I've been working with Angela Forster for a few years now. She is a very accomplished athlete, completing many Ironmans including qualifying for and racing in Hawaii. This year, she took on a new goal of running an ultramarathon in June. She had never run one before and signed up for the 100 miler. During her training for this race, we basically eliminated cycling and swimming sessions. She did lots of long runs, mostly in trails. Well, not only did she do well in this event, but she finished as the second woman. Yes, she's talented, but her hard work and dedication combined with her consistency is what really paid off. She took some well deserved down-time following this event, and then basically stayed fit with lower key, shorter swimming, cycling, and running sessions.
About four and a half weeks ago, she called me and told me that she was thinking about doing IM Florida. Her and her nutty husband sign up for like every IM in case they want to race them, so she was already registered. Yet, she wasn't going to race this until about four and a half weeks ago. Our conversation was: "Do you think I can really do this?" "Sure, you have so much base that we'll give you two really solid weeks and then back you off" I responded confidently, before hanging up and shaking my head in bewilderment, wondering if she actually would be capable of doing this.
The reality is that if she went extra, extra easy, then finishing wouldn't be a problem for an athlete with Angela's background. But she's also a competitor, and as much as I emphasized the need for her to start very slow and build into this race, I was worried that this competitiveness may take over.
I gave her two very big weeks of training, and mostly at or slower than goal IM effort. We then tapered her for two weeks. I told her that I wanted her to take the swim quite easy, and the first half of the bike as well. I told her husband Scott that if he doesn't see her smiling on the course during the bike, she's going too hard.
Angela ended up finishing 8th in her age group and in 11 hours 28 minutes!
I've stressed the importance of cumulative base. That is, base built up over seasons of training and racing. Angela shows how important cumulative base actually is. In fact, with the training she did in the late winter and spring, if she had started her build for this maybe six weeks out, instead of four, she might have nailed a pr. This makes me believe more that those with years of experience and base - if they have a very solid early season of base training, then they probably will race an IM bettter starting their build six or seven weeks out instead of the typical 12 to 14 weeks out. In fact, many enter their key race of the year a bit over-cooked.
For those of you racing an Ironman next year, take some down time now for the off season and plan your pre-season schedule. Remember that much of your race day outcome will be determined more by what you do January through April, rather than the 8 weeks leading into your key race.
One more note: In regards to taking an off season, make sure you seriously take some good down time now. Many triathletes are so driven, that they finish their last race of the season,
and already begin thinking of next season and the training they want to do to get faster. Or there are those that are very paranoid about losing all their fitness, or gaining weight, so they don't take a sufficient off season. These are usually the same athletes who go through the following season, stale, injured, de-motivated, or all of these things. I once read that the Kenyan runners take two solid months off at the end of their season! They don't do a bit of running! Now, I'm not advising this amount of time, but I think that most should take two solid weeks of "no training" time, and then do four, very easy weeks of one easy session per day.