About to take on an IRONMAN challenge? Training for an IRONMAN should never be underestimated. We give you expert advice on devising the right training plan for you, to ensure race day success.
We spoke to endurance coach Joe Beer, to get his advice and tips for creating your own training plan.
It’s vital, from day one, to get those immediately around you on board if you have entered an IRONMAN. You will be spending a lot of time exercising, eating and even adjusting your whole diary to get your training done. “It’s a slow build through the technique and strength months (October-January),” says Coach Joe Beer, “where you can build towards spring-summer to up to 12 to 18 hours of exercise a week, depending on the level of athlete you are.”
Coach Beer states there are some simple rules to follow:
- You don’t need to think ‘every sport, everyday’. Most athletes train for one hour on a time poor shorter day (for example, a strength work day) and plan long rides on days off. You are building an IRONMAN cake; every ingredient doesn’t have to be worked on daily.
- Training needs to focus on skill and stamina, with strength to keep you injury free and strong. Speed is not a vital element. For example, longer sessions that are time efficient beat taking two and a half hours to get a 45-minute gym spin bike session done. It’s better to work on moving for longer periods, and your nutrition and comfort management, than hitting too many so called speed-work sessions.
- You will never do every planned session. You will never do enough training. You will get ill or injured at some stage. Relax, it’s all a learning experience to see how well you can duck-and-dive and adjust your session, your weekly plan and your race day game plan. You are always going to have to be dipping into plan B and C.
Finding your personal plan
Saying this, there’s no reason that anyone can’t complete an IRONMAN, with the right training. “I’ve seen a huge variety of people get to the finish line. From the start, your plan must focus on the basics of: ‘what is stopping me right now from completing an IRONMAN’,” says Coach Beer.
If you fear swimming in open water with others, you’ll need to get expert open-water advice and regular sessions to overcome this fear and inability. How you find your personal plan is to keep adapting what your next month’s focus is in your sessions, across the three sports. “No one should only train in two sports and think they can fake the third on the day,” he states. “It’s IRONMAN. There is no faking.”
Avoid obvious mistakes
If you’ve come to IRONMAN® from running, you’ll have to adapt to running a lot slower than you’re used to. “In this challenge, you have to stop thinking of yourself as a marathoner. You’re a lot slower than that. You need to allot around 30 per cent of your training time for running, but don’t run fast. Simple,” says Coach Beer.
Listening to your body will guide your training level. “Either use a heart-rate monitor to guide your effort, but only if you understand your how your heart rate relates to different training zones. Or,” suggests Coach Beer, “for the bike and run, ask yourself: ‘Can I nose breathe only, with my mouth closed?’ If the answer is no, you’re training too fast.”
You have to get used to taking on board calories on the bike and run during the race, so you have to train for this. This can be tough for weight conscious athletes, that count calories, and usually only fuel on water during long sessions. “If this is you, you’ll need a mindset shift, to use fuel to help you go further faster,” says Coach Beer.
The first time you do an IRONMAN, you’re aiming for completion. The second or third time you can compete; one day you might conquer it. “Go in with a wide-eyed respectful approach and it will teach you tons,” advocates Beer. “Think you are going to boss the race and show others how great your first time is, and you may get more money’s worth (hours!) on race day than you thought.”
Flexibility is key
Perfectionists may have to learn, during an IRONMAN training cycle, to let go of always completing their weekly plan. In the real world, you’ll have to learn to have a flexible approach. “A good plan should always adapt to changes in the time you have available, to niggles you pick up along the way, the weather etc.”
Yes, have a plan, but keep at the forefront of your mind what your highest priority sessions are - which will usually be your weaker sports. What is the basic level of training you need to achieve in order to feel confident going in to your race?
Coach Beer says: “Aim to complete the swim distance, or sessions that accumulate to 4K, at least three to six times. On the bike aim for two to four 100-mile rides, with one over 200K if possible. On the run, many aim for three hours, or about 18 miles, maybe one to four times at most.”
Completing a Half IRONMAN four to six weeks before your race will also boost confidence. IRONMAN involves a lot of kit and logistics in order to travel 140 miles to your finish line. “This needs to be practiced,” stresses Coach Beer. “If you can’t make a half event, try an early morning swim pool session completing the race distance. Go home for breakfast, then set off for at least a five-hour ride. Wait until the end of the day and run an hour. That will build confidence.”
In the final few weeks, don’t be tempted to cram in last-minute training; this is the time to freshen-up, not get fatigued.
Every step counts
Another strategy to prepare you for race is doing double run days. Plan to do a one-and-a-half to two-hour morning run, get on with your day, then run for an hour early evening. “You’ll be tired, feeling the morning run in your legs, but this will get you into the ‘diesel engine’ mentality. Every step is one more towards the line,” says Beer.
Beer also suggests mindful training. Don’t push your sessions, just let your body do a pace that is relaxed. “No pain no gain is complete nonsense. You need at least three quarters of your training to be relaxed.”
Do your harder work in the gym, during build-up events or as part of working against specific resistances, such as wearing two swim suits, weighing down your bike or running with a back pack.
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Joe Beer has been using blood profiling for 28 years to optimise his performance. He uses and recommends Forth’s Endurance profile to those training for Ironman.