volume isn't necessarily intense. In fact, it can't be if the hours are to be gotten in each week, week after week.
The Qualitiers believe in "quality." They use terms like junk miles to describe the copious zone 1 runs and rides completed by volumists. They use words like precision, targeted and focused to describe their own training. They complete IM after only hitting 20 hours, or close to it, a very few times in the weeks leading up to the race.
There is so much that is complex about this debate between quality and volume.
It is not as simple as high or low volume--zone 1 work or quality work--and I know you all know that. Age comes into play--the fact that when older we recover less quickly--which is a strike against volume for me and many of those I coach. Intensity of training is a part of this too; it is not simply a question of hours, but how those hours are achieved. And then there is the part about how you can believe in volume intellectually before your body follows suit. It takes years and years for some people to build up to the point where they can complete high volume without routinely getting sick or injured, or both. Likewise, some people can't stand much quality before they break. All quality makes for extremely tough training as well.
This was a rather long preamble to what I felt like talking about when I started this post. What I felt like writing about is my own struggle with volume. I like the idea of MORE as a general principle, and so I have always leaned toward the volume side of things. It makes sense to me that in order to train long you need to go long, and less sense to me that to go long you simply train precisely. This is not to say I don't believe in precision. I do. It's just that I don't believe precision is magic and can make up for the long hours that actually prepare one for the arduous journey that is IM.
So there you have it. I guess I am a Volumist. Interestingly, however, I have never selected a Volumist coach for myself, and I also do not coach high volume. I find it quite easy to see when one of my athletes needs a break, and I don't fear giving that break. I know that recovery can work like magic in reigniting passion for training and also for improving performance. Yet... I am obsessed with hours when it comes to my own training. I spend time comparing this year to last... am I doing more? How much more? Is it enough more?
Last week I did a lot of work. And by Sunday, I was sort of a mess. I'm angry at my body for breaking down before I am ready to stop working. Why do I break down here... at xxx? And if I can move past xxx and get to xxxx, will I do better at IMLP than I have in the past? Can't anyone promise me anything?
No. And I can't promise anything to you, either!
When we first start our journey in triathlon or running or swimming or anything... improvements abound with consistent work and recovery. But after several years.. it gets so much more tricky to figure out the puzzle of how to eek out more improvement. Do I need more hours? Do I need more rest? What do I need to get more out of myself this year than last?
And then there is the question... why do I need to get more out of myself this year than last?
And onward I go.