Ironman Triathlete Lucy Charles shares her top training tips

Red Bull athlete & double-world champion Lucy Charles shares her bike/run triathlon tips.

The bike

No one discipline in triathlon is more important than the other. But out of swimming, cycling and running, it’s on the bike where competitors really have to put in the long hours. In an Ironman-distance triathlon, the sport’s most extreme format, competitors swim 3.8km, run 42km… but bike a massive 180km.

Cycling requires skill, balance, strength and determination in order to power through and get it done well.

PREPARATION Knowing and trusting your kit is important especially when you have fast descents and tough climbs. One of the things I swear by is a power meter in my cranks which gives me feedback on power. It means I can make sure I am not going too hard on the climbs or free wheeling too much on the descents.

For long rides, you need to make sure you are comfortable and aerodynamic. I use pads on my handlebars which help me with both of those things. Padding in your shorts is crucial… otherwise you are in for uncomfortable ride.

TECHNIQUE You want the bike to be an extension of yourself so that you can control the power you are putting through the bike. If you are new to cycling, like I was in 2014, it may take a lot of hours in the saddle to feel comfortable. Every week I will do at least one long ride which is a minimum of three hours but it is good to mix up your training with a spin class and a group ride as well. I absolutely love group rides, they make a really long session go a lot quicker.

Using turbo trainers – a stationary bike – can help with your cycling strength and if you throw in things like Zwift to the mix, you can make training more exciting by racing in a virtual world. Time spent in the gym is time shaved off your bike split.

BIKE FITNESS You want to make sure you are supplementing your riding with specific gym work that will help you see improvements when you are out on the bike. I typically spend one to two hours in the gym solely dedicated to cycling. These exercises include leg extensions, hamstring curls, squats. The other key is single leg work because you need to have a good left-right balance.

OPTIMISING PERFORMANCE

In order to get the right output, you need to get the right input. Nutrition is key – and entirely unique to each person. It is a case of trying something, seeing if it works for you and then sticking to that formula. I typically have 60-90g of carbs per hour during a ride which makes sure m energy levels are topped up and I don’t have any flat points at any stage during a ride. If I do feel like I need that little bit extra then I top up with caffeine.

Once you have found that perfect balance of what works for you nutritionally, it is great to focus on other parts of your training like max interval training between 10-60 seconds. It is also good to find a nice loop and really perfect your cornering skills, doing time trial races can really see what you are capable of and put down your max power output. There is always a  percentage to be gained.

RECOVERY Riding on the road is really gruelling, particularly if you out on the saddle for up to six hours exposed to the elements. It is really important to get that relaxation and recovery going straight away after a ride. You need to stretch out the leg muscles and your back so that you do not stiffen up. Get your nutrition on board within the magic 30-minute window to replace all that you have spent on the bike.

It is not enough to go out and ust train, you need to reflect on the data that you have collected and review what you have done to learn from it for the next session

THE RUN

PREPARATION Ensure you are wearing the correct shoes for your run. If you are running of- road, trail shoes will give you that stability and grip that you need on the more uneven terrain.

The other shoes that I have are race flats. They have not got as much support in them or as much cushioning but they are a lot faster, so when I am racing, road running or on the track, I wear the flats. You don’t have too much other kit to think about in running but you might as well be comfortable. So make sure you are wearing breathable layers, you don’t want to be damp when you are running.

A heart rate monitor will link up to your watch and let you see your pace as well as your heart rate. This is crucial to make sure that you are not surging on climbs or slowing down but keeping a nice, even pace.

REFINING TECHNIQUE Running is really pure and simple – but when you start to explore it there is a lot going on.

Working on things like stride length (EW says: improve stride length and frequency by running on the hills), cadence, body position and breathing will make your running easier and more efficient.

Stay relaxed by focusing on breathing properly, don’t exhaust yourself by taking shallow breaths. Stay nice a relaxed and get the oxygen.

Build up your running mileage gradually by setting goals and targets and ticking them off – this keeps you motivated to keep getting better.

Mix up the terrain – choose from road, trail or treadmill, I find this changes things up nicely and also helps to keep me motivated.

 STRENGTH TRAINING There are loads of things you can do in the gym that are going to complement your running without having to go and smashout loads of miles. But, don’t worry a gym membership isn’t required, bodyweight squats and lunges are all going to help with your running.

The key things that will see you notice improvements when you are running are core strength, stability, leg strength and plyometrics (aka explosive movement).

Working on box jumps, planks, side planks and flutter kicks will help you build your core strength. Make sure you do not neglect your glutes, they’re the key to stability while running.

ACCELERATE PERFORMANCE GAINS The key thing is to stay dedicated to your plan, work up your training gradually and you’ll begin to notice the gains. If you get sued to a regular routine of runs, try adding in extra workouts that can give you a performance boost. Incorporating a tempo run – running at near-race pace – into your training can also help get the competitive juices flowing.

