Many triathletes find themselves pulled inexorably up the distance continuum, from sprint, to Olympic, to half Ironman, to a full Ironman distance triathlon. Training for and racing a 140.6 mile adventure is a significant undertaking, no doubt. Before you make that commitment, we’d like to answer a few common questions we often see from our own athletes:
- Am I ready?
- What race should I do?
- What should I expect, training-wise?
Am I Ready?
Come in a little closer, we’re going to tell you a little secret, but you have to promise to not tell your non-triathlon friends because we want to maintain the mystique and badassness of “Ironman.” Ready? Here it comes:
Ironman really isn’t all that hard
An extremely challenging goal that will require a measure of discipline and commitment beyond what most of our “civilian” lives ask of us — absolutely.
An opportunity to earn a title that is widely recognized as a badge of courage and sacrifice — no doubt.
But when you stand on the Ironman run course as a spectator for the first time, what will strike you is how unremarkable these remarkable people are, as they move towards achieving their extraordinary goal. They are your neighbors, the lady in the grocery store checkout line, the guy fixing your sink. The fact is that tens of thousands of athletes, just like you, have finished an Ironman and history is filled with stories of humans doing far harder things. We’re not as badass as we think we are…just don’t tell anyone!
So the answer to the question “am I ready” is “does training and racing an Ironman sound like something that would be fun for you?”
Now, we’re not saying that Ironman training will always be fun, like fairies, rainbows, and unicorns fun. We mean a fun, interesting, and rewarding challenge for you vs tedious, or “something I feel I have to do because everyone else seems to be doing it.”
If you’re reading this blog post we are very certain that you’re not being paid to race triathlon. Therefore, we believe the answer for you is:
If it sounds like fun, do it. If not, don’t do it. This is all just a game
So if you’re in after reading that sentence above, you’re ready. The rest are just details.
What Race Should I Do?
First of all, there is no such thing as an “easy” Ironman. 140.6 miles makes for a long day, no matter how you slice it. Trust us, no one at mile 20 of the Ironman Florida run (flat bike, flat run, consistent weather) is saying “whew, I’m sure glad I chose to race Ironman Florida! This is soooo easy!” Nope, they all hurt, guaranteed.
Rather the best race for you to do is the one you can train the best for, given how the timing of the event and training works within the flow of your personal, family, and work year. Additional considerations are travel and logistical costs (driving vs flying, $$$$ vs $$$ lodging), family friendliness, etc. In our experience, these are often a function of your geographical location, as this determines the length of your winter, daylight training hours, and proximity to races.
What Should I Expect, Training-wise?
As coaches exclusively of age group triathletes just like you, this is our advice:
Forget the spreadsheets and instead define The Box
The Box is the time that life gives you to train, consistently, each week. Your training MUST fit within this Box. Keep the Box the same size, or smaller, for as long as you can. That is, resist the urge to increase your training load by expanding the Box – increasing training volume – week after week. Instead, manage the details, the individual workouts, that go into this fixed-size Box.
Long Events Benchmarks
Your most important weekly training events within your Box are your long bike and long run. To set your expectation, you will build these to a consistent 4-5hr long bike and about a 2hr long run. Your training plan then is largely a function of building yourself up to these weekly long event volumes over time. Your current fitness, injury state, and running durability will determine how much time it will take you to ramp up to these weekly training events.
What Your Typical Race Preparation Week Will Look Like
When we put these two together, this is a typical Ironman training week you can expect in about the last 10 weeks before your race:
- A ~2hr long run, we recommend this not be on a Sunday
- A ~4hr long bike
- A ~2.5-3hr ride
- An additional 3-4 runs of whatever volume your life allows. That is, the details of the runs, not the volume, is what matters.
- 2-3 swims
Most importantly, don’t schedule your training to meet some arbitrary weekly volume goal. We haven’t schedule to a weekly volume goal since about 2002. Instead, we work to create specific, quality workouts. The volume then is what it is.
But at the end of the day, the answer to the question of “should I transition from a half to a full Ironman” is