Ever wonder what it takes to break the 10 hr barrier in the Ironman? We asked Darren Cole, a badass Canadian living in Taiwan who registered a 9:59 finish at the South Africa Ironman in 2016, to share some training advice with us regular humans. He calls it The Grind-Brick and this is how he described it to us: “…this is my baby that I love to do once or twice in the lead-up to Ironman races”.
Before jumping into the workout, here are a couple of explanation of key terms he uses in this workout:
FTP – Functional Threshold Power – essentially maximum power that you can sustain for an hour.
Ironman – a triathlon which includes a 3.8km swim, 180km bike ride, 42.195 km run
IF – Intensity factor
When: at least 5 weeks prior to target Ironman (226) triathlon
Stretch, appropriate warm-up of about 20 minutes.
For the first 80% of the ride, the goal is to ride at 80% of FTP. 80% of FTP is generally considered the target for professional Ironman triathletes during races. Elite age groupers usually perform at 75%. For many, a more realistic goal to balance the bike and the run is to aim for 65% of FTP. Thus, adjust the values for your target race day power output, but as this ride is shorter and the run much shorter than race day, I target a power output higher than I plan on race day.
Another goal is to practice minimizing variation in power output. There are two easy ways to monitor this. The first is comparing Normalized Power and Average Power. The closer these numbers are, the more even your power output is. A more precise measure is VI (Variability Index) of 1.05 or less. Maintain power output when climbing hills and, when safe, maintain power output on descents. Studies show minimizing power variability and higher heart rates on descents (e.g. pedaling instead of freewheeling) are both associated with faster bike splits. For the last 20% of the ride, I really enjoy putting a sting in the tail by riding at FTP+25% for short hills and rollers. If you do not have a power meter, aim for 80% of threshold heart rate for the first portion of the ride, and threshold heart rate on short climbs.
I stop once to replenish fluids; this workout is about intensity and endurance and unnecessary stops work against these goals. Throughout the ride, I emphasize adequate nutrition. General guidelines are 60g of carbohydrates per hour from a combination of sports drink and preferred race nutrition. Also consider electrolyte supplements depending on the sports drink consumed. The goal is to avoid highs and lows in fueling. Under-eating is easier to deal with than over-eating. Temperature and fitness both influence how my body responds to nutrition on the bike; this is the opportunity to understand where the boundaries are. Drink according to thirst, but keep track of carb intake.
First 3km, run at a pace that allows you to gain rhythm and your “run” legs. KM3-8 maintain target Ironman race pace. KMs 8-15 run these last 7km as a progression, steadily building speed beyond Ironman run pace. Between 8-10km marks, practice nutrition. I wait until the intensity of the run is closer to what I hope to run at during the race so that I can understand how my body responds to carbs and caffeine under exercise stress. Again, drink according to thirst. (will be less than what is possible to drink on the bike)
Warm-down, stretch. Immediately begin to rehydrate and recover. I consume a 3:1 carb-protein drink mix made from vegan protein sources. I am not vegetarian, but find it is much easier for my system to handle vegan protein versus whey protein sources.
The distances and intensity of this training session are extremely challenging. It can lead to injury if the body is not accustomed to high training stress, rested and fueled prior to training. Appropriate recovery is needed afterwards. (I schedule a swim-intensive week after this workout, reduce my run volume but retain 2 speed-oriented runs, and focus on steady efforts on the bike at lower intensities.)
Why I love this workout:
It gives me a great idea what it’s going to feel like on race day and the opportunity to make sure my gear and fueling strategies are going to work. I also enjoy the progression of the run; running faster than I will on race day but for a much shorter distance cultivates the mental toughness needed to push through the inevitable low points we all experience during the run leg of an Ironman. I gain a lot of confidence through this session and enjoy it with friends.
Things to consider before:
I would not do this workout without having a solid block of training in the weeks and months leading up. Key to this preparation is regular bike/run brick workouts. If not prepared, it can lead to acute injury or push me into an overtraining situation in the key weeks leading up to the target race. If I feel the distance or intensity are too demanding, I will use a timed workout for this instead, riding four hours at a comfortable pace and running forty-minutes to one hour.