Doing at least one long run a week helps build endurance. This might be the run where you are likely to be bored, try running with music or with a friend to give you some distractions and extra motivation. But if you are struggling with the regularity of your breathing, forget the music and focus on the rhythm of your breathing.If you’re running for more than an hour, carry water with you, ideally in something like a Camelbak to spread the weight around evenly.

RECOVERY As soon as your run is finished, focus on rehydrating, stretching, controlling your heart rate with proper breathing and getting warm.

Stretch for 10-15 minutes at the end of the run, holding the stretches for 15-30 seconds for each muscle group.

If you’ve got a heart rate monitor, use the stretching time to begin analysing your running data. Get some protein on board within 30 minutes of the run – ideally, prep what you’ll need for your post-run meal before you head out.



Core Runs

 Whether you’re an elite athlete, or an absolute beginner, these core runs are the running ingredients you need to create the perfect menu of success.

From beginner to elite level you can apply the guidance below to your microcycle of training (a week to 10-day block).

The only thing that changes as you progress is the volume (how far) and the intensity (how fast) of your running. 

LONG RUN 

Build endurance and aerobic fitness by running (or for beginners walk/running) a slow easy long run every week, from 30 minutes for 5K to three hours for a marathon.

Benefits
Boosts your aerobic endurance by improving V02 max (maximum oxygen uptake).

Intensity: Run at six to seven out of 10 on the Running Intensity Scale.

TEMPO RUN

Run (power-walk for beginners) for up to 20 minutes to an hour at a pace that feels comfortably hard to get used to running faster for longer. Optimal training is progressive, so this is a good one to measure if you can cover more ground in the same amount of time (week three and week six). Tempo or threshold running is great race practise and you can easily fit it in by doing a parkrun, with 10 to 20 minutes warm up and cool down either side (go longer either side if you’re marathon training or feel you need to build your endurance). The definition of this longer sustained pace running can also describe threshold marathon training runs of up to 10 miles at marathon pace, or even longer tempo intervals of such as 3 x 2 miles.

Benefits
This type of running raises your lactate threshold. This is the top end of your aerobic zone, the point before you go into anaerobic (i.e. without oxygen, sprint zone). The higher your threshold, the longer you can sustain race pace.

Intensity: Run at seven to eight out of 10 on the Running Intensity Scale.

INTERVALS

Anything from power walking hard/easy between lampposts 10 times to dedicated track sets fall into this category. Intervals are usually based on short bursts of time, or repetitions around a 400m track, such as 6 x 800M with one minute recovery (which could be 6 x 3-4 minutes for the intermediate runner). The best way to include interval or speed training into your schedule is to join a running club track or road session.

Benefits
Short, sharper, faster high intensity intervals will help you run faster and boost your overall fitness. Speed work will increase the number of type-two muscle fibres (the ones that help you run fast); strengthen quads and improve the strength of the breathing muscles.

Intensity: Run at eight plus out of 10 on the Running Intensity Scale.

RECOVERY

Easy runs run at a conversational pace will help boost your overall aerobic fitness and the more you add in the fitter you will become, particularly for longer distance races. However, don’t just do recovery for the sake of it, make sure you plan these easier runs into your training package.

Intensity: Run at five to six out of 10 on the Running Intensity Scale.

OPTIONAL SESSIONS TO SWAP WITH INTERVALS OR TEMPO RUNS

CIRCUIT RUN

Do this run on the track or on grass. Warm up for 20 minutes. In this run you will combine short, fast bursts of running in a circuit to increase leg turnover/cadence, muscle reactivity and strength endurance, and improve running form and economy and race speed. Between each circuit you will recover for six to seven minutes, because there of lactate build-up.

Aim to do three circuits of six to eight exercises, such as below (as recommended to me by running coach Martin Cox).

  • 30m fast
  • 10 jumps from the ankles
  • 30m fast
  • 10 skips
  • 30m fast
  • 10 side skips with arm circles
  • 30m fast
  • 30m butt kicks
  • 30m fast
  • 30m high knees
  • 30m fast
  • 30m hopping
  • 30m fast
  • 10 squat jumps on the spot

Jog for six minutes and repeat the circuit three times.

HILL SPRINTS

When: During an easy run 

The aim of hill sprints is to improve leg strength, foot speed and muscle elasticity, and develop the capacity of the nervous system. Hill training also improves stride length and stride frequency. During easy running you recruit only 30 per cent of muscle fibres, and always the same 30 per cent – the others are ‘resting’. So hill sprints will remove deficiencies within, and improve the basic overall quality of your muscles (by recruiting the highest possible percentage of muscle fibres including the hard to activate fast-twitch fibres). The steeper the hill, the shorter the sprint. Run easier grades of 10 to 15 per cent sprint for 12 to 15 seconds; and with very steep hills of 20 to 30 per cent, sprint for only eight to 10 seconds.

