“Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.”

Narcotics Anonymous or Albert Einstein, I don’t know.

Looking back at the results of my 70.4 Ironman races I notice that my run pace is not improving. The finish times are consistently between 2h 20 min and 2h30 min. I observe similar trends in full Ironman events. The fastest was my first Ironman where I finished the marathon in 5h40min. The lack of improvement in the marathon is in contrast to my progress in both swimming and cycling times.

After another disappointing run at Ironman 70.3 Eagleman, I decided to change my approach. Since the beginning of my Ironman journey in 2019, I’ve focused on building a solid base of fitness and endurance. Last year I incorporated swimming and cycling speed intervals. As a consequence, I’ve seen improvements in both swimming and cycling. However, as expected, I’ve not experienced much improvement in my ability to run. So, I knew that Ironman Cozumel would yield the same results. But, I want more than just the same. So I deferred that race until November 2023 and have begun a year-long focus on developing running speed and efficiency.

After discussing the plan with Johnny he agreed that it is be the best choice and immediately updated my training plan to incorporate track workouts (aka speed sessions). Severe anxiety about these new sessions caused me to procrastinate my first session for about a week. Hiding from what was making me anxious began to eat at me mentally. One afternoon a lunch meeting canceled at the last minute so I said fuck it and went to the track. When I arrived, I hoped that someone would be there so I could ask questions or maybe watch them run the track. But, I was the only fool attempting to run intervals at noon in 100°F heat!

The first 20 minutes were spent warming up. Then, I hesitantly proceeded to begin running ten 200-meter sprints with a 400-meter recovery between each one. Whoa! It was much more difficult than I anticipated. I ran all out for each one and found that I was slowing down as I approached the 200-meter line (I became gassed very quickly). My heart rate raced to about 175 bpm which was also new. Previously, I rarely raised my heart rate above 165 bpm, so sustaining it at 175 for 200 meters was very uncomfortable. However, if it were cooler, I think I could handle the intense effort a little better.

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Sucking wind doing 200-meter intervals

By the fifth interval I was becoming dehydrated. So, number six was my final attempt and it was more a half-assed attempt than an all-out sprint. Afterword, I did a 15-minute easy run/walk while dripping sweat like a waterfall then went home feeling defeated. As the day progressed, I never really felt recovered. My legs were cramping and I felt tired all day. Then, for the next two days, my legs were sore in new places. Sprinting engaged new muscles and reinforced the need to do strength work in parallel.

Although I was humbled by my lack of ability to complete the full set, I also felt relieved that I’d faced my fear and anxiety. By sharing my struggle with the triathlon community, several experienced athletes offered suggestions on how to approach these particular workouts. They also shared that they just get more difficult, but are extremely valuable in developing strength and speed, so be sure to stick with them.