This is my first real week of Ironman training, and I realized I haven’t yet shared anything about my training plan, my general approach, or the reasons behind my choices.
Free training plans for long triathlons are a lot harder to come by online than free marathon training plans. When I was deciding on a plan for my half Ironman, I had no idea was I was doing and stumbled on this one from BeginnerTriathlete.com. Since it was free and described a fitness base similar to my own, I decided to follow it. My half Ironman went better than I could have imagined. I felt prepared and strong and had a great (for me!) performance. The same author has written a training plan for a full Ironman. Because his half Ironman plan worked so well for me, I decided to go with his plan for the full Ironman as well.
It’s a basic plan, but it’s varied enough to keep things interesting. Other than swimming, the workouts are measured in time as opposed to distance. The intensity is measured in the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) instead of heart rate or pace. As a low-tech athlete, this is good for me. Most weeks have three sessions of each sport, though there is one short series where each week is focused on a particular sport, meaning you overload on that sport for the week. There are intervals for the bike and run scattered throughout the plan, but there is no true “speed work.” It’s just enough to keep you from spending the whole 20 weeks plodding along at the pace you’ll be doing your Ironman. It’s enough to add some excitement into training and to help your legs remember that they can go faster when necessary.
When I did the half Ironman plan, I did make some changes. First of all, I added time to my long rides. The longest ride in my half Ironman training plan was 3 hours. I basically added 30 minutes to each long ride, so my longest ride was 3.5 hours and brought me over the 56 mile mark. When I started training for the half Ironman, I was a brand-new cyclist. I wasn’t a particularly fast swimmer, but I was comfortable in the water and had swum a mile several times. Because of this, I cut out one swimming session a week and replaced it with a bike ride (or sometimes a run). I also switched the workouts around like crazy. I would look at my week and switch the days around depending on my plans and the weather.
As I approach this Ironman training plan, I intend to extend the long ride again. The training plan starts with a meager 90 minute ride and culminates with a 6 hour ride. I’d like to start out riding at least 2 hours and would also like to have at least one 6.5 or 7 hour ride so that I can hit (or at least get very close to) that 112 mile mark. I also fully intend on moving workouts around. Training for long-distance triathlons takes a lot of time, and it’s hard to fit it all in. I need the flexibility of moving workouts around in order to continue being a real person. I haven’t decided if I will embrace the three swims a week or not yet. The swim is actually the portion of the race that I feel most confident about right now. It’s so short compared to the other two disciplines that even a surprisingly bad performance will only lose me 20 minutes or so, which makes me wonder if I should take some of that energy and put it towards the unknowns of running and cycling. Then again, I don’t have an explicitly weak leg like I did when training for my half Ironman, and swimming is a nice, low-impact way to build aerobic capacity that offers some recovery for my legs. I plan to start out swimming the full three times a week with the understanding that I can switch that up and start replacing one of those swims with something else if I decide to later. The last change I’m making is the addition of strength training. I will continue working on hip, glute, and core strength throughout the 20 week plan. I’m not sure if I will continue to do as much strength work as I have been doing (almost 2 hours a week) or if I’ll cut it back. I hope to be able to cut it back, simply for reasons of time management, but I also want to make sure my knee holds up through the process, and that may mean spending more time than I would prefer working on strength.
As I look through the approaching weeks of Ironman training, I actually find myself feeling excited. After my emotional and physical crash-and-burn at the end of this winter, I was worried I would be over Ironman training before it even started. Sure, I am worried sick about my knee holding up for the running portion. But I’m so excited for long bike rides—climbing canyons and exploring new routes and eating all the Honey Stinger waffles*. I’m excited for summer to hit so I can explore all lakes I didn’t explore last year because they were too far away. I’m looking forward to getting stronger and working harder.
This whole Ironman thing has kind of been a crazy ride already. And it’s about to get a little crazier.
*Seriously, I am in love with those things. And I’ve only had the strawberry flavor so far, which probably isn’t even the best.