You’ve signed up for your first Ironman, and it’s 6-8 months away, so it’s just like doing an Olympic or half ironman distance race, only longer – right? Not quite; the training required, the distance travelled and the actual time to complete the event means that many things have to be adjusted. There have been many articles written regarding the day to day physical training required to successfully complete the 140.6 mile event. The follow article focuses on planning for the other considerations that are equally important when embarking on the journey to your first Ironman.
As you progress through a workout schedule, your weekly training volume will gradually increase the closer you get to the event. Keep in mind this is a gradual process and by the time the ironman is 2-3 months away, this can be between 15 and 20 hours per week of physical activity. If you have a family, the support of everyone is required: it really becomes a team event when looking after daily life such as chores, children, pets and the training on top of it.
Before you commit to the Ironman, it’s good to have a meeting with everybody whose lives will be affected, to lay out the process and what the weeks will look like. While the training seems very personal, if you can include your family and friends in the journey in ways they like to help, you will create a strong support network where everybody feels valued. Ironman preparation isn’t always the glamorous riding on the Queen K that is shown in magazines. The miles have to be logged and your family will need to be behind you all the way. Give them lots of positive feedback for their help and show how much it means to you that they are with you on your journey.
Come race week, there are scores of Support Teams everywhere, wearing matching T-Shirts, putting up signs and doing everything they can to motivate, cheer you through the day! Of course this will be rewarded by a nice vacation after your day.
Just as important, there is your source of income to fit in there as well – most athletes will be working at their usual career! Whether you have a flexible work schedule or not, you can project forward and plan training around your job, such as designing a mid-week day that allows you to get in a longer bike session, or finding a pool close to work to get in a noon swim.
There are different ways to approach an Ironman, but depending on the needs of the athlete, a build in volume can begin 6 to 8 months before the event. During this time, a weekly regimen of 2 or 3 workouts of each sport 60-90 minutes in duration is sufficient to maintain fitness levels and lay the foundation for the upcoming increased workload. Avoid the temptation to over think with “put time in the bank” early training. It is common to see athletes sign up for an IRONMAN and immediately obsess over the event that is a year away, only to lose focus during the crucial final months prior to the race. Another important point to bear in mind is weather and seasons. If you live in the northern latitudes and Canada, the earlier the race is in the year, the longer the indoor trainer and, possibly, treadmill workouts will be. Be mentally prepared for cold weather training!
As this is your first time gearing up for the distance, you will be constantly seeking information and advice. Every new session will raise more questions to ponder and analyze. Resources may be a friend who has done one race (or many) or a training group full of experienced triathletes. They are invaluable sources of information of what went right during training and on race day, what they would do again, and most importantly, what is not to be repeated.
Hiring a coach is pretty commonplace now. A coach isn’t just for professional athletes; everyone can benefit from the coach’s expertise as they provide the guidance to help all levels achieve their goals, whether it’s someone who wants to podium or just make the time cut off. Using an athlete’s skill set and fitness level they will design a program that will safely and effectively prepare you for the IRONMAN. Along the way they will help you avoid the pitfalls of the ‘do it yourself’ approach. There are many levels of coaching based on involvement, feedback and experience, from a basic 20 Week IRONMAN workout template on a website, to a unique one on one program with daily analysis of the athletes training data. Fees charged for these services are priced accordingly.
Typically the IRONMAN distance triathlete doesn’t need any more gear than required to race shorter events. There is no unique piece of equipment for IRONMAN except storage to carry extra nutrition and spare tubes. If the IRONMAN is your very first triathlon, equipment costs will be significant; you’ll need a wetsuit and all related swimming gear, a bicycle with aero bars, specific cycling clothing and running shoes. Don’t despair; some of your cycling gear can do double duty for running.
For the longer distance events like IRONMAN, being able to remain in the most aerodynamic position possible for extended periods is important. I recommend getting a proper bike fit part way into the season to enable the athlete to achieve a balance between aerodynamics and comfort. Don’t forget to include wear and tear into your budget: all the training miles required for the bike and run means you will certainly need to replace parts. This can include bike tires, tubes, drive train (chain and cassette) and shift/brake cables. In the grand scheme of this event, being stuck on the side of the road as a result of a $5 inner tube or derailleur cable failure isn’t worth it. Count on multiple pairs of running shoes, along with swim goggles. Include the ancillary comfort details like Body Glide and chamois butter.
Fueling for the IRONMAN is considered the 4th discipline. You will eat more as you train: one of the benefits of the long hours building base is that you will burn pretty much all the calories you consume. Be aware; day to day dietary requirements will increase slightly, but replenishing and maintaining energy stores for each of the day’s workouts increases significantly.
Longer sessions need frequent and consistent nutrition and finding the right sport nutrition product and quantity is a critical part of your training. Being comfortable and able to digest food when in the aero position for an extended period of time is crucial. You have to train your stomach to handle the nutrition on race day, so preparing with what you will be using during your IRONMAN is an ongoing process. During a typical weekend which includes a swim, a multi hour bike ride and long run, an athlete can go through 8-10 bottles of sport drink, 4-6 bars and 10-12 gels. It adds up, but skimping on training nutrition is not an option!
Looking after yourself
Bumping up your training from the shorter race distances places higher demands on the body to repair and rebuild itself. In addition to important recovery weeks, schedule a regular massage to help your muscles and tendons cope with the added mileage. At the very least, a foam roller and Epsom Salt baths are soothing to the body. You also may need additional dietary supplements to help your body manage. Having a professional in your corner will mean you can attend to any niggles or flare ups that occur.
Living north of the 49th parallel typically means outdoor riding doesn’t begin in earnest until March. And even then, for the next few months inclement weather can upset a weekend of training. Consider travelling to somewhere warmer for a training camp to get some early season volume.
There are benefits to checking the course out prior to race day. Getting to know the “lay of the land” under the guidance of an expert, will remove some of the stress during race week. For IRONMAN Canada and other races, LifeSport holds annual training Camps prior. Actual riding and running on the course will give you an idea what to expect and will generate ownership of a great race day experience. There is only so much you can get from magazines and the web.
You will be training your body and mind for the IRONMAN and like many long distance events, you won’t actually race the entire distance beforehand. It does help to include several running only events, as well as a half IRONMAN race to practice race skills, evaluate your fitness and to smooth the wrinkles of race day execution.
The race venue itself is exciting. It’s tough to avoid the temptations of the Race Expo, especially for your first event. There are T-shirts, race clothing, mugs and everything you can think of to put the M-Dot logo on. Include this in your budget.
Prime places to stay IRONMAN race week are generally in short supply. Beside hotels and bed & breakfasts, Air BnB, VRBO and other travel sites are great for families or groups of triathletes. Advance planning for accommodation can often mean less stress and a better rate: places often raise their rates for the week and/or require a seven day stay.
And of course, last but not least, once you have finished your very first IRONMAN, there is that very good possibility that you will stand in line to sign up for next year’s race!
LifeSport coach Dan Smith has coached beginner and top age group athletes to success at 70.3 and IRONMAN distance races for over 15 years. He is an IRONMAN Age Group champion, and 3x Kona and XTERRA World Championship finisher.
Beginner and experienced triathletes looking to start or improve their performances are invited to join the LifeSport team. Visit us on the web at www.LifeSportCoaching.com or email LifeSport Coaching at coach@LifeSportCoaching.com.