A new fad is sweeping the triathlon and running communities.
Athletes and coaches are moving away from “long slow distance” workouts in their training plans in favor of shorter, more intense workouts of the “P90X” or “Crossfit” variety.
While I think there is a lot of value to exercising at a high intensity workouts; I still believe that there are a few good reasons or situations to go long and steady if you’re planning on doing triathlons, long distance runs, other endurance discipline or if you just want to know yourself a bit better.
1) Psychological Prep
This is especially true if you are new to a distance.
Doing some longer workouts as you are increasing your race distance is a good idea since it can help habituate your body and mind to exercising for a longer and longer period of time.
If you have never ridden a bike for 56 miles before and have signed up for a half-iron race it can be a good idea for your mental health to go out and ride that distance just so you know you can do it.
2) To test your equipment
Do you know how comfortable those shoes/shorts/jersey is once you have ridden 80 miles and soaked it/them in sweat, had them dry out and then soaked them again? That might happen on race day so doing some long workouts in the gear, when the stakes are lower can give you some insight into how to address or prevent potentially debilitating comfort issues like blisters, chafing, etc. before they spring up on race day.
3) To test your race fueling plan
This one is a bit tricky. Since you will likely be working much harder and longer on race day than you will during any pre-race training, you are not going to use as much fuel in a long training session as you will on race day. Since you will also be at a higher intensity on race day you will likely have more digestive issues/limits on race day, but at least you can get a feel for how many gels you need to eat/can eat before you get nauseous.
You can also experiment with increasing or decreasing your food intake and seeing how your body responds. However you should also test your feeding strategy during some more intense training session.
4) To learn technique
This is especially true in the pool where correct technique is essential and more foreign to most triathletes but it is also true in other triathlon disciplines. It is very hard to learn technique when you are working at very high levels of intensity.
Eventually you want to transition to using good technique at high intensity because that is how you race, but that is not how you learn. So, when learning a new lift in the weight room, practicing new drills in the pool, working on cornering technique or developing a proper aero position on the bike, transitioning to a forefoot or barefoot running style, learning transitions or any other situation where you are learning a new skill or pattern I would highly recommend that you start slow and build intensity only once you are comfortable with technique at a low intensity.
5) To look for chinks in your armor
Are you flexible enough to hold aero position for 2 hours and then get off the bike and run? Does your back ache after 3 hours on the bike? Do your shoulders get sore and achy after a long swim? Do you get tightness on the side of your knees or hips after a long run? All these little aches and pains are signs that something is not quite in balance. Paying attention to and addressing signs like these that tend to crop up after long workouts can help you prevent more serious injuries from developing and derailing your training.
That is a list of the main reasons why despite all the hype I believe there is still a place for the long, steady workout in a triathlete’s quiver.
Just keep in mind that you don’t race long and slow, so don’t spend too much of your time or energy training that way and try to include at least some intensity in almost all non-recovery workouts.
The Iron You