Despite being a very difficult word to say, this is such a vital element of training and programming!
A simplified version of specificity in training to me means being;
- As specific to the particular race and race distance in training as possible
And, more technically and more often misunderstood/missed
- Being specific to the athletes strengths, weaknesses and experience with regards to programming and training.
Around this time each year there is so much talk about – how long are your long rides and runs, how many hours per week, what swim sets and commonly how many km’s they do per week, with many of us preparing to do Ironman Oz. People are often looking for the ‘magic number’ or ‘what is the right way’. But the major problem is, there is no right way for everyone. The reason for this is that every athlete is different, has different weaknesses and has varied experience and time in the sport. Therefore what they focus on SHOULD be different.
When it comes to Ironman, given the long distances of the race, the major limiting factor for most athletes, especially those new to the sport, is endurance. Its is a bloody long way. Endurance is both central – lungs and heart and peripheral – muscles, tendons and ligaments. So those that haven’t done tens or hundreds of long rides and runs through previous years to really develop this endurance, really need to spend most of their weekly energy there. It doesn’t mean going out and doing crazy km’s in one day off the bat, or have a big jump from one week to the next, but it does mean that your ‘Key Sessions’ – those that you make sure you do well and are fresh for, are long, sustained and evenly paced. This needs to be built over a period of time through consistent training.
It is very common that first time athletes to the sport are either given programs by a coach or a friend that a ‘Pro’ or elite person follows, thinking that this will give them the recipe for success. However, almost always, they are following a program that is well above their level and will result in them working at higher intensities. They really should be focused on building their endurance and length of single sessions, which is essential for any athlete to finish an Ironman well. Another mistake that is common is following a generic plan, which may only have half of the training that is specific to their needs as an athlete. Try to focus on what YOU really need to be doing as an individual, not what the ten other people around you are doing. This does not mean training alone, but it does mean being specific to your needs. Also try to avoid counting weekly kilometers. Who cares how many km’s you put in your log book every week, it is the person who is as specific as possible and who absorbs the most that will come out the best. Often this means having less km’s and being rested for the key sessions, rather than filling very single minute of spare time you have because you feel you should because you are “Doing Ironman!”
When doing a training plan, I always make sure the training programs are built around other parts of the athletes life. Sure, with trying to achieve something that is out of the ordinary, there are certain sacrifices that need to be made. However, it’s not worth ruining other aspects of your life and time and perspective still needs to be given to key areas like family and work. This will ensure a far more enjoyable experience in the lead up and more support in the process. Try to not put the “Ironman blinkers” on, where all that matters is that next training session!
As a general rule, the first time or new athlete to Ironman, should really have their weeks built around increasing the distance of their long ride and long run. I think it is also vital to be good at running off the bike, after all we are training for a triathlon, not a swimming, riding or running race! Keeping the physio hat on, this should be done conservatively over a period of time. This will mean, reducing the intensity, which introduces other forms of fatigue and really keeping at their expected ironman race day pace. This is typically a lot lower especially in the run, than most people train at. This may mean having a really light day before and after these sessions, so that you can get the most out of it. But the bottom line is, the 3 disciplines are very long, so you need to be prepared to be riding and running for a long period of time come race day!