Alistair Brownlee shares tips for IRONMAN age-groupers looking to improve their speed

Ready to step down from IRONMAN racing and test yourself over the PTO's shorter 100km distance? Alistair Brownlee shares insights on how to adjust your weekly training schedule.

Writer & Long Course Triathlete
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Redefining triathlon

The PTO’s 100km race format brings the dynamic racing and excitement of short course triathlon to the long distance scene. Commanding a combination of both endurance and speed, the PTO 100km age group races are set to offer amateur triathletes from both short and long course backgrounds a new challenge to test their limits this race season.

But if you’ve been focusing on the full IRONMAN distance, you might be wondering how to adjust your training to find that extra bit of speed required to be competitive over the 100km distance. After a glittering Olympic triathlon career which saw him secure gold medals in London 2012 and Rio 2016, Alistair Brownlee has since stepped up and made waves in the middle- and long-distance triathlon scene. Well-versed in blending speed with endurance, we got his Alistair’s insights on how IRONMAN age-groupers can optimise their training volume to boost their speed for shorter distance racing.

Keep the volume, but add intensity

If you’re coming to the 100km distance from an IRONMAN background, then chances are you’ll have a strong aerobic base of endurance thanks to the higher weekly training volume you’ll have become used to ticking off. Stepping down to the shorter PTO races isn’t necessarily about dropping that weekly training volume. It’s still an endurance challenge, and maintaining your overall training volume gives you plenty of scope to execute sessions that will boost your speed over the three triathlon disciplines.

Instead of dropping your training hours down, it’s about re-assessing how you use that time says Alistair, founder of Brownlee Fitness triathlon coaching. “Keep the overall volume, but introduce more speed work. Rather than your training volume being centred around those really long sessions and big training days that you have to execute to build up your capacity to race for 12 hours or longer in an IRONMAN. You can shift your training to include more high intensity work.”

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Build your threshold

Alistair suggests that the higher intensity work should focus on boosting your thresholds: “You’re looking at training for a much shorter event, so focus on building your threshold and improving your maximum speed across the three triathlon disciplines.”

We’ve seen from the previous seasons’ pro races that the PTO 100km format lends itself to fast and furious racing. The more you can focus on boosting your top end speed across the swim, bike and run – the faster the pace you’ll be able to sustainably hold over 100km without blowing up.

PTO European Open 2023 Ibiza - Alistair Brownlee
Focusing on threshold work in training will help to power up your race paces [Photo credit PTO / Darren Wheeler]

The precise sessions you’ll need to execute will depend on your current fitness level and where you are in your training cycle. But a good place to start is by doing some testing to get a marker of your current threshold power and paces. A CSS test in the pool, an FTP test on Zwift and a 5km run at race effort will give you some data to set up your training zones. From there, you can incorporate interval training (such as VO2 max work) and longer tempo efforts, which will help to build your threshold across each discipline.

Don’t neglect the long and slow training entirely

Despite the need to incorporate more speed work and higher intensity training than you might have done previously, it’s important to remember that the PTO 100km races are still a long distance triathlon. The purpose of the high intensity work is to layer speed on top of your endurance. “It’s important to still keep some of that long, slow training in there,” says Alistair. As an IRONMAN triathlete, your super power over your short course counterparts is going to be your ability to perform a sustained effort for 4 hours or more.

Alistair recommends dialling in the long time trial position rides on the bike – which will help you to stay aero on the bike, and still be able to run well once you leave T2. Fuelling will remain an important factor over the 100km distance, so you can also use your longer, steady sessions as an opportunity to practice your nutrition. The key difference is that those longer rides can be 2 or 3 hours, rather than the 5 hour+ rides you’d need to do for a full IRONMAN distance race.

And, as Alistair mentioned in his tips for stepping up to 100km from short course – working in the right zones is key for getting the most out of your training hours. Make sure your slow and steady training sessions are slow and steady enough. Creeping up into tempo or threshold when you’re supposed to be going easy will just lead to unnecessary fatigue that prevents you from being able to execute your speed sessions properly.

Enjoy the opportunity to push the pace

Alistair Brownlee is one of just a handful of athletes who’ve raced everything from sprint distance triathlon, to the full IRONMAN and the PTO 100km. So how does the race day dynamic differ in the PTO races? “The PTO 100km race is very similar to a 70.3,” Alistair says. “It’s just a bit more intense. In the pro field it tends to be raced very aggressively on the bike in particular.”

Challenge Barcelona 2023 - Photo Credit: Jose Luis Hourcade
The PTO 100km format gives you plenty of opportunity to go full gas on the bike.

IRONMAN age group athletes used to the ‘out all day’ long course racing can expect a much higher octane experience at the PTO 100km. That opportunity to race at a higher intensity, with the confidence that you can comfortably make it through the distance thanks to your IRONMAN background, is something that is sure to appeal to plenty of long course age-groupers.

Nail the speed work Alistair talked about in your training, and you can really enjoy the opportunity to push the pace and challenge yourself over a different distance in the PTO 100km age group races.

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Jenny Lucas-Hill
Written by
Jenny Lucas-Hill
Jenny Lucas-Hill is a writer, content creator and communications professional. A long-distance triathlon enthusiast, she has three full Iron-distance finishes to date & also loves watching the sport.
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