The decision to take on IRONMAN comes with much planning. From the careful coordination of securing a spot on race day to the thoughtful execution of hundreds of workouts, tackling the 140.6 requires athletes to be on top of their game.
Here are a few key workouts every athlete should include in their weekly training plan when it comes to dotting all the i's (or M-dots) and crossing all the t's for multisport success.
Go Long on the Bike
IRONMAN training requires an athlete to steadily increase the duration and intensity of workouts over a period of time. This build-up in volume can put you at risk for overtraining and injury if you don't approach it thoughtfully. One way to minimize that risk is to focus on cycling for the longest workout of the week. QT2 Systems coach Mary Eggers uses this approach with professional triathlete Jennie Hansen, who recently placed second at IRONMAN Texas.
"We like to see durability in our athletes and one of the best places we can build that is on the bike," says Eggers. "It's a safe place to add volume and minimize the risk of injury."
Since cycling uses many of the same muscles as running does but doesn't put as much impact on the joints, the result for the athlete is more fitness and less wear and tear on the body.
Long rides are typically done on the weekends in a moderate aerobic zone and can range anywhere from 2 to 7 hours.
Run Short, Run Freqeuntly.
While the IRONMAN culminates with 26.2 miles of running, the training for this leg of the race should feel very different from doing a traditional marathon. Rather than focusing on a single long run every week, Eggers favors more frequent running workouts that are shorter in duration. The traditional long runs that many athletes put into rotation during their training can actually do more harm than good, causing the body fatigue that can break down biomechanics and create a big risk for injury.
Eggers says that athletes who get into the habit of doing 3-hour runs are usually doing it for the mental boost of confidence. By covering that distance in training, they feel confident that they will be able to do it on race day. Instead, athletes should trust the cumulative effect of the weekly training: "IRONMAN is not about any one particular workout—it's about the combined effect of a series of workouts over each training block," she says.
Depending on the athlete and his particular training need, Eggers will add more intensity to these shorter runs as appropriate. This is a safe way to add stress to the body while minimizing the risk of injury.
Put It on Repeat in the Pool
Swimming is a great workout to cover all the bases when it comes to intensity and duration. Eggers likes to see at least one set per week that combines repeats with intensity. The distance for repeats can vary—choose anything from 400 up to 1000 meters. Stick with the same distance for each repeat, but focus on increasing the intensity (speed) with each one. Gradually building the effort from one repeat to the next will tweak both the aerobic and anaerobic systems so the athlete builds fitness and endurance at the same time.
Since swimming is typically lower in volume than biking and running for an IRONMAN in training, it's a great place to amp up the effort level because it's very low impact. Doing so over a series of repeat intervals will also build that confidence athletes crave as they get closer to race day.
Eggers says that executing repeats builds the habit of finishing strong, a tactic that can be applied to cycling and running by including tempo efforts within the workout. One of Eggers' best examples of this? Take a cycling or running session, and carve out two 20-minute surges with a small recovery in between.
Combine these key workouts with a good quality diet, and plenty of recovery and sleep. Aim for a total weekly training volume of between ten and 15 hours, and you'll be well on your way to a successful IRONMAN finish. Ready to get more specific? Check out IRONMAN 101: A Six-Month Training Plan.
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