The principles of aerobic training remain the same from events that last a few minutes to those that last 4-17 hours (Half Ironman and Ironman races for our purposes here). In other words; going hard, hard, easy, long and short all have their place within a balanced triathlon (read: endurance) training program.
Today, we talk about volume. Long course zealots love to rant and rave about volume and they will be the first to point out that their training is lacking if the volume has not hit their ideal levels. Over the past seven years I have had to pleasure to get to know plenty of athletes. Some train huge miles. Some don't. The level of success never works linearly with training volume. I know many folks might wish it were such. Hard work is more honorable and justifiable when the returns are clearly realized.
However at some point training no longer becomes training. I was chatting with a friend once who proceeded to tell me about an athlete that put in 10 hours a day when training for an Ironman. My response?
"That's not training. That's touring."
Burning more calories in a day than anyone else is not going to make you any better than your competition.
Having said all that... ...putting in a solid aerobic overload with volume can be highly effective. However, even with high volume, intensity remains important. I have found high volume training to be the most effective when I spend the bulk of training within a steady-state intensity range. This means you need to find that best volume that allows you to not fall below zone 2/3 training ranges. In order to properly execute this type of training an athlete really needs to be smart about their nutrition, their training partners and the terrain they train on.
I have been stacking 6-7 hours days on top of one another for the past week with two more days to follow. In order to make sure I can get the most out of each day I....
1. Eat continuously throughout the day without stacking huge meals anywhere in there.
2. I include plenty of climbing on moderate grades to force more steady state riding and running, but I nix any steep climbs so that I can avoid (lots of) acidosis on these rides/runs. Swimming still includes all ranges of intensity.
3. I get training partners to come along (on some days, not every day) that will push me, but not try to beat me.
4. I rest when I plan to rest, even if I arrive at recovery days feeling like a million bucks. Recovery days are instituted for training absorption and recovery prevention. They are not a reactionary measure to offset exhaustion.
5. I swim, ride, and run solidly and steadily every day. Some workouts take longer to warm into, but I do my best. I also nix threshold to threshold-plus workouts so that I can train effectively without excessive fatigue throughout the whole allotted time frame (and therefore, the steeper climbs take a backseat).
6. I follow up each volume block with a short recovery period and then return to a more balanced program with high(er) intensity sessions. This way I avoid trying to create an overload with the same means over and over again. The body adapts, so mix it up.
My roommate asked me how I fuel myself throughout these bigger training days. Here is how it has essentially worked for me:
Wake at 6:15 a.m. Eat about 1.5 cups of oatmeal with 1-2 pieces of chopped fruit and 1/4 cup of fat free cottage cheese. I take one gram of fish oil, one tablet of EAS' Athlete's Defense, and one serving of EAS HMB. I also take in plenty of water and coffee.
Run 10-12 miles at 8:00 a.m.
9:30 a.m. I drink a recovery drink with one scoop of Race Recovery and one scoop of Muscle Armour. I eat a bowl of quinoa.
Swim practice at 10:30 a.m. swimming 4-5000 meters. I consume a sports drink with about 150-200 calories during practice (usually 1-2 scoops of Endurathon with .5-1 scoop of catapult).
Come home and eat 1.5 cups of quinoa, 2-3 eggs and raisins
Start riding at 1:00-1:15 from Amantes in North Boulder. Ride 3.5-4.5 hours; mostly in the mountains. I take in 2-300 calories/hours of sports drink (same as swimming) and I consume 1/2-1 full energy bar (myoplex lite) for every climb I summit (lasting 45-60 minutes). Consuming a high calorie source of nutrition at the top of climbs is important because it helps you avoid any blood sugar drops on the longer descents. You might feel fine when a climb is done, but 20 minutes later you can be in a whole other (fuzzy) world.
Arrive home at 5:00-5:30 and immediately consume two different recovery drinks. The first is water mixed with one scoop of Muscle Armour and 1-2 scoops of Glutamine. Then I make a Myoplex deluxe shake with Rice Milk and 1-2 bananas.
Afterwards I shower and eat dinner around 7:00-7:30 which includes a solid protein source (steak, chicken or fish), starch (quinoa or rice), steamed vegetables, etc.
Probably some more fruit and nuts into the evening. Asleep between 9:30 and 10:00.
Rinse and repeat.