Found on Ironman.com and written by Mike Ricci
Leading into race-specific training, you need to make sure you’re ready to train for the distance and challenge of an IRONMAN race. American and two-time IRONMAN World Championship winner Tim DeBoom called this preparation, “training to be able to train.” The key training period lands about 12 weeks out from race day, and you need to be fit going into this period. The training you do in those six to eight months leading up to that period will allow you to be able to train specifically for your IRONMAN event. Starting this far out will give you time to practice a few race simulations, make corrections on nutrition, pacing, and mental skills.
So what does training six months out from your race look like? Here are my top five recommendations for what to focus on leading into your IRONMAN.
1. Consistency in training
There is nothing more important in IRONMAN training than consistency. Getting in the required number of sessions each week is paramount in improving. When my athletes keep their weekly sessions consistent, we see steady improvement. Whether it’s four swim, bike and run sessions per week or a certain number of hours, yards or miles, consistency is the most important part of improvement.
Huge swings in the number of sessions, hours and mileage can set athletes up for injury and ultimately failure. In his bestselling book Great by Choice, Jim Collins talks about the 20-mile march. It’s a term coined from the ultimate race to discover the South Pole. With dwindling food supplies and ferociously cold weather, this was a matter of life and death. The team that consistently went 20 miles every day ultimately won the race and lived to tell about it. This applies not only to athletics, but to business and academics as well.
2. Test yourself often
Consistent testing helps you understand how your training is going. If you’ve been doing fitness assessments and don’t see an improvement, then you need to change your training. Why? Because what you’re doing isn’t working.
The tests I recommend are as follows:
- Swim: A 1000 or 2000-meter straight swim for best effort. Most people can push pretty hard for 1000 meters, but 2000 meters is another animal. There’s no place to hide a bad swim stroke over 25 to 45 minutes.
- Bike: Here I like to see athletes do longer testing, such as 12 miles or 30 minutes straight. Like the 1000-meter swim TT, I think it’s less difficult to go hard on a 20-minute power or threshold heart rate test than it is a 30-minute (or 10 to 12 mile) effort.
- Run: Running hard for 30 minutes (or some equivalent mileage) is quite different. One is a straight up 30-minute run test (a 10k can be substituted here). Another test would be a solid IRONMAN 70.3 effort for an hour off of a long bike ride. The longer the test the better as it will get closer to simulating your race.
3. Include a mix of intensities in your key workouts
Although an IRONMAN race is an endurance event where you’ll stay mainly aerobic for 112 miles, you need to train all your energy systems. The closer you get to the race, the more race-specific your workouts should be. At 24 weeks out, you can mix up things with a dose of VO2, threshold and tempo workouts. As the saying goes, “a rising tide raises all boats”– if you can improve VO2, then lactate threshold will follow. If you can improve lactate threshold, then your speed and power will improve at your aerobic effort as well.
Key workouts that I recommend are as follows:
- Swim: Two longer sets of 200s or 500s. A set of 20 x 200s with short rest is great to help work on pacing and endurance. Also, a set of 8 x 500 is a little tougher mentally, and closer to IRONMAN pace. The one swim I think we underestimate is the straight swim. I love to have my athletes swim a 3000 or 4000 yard straight swim. This could be 1000 free, right into 1000 with pull buoy, right into 1000 with pull buoy and paddles and finally right into 1000 with a pull buoy, paddles, and band.
- Bike: Key workouts I like are longer intervals like 4 x 12 minutes, with 8 minutes at tempo effort (IRONMAN 70.3 pace) and 4 minutes at threshold (Olympic effort). Another great workout is riding a steady intensity for 2 to 3 hours and finishing at a tempo effort for the final 20 to 30 miles.
- Run: Key workouts should include tempo runs and tempo finishes to long runs, just like on the bike. So, a 90-minute long run may finish with 30 minutes of tempo. Or you could insert 3 x 15 minutes at tempo into a longer 90-minute to two-hour run. The options are endless, but you get the point: work on improving your economy at the mid range intensities of tempo/Zone 3 efforts.
4. Tailor your training to what you need (and not what you think you should be doing)
Weekly volume ultimately depends on the athlete and how much time he or she has to train. In addition, if you find yourself 24 weeks out from race day and feel as though your bike fitness is lacking due to riding indoors for the past 3 to 4 months, then maybe you focus on the bike for four to eight weeks. That means cycling make take up to 60 to 75 percent of your training time for that period. For an athlete who is working full-time with a family and busy schedule, you may only get in 1.5 hours a day on the weekdays and three to five hours on the weekends. This would give you 10 to 12 hours a week to train.
One of the most important lessons I learned in my early days of coaching isn’t how time you train, but what you do with the time you do have to train. Making workouts count with key workouts, consistency, and learning to run strong after hard bike workouts will do you a world of good versus heaps of easy volume that doesn’t target any specific weakness you have.
5. Create a week that’s repeatable
Below, I’ve put together a sample week for an athlete who is six months out from their IRONMAN race. This is the basic template I’ve used successfully for many years with my athletes.
Monday – Long swim, weights
Tuesday – Quality bike session, run off the bike
Wednesday – Tempo swim, weights
Thursday – Quality run session, recovery bike
Friday – Recovery swim or off
Saturday – Quality bike with tempo workout, run off the bike with specific HR and pacing targets.
Sunday – Long run, with specific pace and HR targets, recovery bike
Totals for the week:
Swimming (3-4 swims): 3 hours
Bike (4 rides): 4.5 – 7 hours
Run (4 runs): 3 – 4.5 hours
Strength (2 sessions): 1.5 hours
Total: 10.5 to 16 hours
While there’s no perfect plan for anyone, the important thing to remember this far out from your IRONMAN race is that you’re working on parts of your training that need focus. You don’t want to get to the final 12 week build and realize you aren’t strong on hills or haven’t done enough run mileage.
Train consistently, test every four to six weeks, insert different intensities into your plan, tailor your training to what you need, and build a training week that’s repeatable and achievable week after week. Follow these five focal points to help you get ready before the real training begins.
Mike Ricci is the founder and head coach at D3multisport.