Sketch­ing Out Your Iron­man Train­ing Plan

Triathlon Magazine Canada - - Section Subsection - By Jasper Blake

Itis prime time to start think­ing about some key as­pects of that im­pend­ing 2014 Iron­man. Re­gard­less of whether you’re an ex­pe­ri­enced Iron­man ath­lete or a first-timer, the greater your prepa­ra­tion, the greater the like­li­hood of suc­cess.

Build­ing the Right Foun­da­tion

Get­tin­gready for an Iron­man is like build­ing a house. If you want to build up, you have to build a very strong and sta­ble foun­da­tion un­der­neath first. There are two crit­i­cal com­po­nents to con­sider when build­ing a foun­da­tion of fit­ness.

The first is over­all body strength. A strength pro­gram should be an in­te­gral part of your train­ing plan, es­pe­cially dur­ing the win­ter months. Two or three weekly ses­sions are enough to re­al­ize large im­prove­ments. The strength work can fo­cus pri­mar­ily on func­tional move­ments (see Me­lanie McQuaid’s ar­ti­cle on p. 12). Don’t be shy about push­ing some real weight around ei­ther. En­durance ath­letes of­ten skip over any real re­cruit­ment work. This means low rep­e­ti­tion, high weight sets. This type of work teaches your body to use more of the mus­cle it al­ready has. And of course never ne­glect your core and hip sta­bil­ity. The abil­ity for your in­ner core and hip mus­cles to re­main sta­ble dur­ing move­ment is crit­i­cal for in­creased per­for­mance as well as in­jury preven­tion.

Strength work does not need to be lim­ited to the weight room.

You can in­clude el­e­ments of strength work in all three sports. Some ex­am­ples in­clude big gear ( low ca­dence) work on the bike, run­ning on hilly ter­rain and pulling in the pool (with or with­out pad­dles). When you are in­creas­ing the load on your mus­cles, ten­dons and joints, tech­nique is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant. Seek­ing the ad­vice of a pro­fes­sional strength ex­pert is highly rec­om­mended.

Base aer­o­bic fit­ness is the sec­ond crit­i­cal el­e­ment when build­ing a foun­da­tion. Base aer­o­bic fit­ness refers to lower in­ten­sity work for longer du­ra­tions. For most of us, longer base mileage is tough in the win­ter. Days are shorter and the tem­per­a­ture and road con­di­tions are of­ten not con­ducive to longer miles on the bike or run. So does this mean you have to sit on a bike trainer for hours on end? Not if you are will­ing to em­brace win­ter.

You don’t need speci­ficity all year long. Your heart and lungs don’t know the dif­fer­ence be­tween bik­ing, run­ning, swim­ming, cross- coun­try ski­ing, snow­shoe­ing, moun­tain bik­ing or ba­si­cally any en­durance ac­tiv­ity. The win­ter can be an in­cred­i­ble time to get fit. Sports like cross- coun­try ski­ing, snow­shoe­ing and skat­ing have sig­nif­i­cant crossover ben­e­fits.

If you are forced to ride your bike in­doors, then fo­cus on tech­ni­cal work and shorter big gear ( low ca­dence) sets that chal­lenge your aer­o­bic ca­pac­ity and re­cruit­ment. If you are out­side en­gag­ing in win­ter sports then keep it or­ganic. Let the ter­rain de­ter­mine your ef­fort.

“You don’t need speci­ficity all year long. Your heart and lungs don’t know the dif­fer­ence be­tween bik­ing, run­ning, swim­ming, crosscoun­try ski­ing, snow­shoe­ing, moun­tain bik­ing or ba­si­cally any en­durance ac­tiv­ity.”


Ifyou are do­ing an Iron­man in the sum­mer of 2014 it’s im­por­tant to work back­wards from the race date. The min­i­mum amount of time you will re­quire is six months. If you are a be­gin­ner, you may want to give your­self at least a year or more to build your­self up to the Iron­man dis­tance. If you are a fit and healthy in­di­vid­ual and you have some triathlon ex­pe­ri­ence, then six months is prob­a­bly enough. If you are a very ex­pe­ri­enced triath­lete or a pro­fes­sional, you can be ready in as lit­tle as 12 weeks.

The longer you have to pre­pare, the more op­por­tu­nity you will have to ex­plore dif­fer­ent types of train­ing. A huge mis­take ath­letes make is think­ing that train­ing needs to be the same all year round. The body wants and needs new stim­u­lus to change, adapt and grow.

