David McNamee top speed tips for Ironman

With two Ironman World Championship podium finishes under his belt David McNamee has established himself as the greatest British male Ironman in history and is aiming for more Kona podium success in 2019. But what advice does the former ITU racer have for increasing your Ironman speed? Over to you David...

David McNamee celebrates his third place at Kona 2018. Credit: Getty Images for Ironman

Increase your VO2

Two months ahead of my main Ironman race, I do an intense run speed block. This involves getting the speed very high and then switching to race-specific pace as the event approaches. People get confused as to why Ironman athletes work on their speed, but if you make your V02 levels [the maximal volume of oxygen that the body can deliver to the working muscles per minute] as high as possible they just drag everything else up. The rhythm of my running feels really easy at Ironman pace after doing intense work, and the corresponding heart rate is lower.


Kick before T1

During an Ironman swim, I do the first 400/500m pretty hard with a strong leg kick but then I go to a two-beat leg kick until the last 100m. I then increase my kick to get more blood flowing into my legs. Your arms are so tired that they’ll appreciate that. And because you’ve changed your focus, it switches you mentally back on, which is great for T1.

Try reverse polarisation

For the Ironman swim, I do a block of speedwork three months before the race and nearer to the event I’ll go more towards race-pace training – it’s called reverse polarisation. So right now, ahead of April’s Ironman South Africa, I’m doing speedwork in the pool – a mixture of 50s and 100s – and I’ll do that for a four-week block of two sessions a week.

Get fitted

Find a good bike fit by a respected fitter. A pair of fancy wheels will make you a little faster – maybe a couple of minutes over an Ironman – whereas a good bike fit can make you 10/15mins quicker. If people can afford it then a power meter is another great investment, especially as there’s a database of training sessions on the web that you can use. I do all my riding using a power meter.

Rinse with carbs

For really intense swim sessions in the morning, I use the Unit Rinse carbohydrate mouth rinse. When I know I’m at the limit I just don’t want to eat or drink anything, but it just gives me that extra energy to keep going. It’s a carb mouth rinse that you swirl around in your mouth for 5-10secs and then you swallow it (you can spit it out, but at the pool that’s maybe not advisable!).

Carb rinsing: can it really improve your athletic performance?

Pace your swim

Everyone goes fast at the start of an Ironman swim. I don’t see any problem going out fast for the first 100/200m because you’ve got so much nervous energy and it’s good to just get rid of that, especially in an endurance event. But people try and maintain that speed for too long; after the first couple of minutes you need to switch it off and go straight into your Ironman pace.

Don’t underestimate the turbo

It’s often neglected by Ironman athletes but throughout the year I always keep some sort of speedwork on the bike. Generally I like to be outside but I’ve started doing more on the turbo because of the weather. There are so many pros and cons to both, but you can get real quality from using the turbo. It’s best to have one that you can set a resistance on, like a Smart Trainer.

Use your TT bike

I do much more race-pace stuff on the TT bike towards Ironman race day. I see a lot of people riding a TT as if it were a road bike, but you really need to get familiar with a tri-specific set-up if you’re planning to use one on race day.

Mix up your runs

Right now I might do a session every two weeks on the road, but there’s solid running trails here in Girona [where David’s currently training] that I do two to three runs a week on. Then once a week I go out off-piste, running into the hills to build strength, especially in the off-season. I also do one session a week on the treadmill and incorporate some speedwork on it; the treadmill is a great piece of equipment for leg speed.

David McNamee’s top Ironman training tips and sessions

70.3 bike tips and sessions from David McNamee

Key Ironman training sessions from 3 stars of Kona 2017


Thanks to Huub Design for giving us access to these top athletes for this article, which was published in issue 363.