Approach Your First Time Ironman with R.I.G.O.R.

66 64 Coach P

The journey to your first Ironman® finish line is full of unseen challenges and amazing rewards. It’s one of the few times in your adult life that you will work really, really hard for something that matters to you. So much of what we do is focused on other people or other commitments. But signing up for an Ironman® is 100% a personal decision that can positively or negatively affect the next twelve months of your life. Ask yourself—are you prepared to make the most of this opportunity?

Ironman® is like an iceberg—the race is the pinnacle that we can all see and identify with. Below the shimmering surface, there are the countless setbacks, hidden costs, and physical and emotional challenges that each and every competitor faces. For most first time Ironman® athletes, simply making it to the starting line is a victory in its own right. We want to help you achieve your goal, and to conquer the demons and challenges that lurk in the shadows. Here is how we recommend you handle your first Ironman.

What Is Endurance Nation?
Endurance Nation is the world’s largest online triathlon Team. Every year our athletes complete more than 1,000 Ironman® events. In other words, we work with more triathletes in a year than most coaches will do in their entire coaching career. Our scale means that we have compiled countless data points, race reports and feedback from our athletes to improve how we coach. This knowledge and experience is something that benefits all of our athletes; we frequently share our insights with the broader triathlon community as a means of giving back. You can learn more about Team Endurance Nation online here:


How to Prepare with R.I.G.O.R.

Step One: Register

It sounds silly, but this is often the hardest part of the process. First you have to deal with deciding to actually do an Ironman, but after that you need to find a way to register. For many events, the only way to truly guarantee acceptance is to travel and volunteer at the race. Waiting until online registration could see you locked out!

Then you need to pick the race that you want to do. Do you want it to be close to home or a destination event? Will you have time to train in the summer or not? If you sign up for an early season Ironman, will you be able to get the training done if you have a brutal winter? When will work be the most flexible? One of the beginner-friendly venues like Florida or Ironman® Arizona? Or one of the more challenging courses such as Ironman® Wisconsin or Ironman® Lake Placid? Do you want to do a race that many of your friends or teammates will be doing? Or is this entirely a solo undertaking?

Answering these questions will help you make sure have the right race set for the right time.

Step Two: Ignore the Race

The absolute worst thing you can do when you sign up for an Ironman® is wake up the next day at 5am, put your feet on the floor, and start training with an eye towards the race. Twelve months is a very…long…time…to focus on just one goal. Very few athletes have the mental and physical stamina required for such an undertaking.

We suggest you break the season down into manageable chunks of time. You can pick several events or even schedule training weekends, both as a means of keeping you on the path of building your fitness.

Inside Endurance Nation, we don’t focus on the actual race itself until it is twelve weeks away. Until that time, we are taking several incremental steps. Each of these steps is geared towards preparing you, not to race, but to complete the final twelve weeks of your training to the best of your ability. These final weeks are critical!

Step Three: Get Strong

Endurance Nation kicks off each season in either November or January with our OutSeason® Training Plans. First created in Fall of 2008, these plans are designed to help you build critical physical and mental strength on the bike and the run. There is minimal swimming (by design) and a fanatical focus on work done at threshold, with tons of recovery. The average training week ranges between six to ten hours of training, with two complete days off on Monday and Friday.

We focus on quality training in the Winter for several reasons. First, the winter is no time to be outside logging long hours, the weather is poor, daylight is hard to find, and the odds of you becoming sick or burnt out are really, really high. Second, as an Ironman® athlete your race-specific training is focused around volume (long, slow distance) so we save that for the final twelve weeks to your race. Third, when the volume goes up, your ability to do the training required to get faster (and to be able to absorb it) drops almost down to zero.

So if you frequently spend three to four hours on the trainer on Saturdays in the winter, watching old tapes of the Tour de France and sprinting every time Phil Liggett says “He’s on the rivet!!!!”, please power down and refocus on what matters!


Step Four: Openings for Volume

While most of our training is built on training efficiency and time-management (do only the work you need to do, nothing more), your Ironman® will still require you to have experience with going long. As you plan out your season, we recommend that you plan for any one of the following events along the way:

  • A Half Ironman – This is a great chance to put your race strategy and fitness to the test. Plus you can deal with some of the stress inherent in traveling to and racing a proper event. There is a cost in terms of both money and “losing” a weekend of training, but the upside is truly worth it. Ideally you’d aim for a Half Ironman® anywhere from 14 up to 8 weeks before your “A” race.
  • A Cycling Century – Riding long is a skill unto itself, a veritable exercise in strength, pacing and nutrition. Find a local ride or event that you can use to get one or more long rides done. These are typically well supported and offer a low-stress way to eliminate some of that long ride anxiety you might be experiencing. You can do such a ride anywhere up to 6 weeks before your “A” race.
  • A Training Weekend / Camp – Endurance Nation runs several race-specific training camps on select courses each season. These are a great opportunity to do your key long workouts in a group setting and on the course you will be racing. By the end of the camp you will have improved your fitness and developed a detailed understanding of what it means to put your fitness in your wetsuit / bike / shoes on that course. Even if you can’t attend a race-specific training camp, you can make your own, or at the very least create a long training weekend out of your own house.

Please notice that we do not suggest you do a marathon as part of your pre-Ironman® build up. You can certainly do one the year before, or later in the year after your Ironman…but please not during your triathlon training!

Step Five: Race Preparation

Everything else aside, you will enter the final twelve weeks fit and ready to do the longer volume that will have you ready to race. Being race ready requires much more than just fitness, a plane ticket and a bike box, however. During this time you should not only be checking off boxes related to distance and time, but you will want to make sure that the logistics of your race are also set. Some key questions include:

  • Do you have the right equipment?
  • Does your bike fit you properly?
  • What will your race nutrition plan be and are you ready to train that nutrition for several weeks?
  • Do you have the right gearing on your bike (for hills or flats)?
  • Are you ready to handle the “typical” conditions of your race (temperature, wind, etc)?

You also need to be drafting and refining your eventual race plan. Endurance Nation athletes start with a draft plan that is vetted and improved by coach and Team feedback across the course of several weeks; this is a Team exercise but can be easily replicated if you spend the time planning properly. By the time you are done with this Race Preparation window, you should be physically and strategically ready to execute your race.

Good luck!

If you want guidance and support en route to your first Ironman, be sure to explore Endurance Nation. We help hundreds of athletes achieve their race goals each season at a fraction of the cost of other coaching companies. As a member you have access to our online community, more than 45 training plans, countless support resources as well as discounts to our camps, events and support on race weekends. We’ll be opening the doors wide for new members on April 15, 2014. Sign up for the EN Weekly Update to be notified when you can come on in! 


Coach P

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