Typ­i­cally a phase or spe­cific fo­cus lasts any­where from eight to 14 weeks. If you start train­ing for an

Iron­man six months out (24 weeks), then you can real­is­ti­cally fit in two dif­fer­ent phases. Train­ing with tar­geted speci­ficity for a par­tic­u­lar Iron­man (mean­ing work­outs catered to a spe­cific course) does not need to hap­pen un­til 10 to 14 weeks out from the race.

Be­cause the work you will do 10 to 14 weeks out of Iron­man will be long sus­tained aer­o­bic ef­forts, the phase pre­ced­ing that can fo­cus on shorter, faster work and chal­lenge your lac­tate thresh­old and aer­o­bic ca­pac­ity zones. Get fast first then get as fast as you can while stay­ing as aer­o­bic as you can.

Oneof the great­est chal­lenges in a sport like triathlon is how fre­quently you can en­gage in each of the three sports. When you are learn­ing a new skill or try­ing to mas­ter an old one, the body, brain and ner­vous sys­tem love fre­quency. The more you can do some­thing and re­cover from it, the bet­ter you will get and the quicker you will do so. Ath­letes that are at the top of any sport are train­ing 20 to 40 hours per week hon­ing their skills and gain­ing deeper lev­els of fit­ness.

Triathlon poses a sig­nif­i­cant time man­age­ment chal­lenge, which is mag­ni­fied when con­sid­er­ing that most triath­letes have full-time jobs and fam­i­lies. A good rule of thumb is to do each sport a min­i­mum of three times a week.

In a sport like swim­ming, it is bet­ter to do three shorter ses­sions than one long one. (See An­gela Naeth’s sug­ges­tions on p.52). The more fre­quently you can make a con­nec­tion with the wa­ter the more your ner­vous sys­tem will learn and hard-wire pat­terns. Get­ting in­volved with a mas­ters group is highly rec­om­mended. Mas­ters groups are a fun, en­gag­ing way to learn and get fit and they cre­ate a level of ac­count­abil­ity on days you may be more in­clined to stay in bed.

Run­ning fre­quency is very im­por­tant be­cause im­pact tol­er­ance is of­ten a lim­it­ing fac­tor for peo­ple. Run­ning can be in­cred­i­bly hard on your body. It’s im­por­tant to stress your bones, mus­cles and ten­dons reg­u­larly and al­low re­cov­ery and adap­ta­tion reg­u­larly.

Bik­ing is prob­a­bly the most for­giv­ing of the three sports in that you can still ex­pe­ri­ence mo­men­tum and speed with less re­fined move­ments. If tight on time,

you could do only two qual­ity work­outs in the week and still have suc­cess. Bik­ing also of­fers the op­por­tu­nity to do longer aer­o­bic mileage with­out as much risk of in­jury. A long bike ride each week (two or more hours) will boost your over­all fit­ness.

Ob­vi­ously if you have the lux­ury of time, then more fre­quency is great as long as you can re­cover ad­e­quately and there is a method be­hind the work­outs. If you are a pro­fes­sional or in it to win it then three times per sport per week is likely far too lit­tle to be com­pet­i­tive.


Thee­quip­ment part of the triathlon equa­tion can be over­whelm­ing. Triathlon is highly in­no­va­tive and as such new prod­ucts f lood the mar­ket ev­ery year. The best ap­proach, es­pe­cially early on, is to keep it sim­ple. With th­ese nine items you can get your­self through any Iron­man safely and with suc­cess. The rest of the gad­gets – com­pres­sion gear, gps units, power me­ters, aero hel­mets and disc wheels – are a bonus. Hav­ing a nice bike is im­por­tant, but hav­ing a bike that is fit to you prop­erly is ar­guably more im­por­tant. You should in­clude a bike fit­ting as an es­sen­tial part of your bike cost and it should come be­fore ex­pen­sive race wheels or an aero hel­met. Don’t for­get to source out sec­ond hand equip­ment as well. But, be sure to know your size first. Most im­por­tantly, em­brace the jour­ney. Jasper Blake is an Iron­man cham­pion and head coach of B78 Coach­ing and Con­sult­ing. Visit his web­site b78. is.

Tryforce Triathlon Club hits the bike train­ers for an in­door work­out

2012 Iron­man World Cham­pi­onship in Kona

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