Deca Dave’s Deca Training Guide

I have done (in distance order)

  • 1 x 20 Ironman distance triathlon in 20 days,
  • 3 x 10 Ironman distance triathlons as 1 per day, for 10 days
  • 2 x Continuous Deca
  • 9 Triple Ironman distance triathlons
  • 6 Double Ironman distance triathlons
  • Numerous single Ironmans (Ironmen?)

I have also experience in ultra distance running and fell (mountain) racing as well as perhaps another 50 or 60 marathons.

  • In 2011 I ran 1357 from London to Rome in 30 days .
  • I have fastest time of 2 hrs 35 mins for marathon,
  • 8.59 for Ironman
  • 20.36 for Double
  • 39.40 for Triple
  • 239 hours for continuous Deca ( prior to Buchs 2017 !!!!!),
  • 122 hours for 10 in 10 days
  • 252 hours for 20 in 20 days.

That represents quite a lot of experience !!  From which, here are some of the insights that I have developed. The order of importance that follows will probably surprise many people.

The list begins with the most important priority first :-

Your feet: If you don’t prepare and look after your feet, your chances are greatly diminished. A Deca is hard enough without having to bear the extra pain of blisters. My methodology is to start a few weeks before a race to bathe my feet in surgical spirit each day. This toughens up the skin. Then during the race to use surgical spirit every day, but also to put lubricant (Vaseline) on all the areas that are prone to friction.. I didn’t get a single blister in the 20 Ironman race after previously in my life suffering very badly with them.

Nutrition: If you don’t eat and drink adequately, you will also have little chance of success. In the 20 Ironman race , we estimated that I ate 8000 calories per day and that still wasn’t enough . Even more than in single races , you must eat and drink from the very beginning before you feel even slightly hungry or thirsty. It is important to find out what food and drink you can tolerate and digest at different intensities of effort. I only eat real food in Deca event ( no gels etc)

The Mental side: Having your mind prepared to tolerate the solitude, pain , discomfort, monotony is even more important than the physical training. At the pre-race ceremony, you often get a good idea who is likely to finish by the way that they are thinking and talking. Your success is decided by how you deal with the inevitable dark moments , not by how fast you can ride a bike.

Support Crew: This is really vital. You are a team in the Deca and the athlete is only part of this team. It is key that you understand each other’s roles and formulate a plan for various scenarios. The athlete can be a state of extreme fatigue and needs a support crew whom he trusts to take decisions for him/her. It is crucial man management of when to encourage or listen and when to be firm. The support crew’s sole agenda needs to be to get you to the finish line as quickly as possible for the length of the race.

The training :This really depends on a lot of factors. Do you want to complete a Deca …. Or compete in the Deca ? the ‘L’ is very important and makes a huge difference. The training is also different for a continuous Deca as opposed to one per day.

If your only goal is to complete a one per day Deca , I think that you can do a lot less training than if you want to race and to achieve your best possible time. In 2016, I did not really train that hard and arrived in Buchs needing a few days of the race until I felt fit. Richard Widmer and Rait Ratasepp arrived fit and ready to race hard from the first minute. For example , in January 2016 I only cycled 3 times ( total of 113 miles) but I gradually built up each month, roughly an extra 100 miles each month. I think that cycling is the key discipline and this training left me ready to complete the Double Deca , but not ready to race.

I was running perhaps 40km per week and only swimming 4 or 5 times per month. This was enough to be quite fit and healthy to complete the race, but not ready to perform to the best level of which I may be capable.
I feel for the faster athletes that the continuous race is much harder than one per day. In the one per day format, it is the slower athletes who become sleep deprived and this is a massive consideration. I was able to go back to the hotel, have a relaxing bath and a big meal each evening, followed by 7 or8 hours in bed. This makes a big difference.
In the continuous race with a 14 day cut off ,it is the slower athletes who just wish to finish in 14 days who can enjoy this luxury. They can virtually cycle at average 12 or 13mph and walk the 262 miles , taking 6 or more hours sleep per night and still finish in time . For the faster athletes , it is a fine calculation of how little sleep they can take and yet still manage to function to finish the race in 8-10 days. So it is more important for them to arrive at the start line feeling healthy rather than highly trained.

For this 2017 continuous Deca race I have trained much harder and longer. I have had an Achilles injury from December to June, so have limited my running. The focus has been on cycling, where I have been covering approximately 1000miles per month. I do not to ultra long rides ( none of more than 100 miles) but often do 80 or 90 miles on consecutive days. I consider that this gives you the training benefit of cycling on tired legs without the risk of injury or illness that would occur by doing 200 mile bike rides when very tired.

I am also a great believer in speed work. I can almost tell what my long distance performance will be based on how fast I can run 5km. For cycling I take a club indoor bike interval class every week ( 36 sessions between October-May) where a typical session may include 10 x 2 minutes at 90% of max heart rate with 2 minute recoveries. My typical power output in this period for a 4 minute interval has changed in 7 months from 250 watts to 320 watts. ( I am a lightweight rider , 62kg, who does not generally rely on power). I do one session like this per week, together with 4 or 5 other rides for a weekly total between 250 and 300 miles. This is the key area of training for the continuous Deca , where I will probably attempt to cycle for 20-21 hours per day, sleeping maybe from midnight until 3am.

I have also increased swimming for the continuous Deca to 15km per week and have included several swims of 2-3 hours. This weekend ( 1/7/17) I will do a kind of Ironman , which is 11km swim , 100km bike, 42km run. Th idea is for all 3 disciplines to take a similar amount of time .

My running this year has been limited by injury, but again I do not think it necessary to do many runs over the marathon distance. The risk of injury, fatigue or illness is too great. I would also recommend short races and interval training as well as long slow runs.

I always feel that a key concept in ultra training is to not follow a strict 6 month plan, but rather to listen to your body and take rest when you need it. Being 58 years old, I am very aware of the importance of adequate rest. Living in the UK, our weather is very unpredictable, so if we get a spell of good weather I will just cycle, cycle and cycle. Swim and run can be done in any weather but cycling in bad weather has little pleasure and again can lead to illness.

I always have an easy period each year after a big race and then gradually build the training load. My peak month will be July when I will probably cycle 2000km, swim 70km and run 200km, before easing off in the 2 weeks before the race. I am very lucky in that I am a Personal Trainer and do a fair amount of my training with clients. This level of training is not necessary to complete a Deca , but is necessary if you wish to have a chance to perform at your best. Previously I have done Ironman races with just 7-8 hours of training per week.