Training For Your First Ironman
Congratulations! Perhaps you have signed up for your first full Ironman or you are thinking about it, either way it’s a big, exciting endeavor that requires proper planning so that you can maximize your training and achieve your goal. As a coach who has helped many triathletes complete their first Ironman races and even qualify for Ironman World Championship, here are my pointers for getting ready for your first Ironman.
Commit to consistency
Training for a full Ironman takes a good amount of time that requires you to be committed and consistent. And that training time means time away other things, such as evening events, friends, and even family time. The commitment to consistent training requires that you have the support of every one in your support team.
Ultimately it comes down to a decision. Do you want to be an Ironman or not? If yes, then you need to commit to the work, day in and day out. If no, then consider signing up for a shorter race. Shorter races don’t make you less of a triathlete. Shorter races make you a different triathlete. Not every triathlete needs to (or can) do a full Ironman. And that’s okay. But if you sign up for an Ironman, then you need to be ready to take the time and do the work.
Win the Morning
Early morning workouts are a good backbone for Ironman training. If you have a full personal life or a busy work life or both, then you know how tired you can be in the afternoon or evening. If your long training days are on the weekends, then waking up early during the week to do 60-90 minutes of training before life gets going is a good goal. Just know that if you plan to wake up early to train, you need to go to bed early and it is beneficial to set your training gear, nutrition, and hydration out before you go to bed.
Nail the Basics
If you can do the following things consistently, then you are doing better than most triathletes. This is very simple, but it is not easy.
Daily nutrition & hydration — eat healthy 80% of the time, eat for fun 20% of the time. Supporting your training sessions with proper fueling an hydration is key, stay hydrated throughout the day, and get in nutrition immediately after your training sessions.
Prioritize sleep and recovery — Aim for at least 7 hours a night, 8+ is better. While you sleep, your body is producing human growth hormone and repairing your body.
Strength training 2x a week (most of the time) — For endurance athletes, strength training isn’t about building bulk, it is about improving neural pathways and building muscular endurance. Strength training can be part of your regular workouts: riding or running up hill; big gear, low cadence work on the bike trainer, and swimming with paddles. A lot can be done with a pull up bar, 25 pound dumbbells, mini bands, and dryland swim cords. Include exercises such as pull ups, squats, hamstring curls, lunges, push ups, and a lot of core work.
Mobility work (every day) — You can only train and race as well as you can move. Regular daily work with a foam roller and massage gun and dynamic warm ups and warm downs around your workouts make positive impacts on being able to do the training you need to do.
Fix your weaknesses
I have coached athletes who have signed up for an Ironman without a bike and/or unable to swim. If you have an obvious weakness then it needs to be addressed really early and often. For these athletes, we immediately worked with our bike fitters to find a good bike and we had regular one-on-one swim sessions and enrolled in the Swim Foundations class.
Work with a coach
A good triathlon coach is well worth the financial investment. A good triathlon coach ought to tell you if your Ironman goal is realistic based on your schedule, lifestyle, and strength/weaknesses. Your coach should also be able to make you a very good training program that is adaptable, fits into your schedule, and stretches you as an athlete. Your coach should also help you determine your heart rate and power zones, guide you in nutrition & hydration practices, and give you the resources and tools to help you flatten the learning curve when it comes to long course racing.
Congratulations again on signing up for an Ironman! If you have any questions about training and racing Ironman or you are interested in coaching, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jim Rowe is a Playtri Level 4 Coach and Coach Education Lead, a USAT LI Certified Coach, and NASM Certified Personal Trainer who works with adult athletes of all abilities from beginners to IRONMAN World Championship qualifiers. Learn more about Jim at www.playtri.com/jim-rowe.