"Hello Coach, I am training for a half iron distance triathlon. I am following the 1/2 Ironman Plan on BT. I am an experienced 63 year old triathlete, but I am very slow. I have a problem with training hours vs miles because of my slow pace. Shouldn't I be aiming for a three hour long run since I anticipate doing a walk/run on race day? And how about the bike: I am thinking I should aim for a longest ride of four hours, again because I believe that will be my time come race day. Fortunately, the swim is my best discipline and I can easily swim 7,500-9,000 yards/week with a master's group."
I love to see that you are still going strong at 63 years young! I’ll answer your questions, but first I want to address a few items.
I would recommend that you periodize your training so that you are taking a recovery week after every 14 days of training. Your plan should include 14 days of building volume and then one easier week. You should keep the frequency of the workouts, but cut back on the actual volume. *Note, BT's custom training plan creator will allow you to select a 2 week build/ 1 week rest cycle.
The biggest issue as an experienced athlete is that your recovery will take longer. For this reason alone, I would suggest taking 2 days off per week. Typically athletes can get away with training six to seven days per week but after the age of 40 it’s been my experience that taking at least one day off a week is important and as you get into your 50s and 60s you’ll want to add another day as well. If you feel like you are capable, you can train 6 days a week but it should probably be a very light workout.
Your long run will always take an extended period to recover from, no matter your age, but as you age the muscle breakdown is harder to recover from. Thank goodness for protein laden recovery drinks, compression gear and ice baths. These three tricks of the trade will speed up recovery in any aged athlete. My recommendation for the longest run is going to be 2:30 and I would most definitely incorporate some walking into that workout. Every athlete has to figure their sweet spot with regards to the run:walk ratio, but start out with something in the range of 6 minute run, 4 minute walk and then move the run or walk ratio to what’s appropriate for you. If you were to have your long run be a max of 2:30, and did a walk:run ratio of 6:4, it would take you 15 cycles to get through this workout. Having used this strategy personally and with many athletes over the years, I can tell you that it will reduce your soreness after the workout and still provide you with enough stress so you can benefit from the long run. I have seen people run a sub-three hour marathon using a run 1mile, walk 20 seconds, strategy.
On the other side of the equation, you have cycling to help build your aerobic base. This will not only help build your bike fitness but your run fitness too! And trust me, I’m not saying that running 2.5 hours isn’t building base, but you can certainly ride for more time on your bicycle than you can run and this will result in a deeper aerobic base in the long run. The most beneficial aspect to cycling longer is that you are decreasing the chance of injury vs. running long. There’s the old adage that if you show up to the starting line healthy and motivated that you’ve already beaten half the field. This is 100% true!
One option you may want to think about is alternating the long run and long bike each week, and instead rotate them. For example in week 1 you may bike for 2.5 hours, but only run 1 hour for your ‘long’ run. On the following week you might run 2.5 hours, but your long ride is ‘only’ 2 hours. In my opinion your max long bike ride should be the time you plan on riding in the race, plus another 30 minutes. Incorporating my suggestions above should get you to the start line healthy, fit and ready to have your best half iron distance triathlon. Keeping the routine fresh and new is key to staying motivated and healthy. When you start to get into the ‘why am I doing this’ phase of training, you better have a good excuse to convince yourself to keep going! I’d rather see you avoid this mindset and arrive at the start line motivated to have a great race!