Breaking 10 hours at Ironman is the triathlon equivalent of a sub 3 hour marathon, like its running counterpart it sets a standard that requires dedication to achieve. It’s a target I spend a lot of time thinking about, for many of my clients this is the goal – they’ve come to me hoping to cross that elusive line. The most common question they ask is: can I break 10 hours? Of course I can’t give a definitive answer, a lot can happen during a 10 hour race, or the months of preparation that lead into it. Too many factors to consider. But having guided athletes below that line, and a few to narrow misses I’ve learnt a lot about what it takes to get there.
First, there are no special workouts. There never are. It is all about the volume of work over time that builds the fitness required to break ten hours. Unfortunately I can’t tell you what that work will be – it’s individual, we each bring our own strengths and weaknesses and training should be planned accordingly. Perhaps the best way to begin is to consider what a ten hour Ironman looks like, how does the race typically unfold?
Three sports and two transitions can be combined in many ways, I recently examined the results from Challenge Roth to see how the faster athletes were breaking down the event. Non-swimmers will be relieved to know that the greatest diversity in performance is in the water, while most sub-10 athletes in Roth swam between 55 and 65 minutes, there were a few getting out closer to 75 minutes. On the bike I see times ranging from 4:50 to 5:20 for the majority of the athletes, and on the run times tend to fall between 3:10 and 3:40. Roth is a fast course, but these are good times – sub 10 is not easily achieved; it takes some combination of performances within these ranges to cross that line. If you’re interested the slowest I found was a 1:22 swim, a 5:40 bike and a 3:55 run, not together of course those athletes made up ground elsewhere.
Knowing this, what can you do? Let’s go back to those strengths and weaknesses because the starting point is to consider how you stack up. If you have a previous Ironman time then you can easily compare your result, bearing in mind the difference in courses, this will highlight the areas that most need work. A strong swimmer can channel more of their available training time into their bike or run; if you’re already swimming 55 minutes for an Ironman and want to go sub 10 you’ll clearly make the most difference on land. But it’s also about being able to comfortably hit all those times, triathlon is one sport – swim impacts bike, impacts run; the sub 10 athlete cannot afford to neglect any area of their training.
Having a plan, a focus and some idea of where you need to get leaves one more piece of the puzzle: race selection. I mentioned Roth is a fast course, it can be a good place to go for breaking 10 hours, on the other hand Lanzarote is hot, hilly and windy it takes an extra something to break 10 there, but there are no guarantees: this year Austria, known for its fast times, was a brutally hot race and much harder than usual. Race choice is about hedging your bets you’re still going to need the fitness to perform on the day.
I know, I haven’t really told you how to break 10 hours. As I said: there is no special workout. It would take more than 600 words to describe the training involved in becoming a sub 10 Ironman athlete. I have, I hope, given some pointers, a starting point from which to prepare your plans. The next Ironman season is months away, plenty of time to put them into action and chase that goal.