  • Stretch before you start and do the first two sprints a little slower than the rest to warm into them.
  • Jog on flat ground to start.
  • When you reach the hill it is important to run explosively but not so hard that you sacrifice good form.
  • Keep your body upright, drive with your arms, and try to think about high knees and a high frequency of leg turnover.
  • Allow two to three minutes to walk or jog back down to the start of the hill. Don’t start the next sprint until you feel totally ready to go again (this is not endurance training, it is strength training). Repeat six to eight times.

STRIDES

You can include 20 second strides after a 45 minute steady run and some stretches to flush out residual lactic acid and boost your running economy and mechanics. These short strides include plenty of recovery (around two minutes) and require you to run hard, but not flat out, focussing on form: be relaxed, land on your midfoot, make sure you have good posture. In their book, Advanced Marathoning Pfitzinger and Daiels recommend marathon runners include 8-10 stride reps of around 100m  as part of medium distances runs at least twice a week.

Cross Training: It’s great if you can include weight training, swimming, cycling, walking in addition to running. Don’t be tempted to try to combine running training with super hard circuit classes – choose yoga, stretching and maintenance weight training.

AND DON’T FORGET TO PLAN IN REST & stretch

Running Intensity: how hard should it feel?

It’s hard to define and Running Intensity because it depends on your individual level of fitness, which will increase as your training progresses. It doesn’t matter how you get to hard, whether it’s power walking or sprinting at five-minute mile pace, the way you feel should be the same.

The more endurance fit you are, the longer you’ll be able to maintain a harder pace (for example tempo). The table below is based on the Borg Rate of Perceived Exertion table but for simplicity uses one to 10 to measure intensity perception.

PERCEIVED RATE OF EXERTION 

Effort level Effort rating Activity (approximate, depending on fitness) Description
1 None None Standing still
2 Minimal Shuffle Minimal activity
3 Easy Slow walk COOL DOWN.
4 Light Moderate walk Normal pace – WARM UP/COOL DOWN AND RECOVERY.
5 Fairly light Brisk walk/light jog Walking – striding out or jogging a little above march pace; heart rate and breathing increase a little. WARM UP/COOL DOWN AND RECOVERY.
6 Moderate Jog/easy running Easy jog – active but not challenging; breathing is easy and steady; can hold full conversation.

LONG RUN SESSIONS.

7 Slightly challenging Steady running Sustainable steady running – general race pace; breathing and heart rate are raised but not uncomfortable; can talk but not entire way round.

LONG RUN/TEMPO.

8 Challenging/slightly hard Tempo running Brisk – challenging running at increased pace; breathing should be harder; comfortably hard; can speak one or two words.

TEMPO/INTERVALS.

9 Hard Hard running Fast running with arms pumping; can’t speak. INTERVALS.
10 Maximum Maximum Maximum effort – sustainable for one minute or less; can’t speak. SHORT STRIDE OUTS AT THE END OF EASY RUNS.

 

 

 

Goal-Setting & Planning Your Training

When goal-setting, all good coaches will look at the bigger picture and periodise training for endurance. The start of the year is a great time to plan your training and set goals for the long-term, the medium term, and the short-term.

What’s your goal

The bigger picture: the Macrocycle

This is the period that spans your entire plan. When an elite athlete is goal-setting, it might be a whole year, or the run up to the Olympic games. For recreational athletes a macrocycle may refer to a four-month training plan for a marathon or cycling sportive, or a six-month weight-loss target. New year is a good time to draw up your goals and map out your macrocycle.

Medium term: Mesocycle

Medium term goal-setting usually is between six and eight-week period blocks, where you’ll focus on improving different elements of running fitness, e.g. endurance, or speed endurance, or speed/race prep near the end of a schedule, or a specific four-week block, like the cycling time trial plan.

Most of the mesocycles in our schedules include a step-back week scheduled in after three weeks, and on the fourth week volume/intensity is maintained, ready to continue to progress in weeks five and six.

Shorter term/day to day: Microcycle

Goal-setting needs to include every day of the week! Sunday a night is a good time to review goals for the week ahead and commit to your plan.  A microcycle doesn’t have to be a seven-day period, such as a shift worker may plan in blocks of five or 10 days).

In this part of the schedule you’ll need to consider what frequency of training you will do (i.e. how many times a week); plan the intensity (i.e. allow a rest/recovery between a long run and a speed session); and allocate time for each session.

You can choose your day to train, but make sure you think of your harder sessions, such as in running, your interval, tempo, and long run as a two-day block, as you need to recover after each of these sessions. Similarly, cross training intensity should be monitored, for example, a relaxing yoga class may replace or be done on a recovery day, but a hardcore circuits class would need to replace an interval or tempo session. Don’t try to pack in what you missed, just pick up the schedule and build up in a progressive way again, allowing time to recover and build.