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A bit of background is needed to appreciate why I use a specific standard when advising athletes what events they can compete in (that is if they want to be coached by me).
The athletic accomplishments of Mark Allen need to be appreciated to learn the source of this standard.
To this day, what Mark Allen achieved in the sport of triathlon has not been repeated by any single athlete. There are definitely athletes like Gwen Jorgensen – US Olympian and 2016 Rio gold medalist in triathlon – who like Mark Allen went undefeated in short course (or as it is now called ITU standard triathlon events); there is Chrissie Wellington who went undefeated across all Ironman triathlons she competed in during her career; but there is no one … not one athlete… who has done it all, and done it all within a consecutive time span like Mark Allen.
Allen won the long course championship race – back in his day it was held in Nice, France, and was a triple Olympic distance triathlon – Allen won it for 11 consecutive years. Allen went undefeated in short course events winning 18 or 19 in a row in one stretch. Allen also won the Ironman World Championship triathlon which is still held annually in Hawaii a total of 6 times. There is no single triathlete who has done anything close to what Mark Allen achieved.
If you are going to set a standard for training or racing in the sport of triathlon, there is only one athlete, the man known as ‘the Grip’ who should be referenced… and that is Mark Allen.
Before Allen won Ironman Worlds 6x, he had to defeat his predecessor, Dave Scott. Dave Scott’s nickname was ‘the Man’ because no one before Scott had won Ironman Worlds as many times (Scott won it 6x), nor by the margins that Scott won. Mark Allen was winning at every other distance of triathlon but Ironman World Champs in Hawaii eluded him. For nearly a decade – think about that… nearly a decade – of attempting to win in Hawaii, Allen was defeated by Scott time and time again, sometimes coming close with a podium finish, and sometimes not… sometimes in the top 10, sometimes not even ending finishing as a DNF (did not finish). Allen endured mechanical issues, bleeding issues, bonking,… you name it, Allen seemed to be cursed when racing in Hawaii.
That is until Mark Allen set ‘the standard‘. The standard which led him to the famous battle on the Queen K highway where the marathon of the Ironman World Champs finishes up, a battle known as ‘the Iron War’. The year was 1989, Allen and Scott were never apart more than a few seconds during the 8+ hours of the Ironman World Championship triathlon in Hawaii. It was in the final miles, on a slight upgrade that Allen made his move realizing that he was putting distance on Scott on all up grades, and was losing gaps he opened as Scott would reel him back in on declines. On the last uphill before the final descent to the coast and to the finish line, Allen put in a surge and didn’t look back… that was the year Ironman Worlds had itself a new Champ, a Champion that would win 5 more times.
So what was ‘the standard‘ Mark Allen set for himself with the intent of no longer allowing the heat and humidity of Hawaii, gaps in his training, and most of all Dave Scott from standing in his way from the top podium spot at Ironman World Champs?
Mark Allen set ‘the standard‘ that if he was going to race an 8 hour race, then he must train himself to be ready for an 8 hour race, therefore he must put in 8 hour training days if he is going to thrive in competition for 8 hours.
Long story short… he did, and the rest is history.
If you go online these days, there is a race to the bottom amongst triathlon coaches… a race to who can come up with the most moronic training formula in an attempt to ‘get clients’ (i.e. hopeful individuals who would like to cross the finish line of an iron distance triathlon so that they can call themselves ‘Ironmen’ and ‘Ironwomen’). To date, the shortest training program that I have seen offered online by triathlon coaches is 9 total hours a week being heraled as sufficient training to thrive at an iron distance triathlon. Let that sink in for a moment. The best of the best complete iron distance triathlons in about 8 hrs, with the best of the best women around 8 1/2 to 9 hrs… and the average finishers in the range of 11-13 hrs. How is the average athlete going to thrive if they train less hours per week than the entire event is going to take? How is it that Mark Allen couldn’t thrive at Ironman Worlds while putting in 800km per week of swimming, biking and running and had to add in 8 hr straight sessions to achieve his potential. Meanwhile novice athletes are told that they can get away with putting in no more than 9 hours in total a week? How does that add up? Yet this is the advice coming from triathlon coaches… even coaches who are Ironman University certified, coaches with USAT or NCCP credentials.
WARNING: training programs promising success at iron distance triathlons with only 9hrs of training per week are a crock; these programs are being sold by clowns and con-men/women calling themselves triathlon coaches.
My standard is taken from the one called the Grip… its his standard: if you are not able to train at a minimum 5 distinct sessions of equal duration to the estimated time for the event that you want to attempt, then you cannot do that event (and these training sessions are in addition to all the cardio-respiratory base conditioning, core conditioning, skill acquisition and sport specific technique necessary to be competent at the sport).
