Ask Coach Ray – How Come My Long Runs and Long Rides are So Long?

Long sessions, greater than race distance/duration provides the body with a training stimulus that develops the aerobic system. It is key that the aerobic system is optimsied for success in endurance events like an Olympic distance triathlon or ¼ Ironman.

“Hey also just a question. I’ve noticed on my Sunday bike and Run they are getting longer 3:30hr? Question is why am I training for that amount of time? I think I’ll probably only be on my bike just over 2 hours in 1/4 Ironmaori ? Also runs are 1:45-2:00 hr? Seems really long to double the distance when I’ll only do 10 or 11km? Sorry don’t want to sounds rude just interested to know the reasoning behind it. “

— Fritha, Training for Quarter IronMaori

Firstly it’s not rude and it certainly hasn’t come across as rude by asking a question for clarification of the methodology of the training. That is important for you to understand the ‘Why’ behind your training.

Understanding assists you to achieve compliance with your training. If you think there is no benefit to a certain session you are less likely to do it.

An Olympic Distance Triathlon or a ¼ Ironman (such as the Quarter IronMaori) will take between ~2hrs for fast athletes through to about 3:30hrs for others, with the bulk of athletes completing the event between these times. On average an Olympic distance tri takes 2:53hr (Men 2:47hr / Women 3:07hr).1

The bike ride can take just under half of this time for most athletes, 44%, the run takes a third of the time and the swim was the first 18%.1

Having the ability to comfortably swim, bike and run for that duration is important. It is also important that you are comfortable exercising for the total duration as well. We can do that a number of ways, dedicated brick – both bike/run, and swim/bike/run – sessions, or sessions that are focused on one of the disciplines.

The energy system utilised in an Olympic distance or ¼ Ironman event is predominantly the aerobic energy system (the faster athletes have a slightly higher contribution of anaerobic energy but it is still predominantly aerobic). It is important that we train and prepare this aerobic energy system so that it is optimised and you have been prepared for the total duration that you will face on event day.

How long should a long ride or long run be?

Shorter distance events (i.e. not Ironman or Ironman 70.3 events) long aerobic sessions can be built progressively to about 300% of anticipated duration of the individual discipline. Throughout a programme we build to this point, we don’t use it as a start point for the training. Training for this duration gives a number of beneifts:

  • Improved aerobic function and efficiency.
  • Heart and lungs become more efficient – you get better at delivering oxygen to the muscles and better at removing waste products such as carbon dioxide and lactate acid.
  • More capillaries get laid down within the working muscles – making it easier for oxygen to diffuse from the blood into the working muscles.
  • There is an increase in mitochondrial density – more mitochondria allow you to utilise energy easier, they are little organelles within the muscles cells where adensine triphosphate is generated and utilised for energy.

Why Don’t You Send Me For 3 Hour Runs?

Due to the impact of running on the joints and lower limb, running for long durations puts a lot higher load on the body compared to cycling.

The physical effort required to run for 2 hours is a lot higher than riding for 2 hours.

When we extend our runs out over the 2 hour mark, the recovery required post-workout is a lot higher, which then compromises future training until you are recovered from that workout.

It is easier to get the aerobic benefits mentioned above from cycling for longer durations, than it is to run for the equivalent duration and then try and recover from it.


  1. Clément – Average Olympic Triathlon Time Per Age Group And Gender

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