5 Rules to Follow When Building an Ironman Triathlon Training Plan
This is arguably the most important part of your training routine. Your body gets stronger when you recover from workouts, not when you actually do the workouts. Recovery time will depend on the duration and intensity of workouts. Easy workouts will only require 4-8hrs of recovery whereas a high-intensity workout may require a full 48-72hrs before another high intensity workout may be completed. Neglecting recovery in-between workouts will result in overtraining and injuries. If you find yourself plateauing, or even worse, getting weaker, it's likely because you're not recovering properly.
To ensure proper muscle recovery, take time to cool down after tough workouts, massage tired muscles and do recovery workouts as needed. A short run or bike performed at recovery pace beats being sedentary when it comes to promoting muscle recovery. Also make sure you get a good night's sleep - at least 7-8hrs - most of your muscle recovery will occur while you sleep. There's a reason pro triathletes get 9-11hrs of sleep each night! As a committed Ironman-in training, sleep must become just as important as the rest of your training routine.
We all want to be able to be able to perform at our maximum potential throughout the year, but the fact of the matter is, our bodies are only able to actually perform at peak fitness 2-3 times per year. Because of this, training plans must be wholly structured around 2-3 races per year. There are a few different ways to periodize your training, but most follow a simple structure that involves making workouts more and more race-specific as time goes on, until you reach peak fitness just before a big event. A well thought-out and well-planned periodization schedule will ensure that you are fully recovered from the previous racing season and that you reach the start line at 100%.
High-intensity workouts are extraordinarily beneficial for overall performance, but doing too much or too little will leave you either overtrained or under-performing on race day. The 80/20 Rule is a fairly well-established method of determining how much high intensity training you should do. the rule goes like this: 80% of your training should be done in the aerobic zone, or below threshold and 20% of your training should be done at or above threshold. Let's say you train 10 hours per week - you should do 2 hours of high-intensity training and the rest should be easy training.
4. Focus on your Weaknesses
Every triathlete has a sport they struggle with more than the others - whether your a first-timer or Lionel Sanders. For me it's the swim. Whatever you struggle with, you'll want to spend proportionally more time training that event. Of course, you have limited time and still have two other events to train for, so look for time efficient ways of improving performance. For example: if I want to improve my swim, I could hire a swim coach for a session or two to improve my stroke. That would result in some decent performance gains and takes significantly less time than the pro triathlete method of spending a million hours in the pool each week. Deficiencies on the bike or run should be treated with additional training time and additional high-intensity workouts.
5. Manage Time
Training for an Ironman triathlon takes a lot of time - there's no doubt about that. But just because you registered for a race doesn't mean a bunch of extra time magically appears in your schedule. You've got to find a way to fit your training routine into an already busy schedule. However, it is a myth that you need to spend 20 hours per week to finish an Ironman. I firmly believe that almost any athlete (with some basic fitness) is capable of meeting the 17-hour cutoff with 8hrs. or less training per week. If your goals lie beyond simply finishing and you want to be competitive or set a PR, you might need to make some extra sacrifices in your schedule to make that happen. Just don't neglect the things that are truly important: family, work, and sleep - no race is worth losing any of those.
Here's what a typical Ironman training week could look like:
Tuesday: Run Intervals (60min)
Wednesday: Swim Intervals (60min), Run Easy (30min)
Thursday: Cycling Intervals (60min), Run Easy (30min)
Friday: Run Easy (60min), Lift weights (30min)
Saturday: Bike Long (3hrs), Transition Run (30min)
Sunday: Run Long (90min)
Total Easy: 8.5hrs.
Total Hard: 2hrs.