Today I got a question in our ‘Ask Anything’ module within the members area from one of my older athletes and I really believe it’s a great question and opens up some thought processes when it comes to designing training plans.

Q: At 65, training for Port Mac in May, I notice the Long Run and Cycle programmes (Sat + Sun) are duration not distance (as in swim sessions). As I anticipate my Cycle time will be 7hrs +- 1/2 hr and Run Time will be >5:30hrs probably, should my training times not be longer with a at least one 180 km cycle and build up to 30-33km run?

A: At 65 years young there is a life time of endurance developed within your body and more so if you have been active for a good part of that. But… as we age we loose important muscle mass and unfortunately it doesn’t regenerate as quickly as we would like.

Aging athletes need to emphasize training sessions that stimulate power and recruitment of muscles over a pure focus on long training sessions. Ironman after all is a sport where we need to maintain form under duress and this takes strength.

No matter what age you are, the real benefits from training come from later in the session. You have to be able to push with good quality (keeping form under duress). Going out for 7 odd hours is pretty much useless. It’s not going to make you stronger or faster for your impending event because your ability to push with good quality late in the game will be gone, you’ll essentially be plodding along and the breakdown that will occur is just not worth it. Further more many of your subsequent sessions will be compromised and so will be your race day.

It’s even worse with running due to the impact.

Your ability to endure the distance is not based on doing the distance or even over distance. These long sessions are not mutually exclusive. What I mean here is that a well written plan (the whole) is great than it’s parts and you build the required endurance as a by product.

Personally I always prescribe time based sessions for both cycling and running. Because if I say do a 10k run, the loading is going to be completely different for our 65 year old athlete then it is for a 30 year old that running is a strength. It might take the older athlete 70 minutes to complete the run at the same relative intensity as the 30 year old who does it in 45 minutes. There is then a huge discrepancy in loading and it makes a huge difference.

When we learn to understand loading we find we can increase aerobic capacity (endurance) without the typical triathlete diet of excessive volume.

If you’re one of our more mature athletes and still want to eek out the best possible performances then I fully recommend that you de-emphasize the super long sessions and replace them with shorter then typical Ironman sessions for you long days and add in more short intense sessions during the week that stimulate power and muscle recruitment.

This can be done with sport-specific strength using paddles in the swim and big gear work on the bike. Easy longer runs over undulating terrain will also develop leg resiliency and frequent weight training focusing on full body movements will also benefit you.