Paula Newby-Fraser on Ironman training: part one of seven

Paula Newby-Fraser (front) had a historic battle with Natascha Badmann in 1996.  Credit: Gary Newkirk /Allsport
When I think of the image that the mere mention of the word Ironman conjures up in those whove read and watched popular media coverage of the event, I almost feel sorry for the aspiring Iron-rookie.

Yes, Ironman is a tough challenge that must be respected and prepared for, but its not rocket science and it certainly does not require alienating your friends, family and co-workers in order to cross the finish line.

While weve learned a lot about training and how to go about preparing for an Ironman over the years, I must tell you that its really a pretty simple process and one that has become unnecessarily complicated. That, I suppose, should be one of the first points I make.

You see, when I completed my first Hawaii Ironman back in 1985, I had far less than seven months of specific preparation under my belt and, in fact, had done all of my training in London (where I was living at the time). My longest ride before the race that year was about 65 miles and my longest run was about 18 miles.

I cant imagine what one of todays coaches would have said to me 15 years ago if Id run into him one week before the event and shown him my training log. The reaction would likely have been something between pity and laughter (of the uncontrollable seizure type).

So, what should you expect out of this column over the span of its seven installments? Well, Im not going to attempt to write out another training program that wont work for 90 percent of you. What I hope to give you are some general guidelines to follow and a way of looking at Ironman preparation that, I hope, is more balanced than a lot of what I see going on out there.

Make no mistake: Any Ironman-distance event is a serious challenge. The phrase easy Ironnan is an oxymoron. There are no easy Ironman-distance events. If you were interested in easy, you wouldnt be reading this article, you would be studying a Club Med brochure. Ironman races require preparation, but the volume and duration of this training requires an honest assessment of ones:

  • Physical state. Yes, you need to be healthy — even given the OK by a medical professional.

  • Sports background. All the way back to grade school.

  • Goals. These need to be honest and could range all the way from being competitive to simply finishing.

  • Time constraints. Not your buddys time constraints, but your time constraints. This takes into consideration some basic life priorities like work and family.

    After youve taken an honest look at the above, you then need to think about getting your body in good-enough condition to handle the specific Ironman training that it will face approximately two months from race day. Thats right, your first step is what Ill call training to be able to train. Get it?

    Youre training your body to be able to handle the stresses of Ironman training. Since theres no way to define who this is for (what experience level, etc.), Im going to keep it pretty general but specific enough that you should be able to get something of value out of it along the way (hows that for a cop-out?).

    The next six installments will look at the following:

  • Strength training
  • Flexibility
  • Base training
  • Speed work
  • Ironman-specific training
  • Ironman racing

    If youre freaking out now and asking, What about the training?! What am I supposed to do right now?! Relax, take a deep breath and go back to what youve been doing. Stick with your focus on the races you have planned for the beginning of the season and consider going to the gym.

    Take yourself through an acclimation phase in the gym that goes from 1 x 10 reps with light weight, up to 2 x 15 reps of some large muscle group exercises (legs, back, chest, abs, etc.). Dont know what to do? Consult your local gym and its staff.

    Strength training is the core of what will enable you to handle the mileage necessary to completing an Ironman. I have always maintained that this is a sport of strength and endurance, or enduring strength, if you like. Forget about speed and just get started doing the things that will build a great depth of strength.

    After all, no matter how good you are, you have to skip lunch on Ironman day, and maybe even happy hour and the dinner specials. Just remember — you want to be the tortoise in that famous fable.

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