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Train Slow to Race Fast and Qualify for Kona

Train Slow to Race Fast and Qualify for Kona

It is an interesting phenomenon in endurance circles to look at what intensity the average age group "club" athlete trains at across any discipline (swim, bike or run).  Almost 3 years ago, I started reading The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing by Dr Phil Maffetone.  It was then one of the most revealing books I had ever come across in sporting publications.  The reason stems from Dr Maffetone's approach to training the body's most important muscle (the heart).  In the book he cites many examples of his own patients who over time increased their race pace at all 3 disciplines by training the majority of the time at a much LOWER intensity to how they had previously trained before ever seeing Dr Maffetone.  Essentially Dr Maffetone discovered that by analyzing thousands of patients over his 40 + years of clinical practice with athletes, an athlete's aerobic threshold (the point at which that athlete starts to use more carbohydrate as fuel as compared to fat or ketones) is measured by their heart to be at 180 bpm - Age (e.g. a 30 year old athlete's aerobic threshold is 180 - 30 = 150 bpm).  Now there are slight adjustments for specific groups of people (like professional or life long endurance athletes, or people who have recently undergone surgery or been sick) but in 95% of cases, this number is extremely accurate as a measure of aerobic threshold.  Why this is important for endurance athletes like myself is that in order to go fast over a significant time period (like when racing in an Ironman triathlon where you are on the go for 10, 11, 12 or more hours), you want to be burning fat as a fuel for your body's energy needs.  If you simply do not burn fat efficiently, your body will most likely need to slow down as the race progresses because there is simply no way to keep "topping up" your carbohydrate stores no matter how much food you consume during the race.  From my own experience, this has most certainly been the case (in my Ironman Australia 2014 and 2015 races, I simply got slower as the race progressed).

Now many people may argue that this is just a "normal result" of competition in such long events.  Dr Maffetone and others like Mark Sisson, Brad Kearns and the famous Mark Allen have all demonstrated that this DOES NOT HAVE TO BE THE CASE.  The key according to each of these athletes I've mentioned is by training at your maximum aerobic threshold (MAF) heart rate for 80% or even more throughout you regular training week (in all disciplines).  By doing this and laying a BIG aerobic base, each have shown they are able to burn fat and even when they push their intensity during a race.  Fat is such a friend to an endurance athlete.  It is a long lasting and stable fuel source and when you are fat adapted, you can maintain effort all the way to the finish line (ie. compare this to seeing out on course athletes whose pace just continually decreases.  And it is these athletes who are using sugar as their preferred fuel source, during training and racing).  The other important caveat to this is that your diet and nutrition MUST be alligned to what you want your body to do in the race.  By this, I mean that if you want your body to burn fat (which are called ketones), then you must also train your body to stop using sugar as its preferred fuel supply.   And if you are an endurance athlete, this is the name of the game!  The great news is that this feat is achieved by restricting certain types of carbohydrates (and other foods like grains, especially wheat) and instead consuming a higher percentage of healthy fats in your diet.  By doing this AND  putting in the hours of training as per Dr Maffetone's guidelines, you simply become a fat burning beast and literally run through the competition in endurance races.  There are lots of other benefits from eating high amounts of healthy fats, but that's for another blog article or a chat between you and I. 

I know this firsthand when I competed in the Ironman Western Australia in Busselton on a very hot day in December 2017 (it was 37 degrees celsius when I started the marathon).  I can only describe the feeling as being euphoric.  Even with the heat, I was able to build into the marathon and maintain my pace for almost all of 39 kilometres.  There was a slight drop between the 34 and 37 kilometre mark, but compared to races in 2014 and 2015 when I wasn't adapted to burning fat as a fuel, I was simply flying through my competition.  Trust me, there is no better feeling than running past your competition in the marathon and getting faster as you go.

I had no idea how well I had raced, but upon crossing the finish line in "good shape" with lots of energy, I knew I was in unchartered territory because there were only 88 other athletes in the recovery area (out of 1,600 starters).  The other great news is that I got a 1 hour massage from a therapist because there just weren't many athletes around to give massages to at that point.

So put your egos aside and open your minds to new ideas people.  This way of eating and training works and produces AWESOME results!

Oh, one last thing.....I came in the top 4% of my age group and earned a roll down slot into the 2018 Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.


Comments (3)

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last year
David Daffey

Thanks Jack. I am racing again in 6 weeks time at Ironman Australia and cannot wait to see how I respond to the course compared to last year. Let me know if there is anything I can help you with.

last year

Nice article.

last year

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    About Me

    I’m David Daffey and I love food, along with swimming, cycling and running (that’s right…I’m a triathlete). In fact, I am an Ironman triathlete (multiple times) and this year in 2018, will be travelling to Kona, Hawaii to compete in the coveted Ironman World Championships!  I live in Sydney, Australia and have a degree in Psychology and Human Movement Studies. I am also a qualified Triathlon Australia triathlon coach.

    Most importantly, I became a Certified Banting Coach in 2016 with The Real Meal Revolution and Dr Timothy Noakes.   After regaining my own “health” after decades of sugar addiction and suffering from what I now know to be chronic inflammation, I now teach people like you how to get off Struggle Street and follow “A Banter’s Life”.