If you expect that an iron distance will take you 12 hrs and you cannot put in a total of 5 single 12 hr straight sessions of training to mimic race day then you cannot compete at an iron distance triathlon. Its not that you shouldn’t do it, its that you cannot do it because you haven’t got the training to do it. That is what is called a standard. That there is no standard to compete at iron distance or even half iron distance triathlons is why there is a 25% DNS (do not start) rate, and a DNF (did not finish) rate as high as 20%+ at some of these events. No, no one advertises the number of drop outs before the event starts, or the number who drop out during, or the number that end up in the medical tent, or the number who do not make cut off times… because that may actually dissuade some from signing up to begin.
If you do an event for which you do not have sufficient training, then I guarantee you this… to cross the finish line you will compromise your well-being, your health, and not just for a day or two… you may do serious lasting damage to your cardio-resp system, your immune system, to your hormone/endocrine system, damage that can take months, sometimes years to heal. Again, not widely advertised because of the damage it would do registration revenues, but the number of bucket listers and iron distance triathlon finishers who months or years after their race still cannot sleep a full night, still have bathroom issues, still have lingering injuries from race day that won’t heal… is lengthy. And you won’t find this advertised anywhere either; its all about profit these days, even profit at the expense of people… even at event management companies claiming to be heavily invested in your well-being, your health.
In reality, few and I mean few people with a career, with a family, especially with young children have the time to put in proper training do compete in a full iron distance triathlon.
But this standard isn’t just for full iron distance triathlon, it applies equally to any distance of event…
If you want to run a marathon and expect it will take you 4hrs but you don’t have the time to put in consistent 4hr training sessions… then you cannot run a marathon.
If you want to compete in a 70.3 (i.e. half iron distance triathlon) and expect it to take 5hrs and you cannot put in 5hr training sessions ahead of the event, then you cannot do a 70.3.
But this is not how individuals decide on what event to race. Convinced by their ironman triathlon club or by their meathead coach or by sports media that only 70.3 or full iron distance triathlons count as ‘real’ triathlons, they register first, and then hope to train enough to be able to show up on race day and actually race. This is called backwards racing and training.
The proper way to train and race… your training dictates the distance you can race.
Say you are able to consistently put in 1hr of training a day, and on weekends 2 or 3 hrs, then you have the following options for picking events to compete in:
- Events that are 2 – 3 hrs in length, you have sufficient training to participate in, not compete, participate in. As in, start at the back of the field, race your own race, enjoy the scenary, the experience, and finish feeling great, or…
- Events that are 1 – 2 hrs in length, you have sufficient training to compete in, against yourself to set a personal best, but not necessarily against others in your age group.
- Events that are 30 – 45mins in length, depending on your sport specific level of skill and technique you may have sufficient training to be competitive against others in your age group (but that is a discussion for you to have with your coach and is dependent on far more than just hours of training).
What Mark Allen realized was needed in order for him to prevail at Ironman World Champs in Hawaii is something that exercise physiologists and coaches have known for decades but seem to have forgotten… if you want to be good at swimming you need to swim, if you want to be good at running you need to run, if you want to be good at an event that is 2hrs long then you need to consistently train 2hrs+, if you want to be good at an event that is 12hrs long then you need to train consistently for 12hrs… it ain’t quantum physics, its called training specificity.
Unlike the plethora of short cuts that are being sold, specificity states clearly: there are no short cuts, neither to a full iron distance triathlon, nor to your health. If you want health, then you have to train and race right… with specific intent and specifically for the event that you want to take on. If you want to train and race right, then you need a coach, not a clown, not a con-man or con-woman posing as a coach. Its easy – too easy in fact – to obtain coaching credentials today… so instead of coaching certificates I suggest you seek out a coach who has the education and experience of an health professional AND on top of that, a coach who has the education and experience of a coach, AND on top of that… a coach who has the education and experience of an athlete… and then you may, you just may have an individual worthy of being called coach.
If you want to be trained right… then why on earth would you skimp on the quality of your coach. I don’t see triathletes skimping in the least on their training and racing equipment, so why would you skimp on that which is even more important… your training?
Excerpt from triathlete.com article titled “How to Dial-In Your Race Specific Training“:
“Fitness can be described and measured in countless different ways. It all depends what you are trying to achieve. A power lifter is fit, so is a track and field sprinter and so is an Ironman athlete. However, most of us would agree that if you put any of those athletes in the others’ competition they would do rather poorly. Therein lies the concept of specificity. Your body will excel at what you train it to do. Your training should create the aerobic, anaerobic and muscular foundation to maximize your (or your athlete’s) physiological and physical potential and then fine tune it to specific race demands.”