The Half Iron distance is the most underrated event in the triathlon world. There’s a gap between what beginners do at the Sprint and Olympic distance level, and then what the most advanced folks do at the Ironman® level.
The 70.3® distance falls right in between these two and is often overlooked. In this blog post, I’ll cover exactly why you should strive for the Half, regardless of your season goals, and how it can become the most important race in your schedule.
Ease of Planning
Finding and picking a race can become incredibly challenging. The bigger the race, typically the more popular it is…and the harder to get into. But the 70.3® distance is much easier to get into…with only a few exceptions.
Signing up for a Half is not only cheaper than signing up for the Full Iron distance, but typically they are much more easily moved. You will also find plenty of non-WTC events at this distance.
The net is you should be able to find a Half Iron distance within driving distance of your town. If something comes up you can easily move that race, and if you can do it you haven’t lost as much money as you would have on the Full.
Multiplicity of Racing Experiences
The best way to gain experience on race day is to race. But when people move up to the Ironman® distance, it’s very hard to put together more than one successful race in a year. Only the strongest and most experienced athletes are able to do that. Professional athletes make it look easy, but I assure you it’s not. Ask anyone who has done two within six months.
When you focus on the Half Iron distance, you can easily put two if not three races into the same calendar year. This gives you an opportunity to improve on your race execution within the same calendar year. Do not underestimate the importance of being able to put your recent lessons learned into practice for better results.
Racing more often makes you a better racer and racing Halfs frequently is simply an easier and more affordable proposition, on many levels.
Most importantly – many of the lessons you will learn are applicable to the other races on your calendar, even the full Ironman®.
There’s a sweet spot of intensity at the Half Iron distance which you typically lose when going longer. We frequently tell new members of Endurance Nation that there’s very little difference between the Half and Full plans, much to their surprise. This is true, because the only difference is the length of the long runs and the long rides.
We still want you to swim an hour, two to three times a week. We still want you to ride your bike three times a week and run four to six times a week. But those two specific sessions – the long bike and the long run – have to move up to match the demands of your Ironman® race day.
Within a Half Ironman® plan, the ride and run portions of your plan will be just long enough, allowing you to sustain a very solid intensity. While it’s very hard to hammer a six hour bike ride, anyone can push themselves really hard for 2 1/2 hours.
In fact, our frequent Sunday ride for our Long Course training plans mimics that specific Half Ironman® intensity. Just hard enough to make it work but not so hard that you can’t get out of bed the next morning and hit your next training session.
Simplicity of Training
One of the biggest complaints the we hear from athletes in the long course training space is that training takes up too much of their time. Of course, many of them are complicit in this problem. While I give you a workout, I’m not the one telling you to skip out on brunch with the in-laws for a training session. That’s all you!
Because the longer weekend workouts are manageable, typically three hours on Saturday, and 90 minutes on Sunday, it’s usually easier easy to fit them into your regular schedule with less impact on the other, more important areas of your life.
If you can hit the bike at 6 AM you’re done by 9 AM and still have a full day. Compare that to someone in a Full Ironman® program who isn’t finished riding until noon at the earliest, and then likely needs a nap.
Longer Isn’t Always Better
While the triathlon community places a significant value on the Ironman® distance, more often than not that event itself is not what helps you become a better athlete. The length of the bike and the run are so great that they dominate not only your yearly training schedule but also require massive recovery times afterwards.
When you focus exclusively on a Half Iron distance you get the benefit of doing the same work on race day that you do every weekend in your training. It’s not only something you’re accustomed to, it’s something that you can easily recover from in a few days.
Opportunity for Drag Racing
One of my personal favorite elements of racing a Half Iron distance is that it’s actually racing. If you have a two loop run course at your next Half, you’ll see that the majority of people are still running in the second lap.
Compare that to an Ironman® race, where 90% of the field is walking or shuffling on that second lap and you’ll see what I mean. Competition at the 140.6 – mile distance is almost exclusively mental over those final miles.
At the Half Iron distance, there’s still some room for surging and strategy, making for a much more exciting and dynamic experience.
More Inviting Race Experience
Depending on the race you choose and the flexibility of the race director, they are typically multiple waves. Not only for different age groups, but often there are both elite and beginner waves. This gives the super speedy people a chance to get out and do their race while not compromising the new folks who want a safe place to start the swim before the rest of their day. Winning!
Thinking of a Multiple Race Year
If you’re committing to a year of Half Iron racing, we recommend between two and 3/2 Iron races in a year. This will allow you to break your year into two distinct parts.
The first part is typically our OutSeason training program into an early-season Half such as Puerto Rico 70.3 or Rev3 Quassy or St. George 70.3. You would do the full winter training plan of 14 weeks and then a condensed version of that Half plan.
This gets you the full benefit of the quality training of the winter without all of the low mileage of the Half plan. You’ll be fit and you’ll be ready to race and you’ll have a great day. You come home, recover for one to two weeks with some light training before you return to the normal progression.
Depending on the proximity of your next race you would either jump into another full 12-week Half plan to your race, or you could pick up one of our intermediary plans ( to focus on the bike, the run, the swim, etc.). By spacing these two events out, you have an opportunity to add more the volume when the weather and conditions are more welcoming. It will also add just enough training diversity in your schedule to allow you to continue to see progress.
One of the biggest evolutions in the triathlon racing calendar has been the growth of the World Championships at the 70.3 distance. If you choose to race WTC events then you have the opportunity of potentially qualifying and competing at the World Championships. Make no mistake about it, the caliber of racing at this level is phenomenal and is worthwhile if you have the funds and the opportunity.
Should you qualify for and decide to race the world championships, then you have some decisions to make about your training. Likely you are a pretty competitive athlete and as such will want to show up in tip top shape.
There are two things that you need to balance here: your chronic fatigue, and peak fitness.
On the chronic fatigue side, being fit enough to qualify means you’ve not only done a great deal training but you’ve also raced at least once if not twice. On the peak side, you’ll have so much fatigue in your system that it will be hard to find an opportunity in which you can actually do additional training required to raise your fitness to the next level.
This is a great opportunity to work with your coach or team to carve out a dedicated space for specific training. Depending on your training load, that might be recovery or that might mean more volume.
The Year of the Half
As you plan out your year and start to connect different races we strongly encourage you to consider the Half / 70.3® distance.
For those of you short course athletes looking to step up, the Half is the perfect opportunity to test yourself against a longer bike and run. For those of you who are competitive at the longer distances, you can use the Half distance to not only make your training manageable from a life perspective but also raise your fitness levels across all three sports to become a better athlete.
Don’t get boxed into a race schedule that someone else chooses – be the first in your training group to pick a cool Half and dare everyone else to race you. It’s all upside!