Monday, May 12, 2008

Ironman Training Guidelines

Life is moving waaay too quickly, and I have LOTS to talk about (not me; I never have anything to say) but before I move too far forward, I want to post a little bit about training for an Ironman....not that you asked....and I'm far from the expert on the matter but here's my 2 cents anyway:

These are the guidelines I used in training for Ironman Arizona:

1. Set goal(s).
I had 2--my A goal (to finish and have a good experience) and a B goal if conditions were favorable (to finish in 14 hours). Conditions were not favorable but having 2 goals made it more likely that I would achieve at least one of them.
2. Design your plan (or use a coach; I prefer to make my own).
I read several training plans before concocting my own. I used Joe Friel's Triathlete's Training Bible and Going Long, Paul Huddle and Roch Frey's 24 Weeks to an Ironman, and TCSD's Ironman Coach, Craig Zelent's Ironman Arizona Training Plan ( (simple, easy to follow, invaluable). I also used my previous training plans from my 2 Half-Ironmans as a template. I then worked backwards from the race-date to include:
a) 3-week taper
b) 3-week final build
c) 4 week-structured base periods with the 4th week a recovery week at 50% volume reduction
d) 4-week "Prep" period to introduce my body to regular training and to prepare for Ironman training
This leaves you with a minimum of 12 weeks. Since I was a newbie to the Ironman distance, I had extra time so I could include:
a) an extra "Ironman Prep" period between Prep and Base phases. This just gave my body a little extra time to adjust to the increase in volume. I've heard overtraining is really a result of being undertrained when starting your training plan. I cannot agree more. This extra "Prep" period made it less likely for my body to become overtrained with the unfathomable amount of training I faced.
b) an extra "Base" period. Again, since I was a newbie to the long distances, extra base is ALWAYS good. Also, since it's at a lower intensity, I felt it was relatively safe.
c) having extra time allowed me to alternate my run-heavy and my bike-heavy weeks so I avoided doing the dreaded "death" weekends (100 mile bike Saturday, 20 mile run Sunday--recipe for disaster--of course, I didn't follow my guidelines and did this one weekend anyway for kicks. I paid for it later the following week.).
3. 3 bikes, 3 runs, 3 swims per week (plus 2 weights).
My bikes and runs consisted of 2 shorter rides/runs mid-week (speed, hills, and/or tempo) and a long ride Saturday and long run Sunday. (Again, I alternated between run-focused and bike-focused weeks so when riding 100 miles on Saturday, I would only run 12 on Sunday; when running 20 on Sunday, I only rode 50 on Saturday).
My swims were mostly masters (swimming in the ocean in the winter sucks). I tried to do either a time-trial swim in the ocean or pool every other week but once a month was sufficient as well. Masters swimming was amazing in helping me prepare.
I find I don't really need them. They end up wearing me down too much, and I can't recover in time for my next work-out. However, I'm kind of a freak in that I run really well off the bike.
For those of you that crave bricks, I find it helpful to run for a short period of time after the long bike on bike-heavy weekends (make sure you don't have a 20 mile run planned on Sunday). Start with 10 minutes and work up to no more than 40 minutes. This brick run mostly tests that your pacing, nutrition, and hydration are dialed in on the bike.
Once a month, or every 6 weeks, I swap a mid-week bike and ride for an "Olympic brick". I combine a 20-30 mile time-trial tempo ride with a 4-6 mile brick run at Olympic distance race pace. It's a kick-ass workout that knocks out both a bike and run for the week in a clean swoop. Make sure your next day is an easy one; this one kicks my ass and requires recovery time.
There is a ton of dispute on whether or not to do weights when training for an Ironman. If you are a woman or older athlete, I highly recommend 2 sessions a week 20-40 minutes long. It highly increased my strength and endurance and also went great lengths to help prevent injury. That said, these workouts are the toughest to fit in, and as my training volume increased, these were the first to go, especially in the late phase of the base and build periods. When I was feeling especially tired, I chose to skip weights in favor of Yoga, stretching, or sleep and found this to be more beneficial. Also, reduce weights during the taper and do not lift weights the final 2 weeks before race day.
4. Key Workouts:
Long bike, long run, long swim.
Enough said. All the other workouts are like homework to prepare you for your long workouts. Slowly build each one every week so that you can ride 100 miles and run 20 miles (first-timers). You should be able to swim the entire 4000 meters and hop out of the water feeling fresh.
5. Recovery
I cannot say enough about recovery. I trained really hard, and I recovered hard. I think this is what saved me.
Always take 1 day off per week. Every 4th (3rd if you're feeling really ragged) week should be a recovery week at 50% reduced volume. I took 2 days off (Mon and Fri) during recovery weeks. Also, alternate easy days and hard days to allow ample recovery between workouts.
Plan extra time. You will need more sleep and you will need more food. A ton of both. It will freak you out. Just do it. Do not question the IronBeast that is awakened within. I consumed 3000-4000 cals a day (5'8", 130 lb female) and slept 10 at night and often needed another 90 minute nap as well. It was crazy. I also got a deep tissue massage 1x/week, and it totally saved me. This helped me recover very quickly after my tough weekends. I also stretched almost daily and did Yoga about 1x/week--also very helpful. Icing the lower legs after long runs and compression tights is also useful.

I found these guidelines really worked for me. Below is a spreadsheet of the specific guidelines I used to structure my key workouts in my 22-week IMAZ training plan (click on the image to enlarge it). Hope this helps. Please let me know if you have questions. Good luck to all training for your Ironman! I will be cheering everyone on at Ironman Arizona in November.


Sara said...

wow that is one hell of a training schedule!! After reading one of your posts I borrowed the training bible and loved it. A little "pro" for me but the info was invaluable when preparing my plan.

Kevin said...

Thats alot of great info. I definitely am going to save it all. Thanks for sharing the knowledge gained by your experience

Nikemom said...

Excellent info! I also created my own plan and so far so good! :) You have a great site - I'll add you to my links if that is OK.