An Introduction: Strength Coach, Patrick Warnholtz
August 3, 2016
Strength Training for Endurance Sports
July 30, 2015
Breathing. The Forgotten Piece of Endurance Training
January 16, 2017
Training like a Pro - Mark Allen
January 11, 2015
Many articles, books, and blogs use the title, “Training Like a Pro.” When a high-level professional triathlete talks about how he or she trains, there are always countless age-groupers that take notes and try to emulate aspects of that pro’s training regimen. For some, this may work, while for others, it can cause problems. Professionals train at a higher level and can devote more resources to training, recovering and racing successfully than what an amateur is typically capable of. However, we are all constantly seeking the next level and looking for that tip that will take us there.
Mark Allen is arguably the best Ironman-distance athlete to ever toe the start in Kona, Hawaii. Some might even argue that he is the greatest triathlete of all time. He won twenty races in a row between the late 1980s and early 1990s and won the Kona Ironman World Championship six times, in six starts. Mark failed to win Kona six times prior to his winning streak, but in 1989, after having changed his training protocol, he showed up to not only win, but also set the fastest run split in Kona history (a record that still stands today).
So when thinking about training methods and emulating those of professional triathletes, Mark Allen is someone who should be high on the list of athletes to learn from. In fact, out of the training methods of every professional, his are most applicable to any level athlete. Whether you are just starting out, or trying to qualify for Kona for the 6th time, or somewhere in between, there is a crucial piece of training that many triathletes ignore, that can bridge the gap between where you are and where you want to be.
Mark Allen divided his training macro-cycle (fancy coach word for the entire season), into three meso-cycles. During the first, he would focus on building his aerobic engine. The second was for strength. The third was for speed. The first block is the one we want to focus on and is the one that is not given nearly enough attention by most athletes. Triathletes are competitive and therefore want to spend a lot of time focusing on speed, interval, hill and tempo training. It’s the suffer-fest, go hard or go home mentality where most workouts are spent.
Allen’s approach to this was to use a formula he developed to determine his heart rate zones. He figured out that his best heart rate to train his aerobic engine was around 155 BPM and during his first cycle, he spent all his time training around that zone. From when he first started training this way to just a few weeks later, his mile pace dropped from just over 8 minute miles to just under 5 and a half minute miles, while his heart rate remained the same. This improvement is remarkable but similar improvements, in a relative sense, happen when age-groupers train the same way.
It was building this aerobic engine that allowed Mark Allen to put up the most impressive performance in Ironman Kona history in 1989. After spending the entire race side by side with Dave Scott and with about two and a half miles to go, Mark’s aerobic engine held out and allowed him to pull ahead and set the marathon course record of two hours, forty minutes and four seconds, a time that no one else has been able to repeat in 25 years.
So how does one apply this concept to his or her training? Guidance is always recommended so finding the right coach is crucial. Mark Allen worked very closely with Racelab’s coaches, Bettina and Gus Warnholtz to develop their own specific training zone formula*. This same formula, strengthened and supported by VO2 Max testing, done at Endurance Rehab in Scottsdale, is the foundation on which Racelab has built their training protocols and led to more than 160 Ironman finishes and a 98+% completion rate. The same protocols helped Josh Terwoord set the Ironman Arizona amateur marathon course record of two hours, fifty two minutes, and thirty eight seconds in 2011 and helped him be one of the only amateurs to break three hours during the run at Kona in 2013 with a time of two hours and fifty eight minutes (total Kona time: 9:15:40).
When your goal is to perform at a high level and improve your abilities, finding the right guidance is crucial. Many coaches will design training plans centered on power, perceived exertion, or pace, but these methods are just not adequate enough to create an effective program on their own. They must all be taken into consideration and applied to a program that is centered on building your aerobic engine and training in the correct heart rate zones.
So next time you think about “training like a pro”, remember Mark Allen and the immense success he had by doing what many athletes forget to do these days: build that aerobic engine by training slow so you can race fast.
*Racelab continues to work closely with Mark Allen to create the most effective training protocols in the industry. For more information on coaching, either online or in-person, visit www.racelab.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.