By, Pro Triathlete, Jackson Laundry.
The 2021 Ironman 70.3 world championship in St. George will be my third crack at world's for the middle distance. I finished in the top 20 in 2017. That was a great result for me at that time. My 2019 World Championship ended with the worst bike crash of my career and a 6 month journey to get back on the race course. I’ve been craving redemption ever since. So for 2021, my coach and I planned my entire season to result in a career best result in this race. The same approaches that we used apply to your goals. Here’s how you too can plan, train and smash your big event:
Avoid peaking too early
This will be my 8th race of 2021. Early to mid-season, I focused on getting lots of opportunities to race with no race being particularly more important than the others. The training in this phase was consistent, but intentionally less (in volume and intensity) than the training planned for later season racing. Although I raced 6 times between April and July, I knew I'd left something in the tank for higher performance later on.
Take a mid-season break
After my 6th race of the year on July 11th (70.3 Ecuador), I took a mid-season break to get a bit "out of shape", and re-charge for the harder training coming up. This entailed a week of very low training volume and no intensity, followed by a week of gradually building back up to normal training. This is something I think everyone who wants to peak for late season needs to consider doing, it's hard to hit a new peak if you've been grinding out hard training without a break all season long.
Make sure your hardest training leads up to your A race
I then had a solid 5 week block which included the highest total mileage and intensity of the year, building from 23 to 28 weekly hours. My longest run hit 30 kilometers, and my longest ride was 5 hours, both about 15% more than my longest sessions in the early season phase.
Consider doing a Tune-Up Race
The Collins Cup, which I considered my "A minus" race for the year was well-timed for this. A typical tune-up race would be a lower priority than The Collins Cup was for me, but in this case it was the best option and an opportunity I couldn't pass up. Three weeks out is a great time for a tune-up, and had I not raced between Ecuador and World's, it would have been a 10 week gap. I had a great day at the Collins Cup which was a great confidence boost. I then had to focus on a quick recovery for this final World's preparation.
An altitude camp can give you an extra fitness boost
In the 3 days after Collins Cup, I traveled from Slovakia to Utah and went up to stay at 9600ft for an altitude camp, a couple hours from the race location in St. George. This has the added benefit of getting most of the travel done well before the race so there's no risk of travel fatigue on race day. I quickly tried to recover from the previous race, and adjust to the elevation. I then put together about 10 days of hard work in the 15 total nights at the altitude camp. 9600ft is quite high up even for an altitude camp, but having done two camps this year, I was confident my body would respond well. Doing an altitude camp before an A race is something most people could benefit from, but I recommend starting out by sleeping between 5000 and 7000 feet. Everyone responds differently, and the lack of oxygen can be pretty debilitating for some folks, so start easy.
Increase specificity as the race approaches
The key in this final training push is to make the training as specific as possible: for this race, that means: lots of hills on the bike and run, a fair bit of time at race pace in all three disciplines, and simulating the demands of a hard swim start with lots of surges to stay with the group.
Avoid Hero Sessions
Another thing to keep an eye on is your overall energy levels. In years past, I've pushed too hard the last couple of weeks and found myself flat on race day. I now try to avoid "hero sessions" late in the training block and am seeing a lot better consistency in my late season training as a result. The most important hard training is done when you're two weeks out from the race, and the last couple weeks are the highest risk for overdoing it. Listen to your body and push hard without digging a big hole. This is easier said than done and sometimes takes years to master!
Once the work is done, there's nothing left to do but rest up, get your gear set up (with your fastest set of Rolf Prima wheels of course), and get after it!