Season Planning for the First Time Ironman

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FirstTimeFinish™ Program logoThis is an excerpt of the first chapter of Endurance Nation’s upcoming eBook for first time Ironman® competitors. The book will be released to subscribers of the Endurance Nation Weekly Update newsletter in early March, 2014. Sign up for the newsletter using the form below to receive your free copy of the eBook. 

So you’ve registered for your first Ironman, very likely a year in advance of the event(!) and are wondering “what do I do now??!!”

For now, forget periodization, mesocycles, microcycles, and other triathlon training mumbo jumbo. We’d like to take a moment to get your mind right, sharing with you the big picture, season planning perspective that we’ve learned through nearly 25 years of Ironman® coaching and have applied to the seasons of over 1000 Ironman® finishers per year since 2010

The “It’s On!” Day

Open up your calendar and go to the date of your first Ironman. Now, count backwards about 12-14 weeks and put a big red “X” on that Monday. This is your It’s On Day, the day on which you officially start training for your first Ironman. Until this date you are NOT training for your Ironman. By this, we mean feet on the floor at 5am, head in a space where you think the workout you are doing, today, is preparing for your first Ironman. You don’t want your head in that space until about 12 to 14 weeks out.

Up until your IOD, you are simply training to train. Or, more specifically, you’ve placed smaller, intermediary, and fun races or training events on your calendar and you are training for these smaller goals, not your Ironman. You’re racing Ironman® Wisconsin, for example, the first week of September. So you train for and race a holiday 10k, then a February half marathon, followed by a fun spring century with your friends. From there you transition to focusing on the first local Olympic in May, or that half Ironman® in early June. You then wake up on June 16th, twelve weeks out from Ironman® Wisconsin, and officially begin training for Madison.


Training for an Ironman, especially your first, can be very consuming, often bordering on obsessive. So our method is to trick you into believing you are not training for Ironman® Wisconsin until June 16th. Of course, as you move from fun event to fun event you absolutely are building your Ironman® fitness but you’re doing so in a manner the conserves your head for when you’ll really need to begin to engage it — twelve weeks out from your race.

Volume is Not the Goal

Since you already have your calendar out, let’s now focus our discussion on how to manage a training week. You’re going to divide your week into Weekday Training Hours and Weekend Training Hours.

Weekday Training Hours

If you’re like 95% of the age groupers we coach, the hours you have available to train during the week are relatively fixed and are determined by real-world constraints and commitments: your job, family, commute, your own personal training logistics, etc.

For this reason, you don’t try to flex, or increase, your weekday training hours across your season. These hours remain relatively fixed and your Wednesday morning run, for example, is always 45 minutes because 45 minutes works for you. It is repeatable, week after week, month after month. And so it’s locked at 45 minutes and you manage the details within that fixed 45 minute run.

Weekend Training Hours

Your weekend hours, by contrast, are slightly more flexible and you likely have more of them — you can apply bigger chunks of time to your training on a Saturday or Sunday than to a weekday.

Despite that, however, you’re still going to keep your weekend training hours relatively fixed up until your It’s On Day (IOD). Your weekend training hours must fit within the box your life says is repeatable, sustainable, and with a low mental and lifestyle cost, week after week.

And so your Saturday ride 16-20 weeks out from Ironman® Wisconsin is two hours, or three hours, or maybe even only ninety minutes, not because of some train-ey, train-ey reason, or because a spreadsheet says so, but because this is a number that is repeatable, sustainable, and carries a low mental and lifestyle cost. You simply keep the volume fixed and manage the details within that fixed volume.

To receive EN’s Crossing the Line: Everything You Need to Know About Racing Your First Ironman® But Were Afraid To Ask eBook, register for the Endurance Nation Weekly Update newsletter. We’ll send the eBook directly as soon as it’s released. 


Coach P

All stories by: Coach P

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