Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Specific Training for Ironman Racing

The final 15 weeks of your Ironman Preparation should be geared towards learning from these key sessions that follow. Before laying out the specific training itself, there are three things that you want to remember about your overall year:

Pacing – phase your season so that your best training performance occurs 4-7 weeks out from your goal race. Once you are within four weeks of your goal race actively PREVENT yourself from setting records in training. Let the energy build inwards.

Pacing – train your body, and mind, to always finish strong. The end of each interval, set, workout, day, week, month… as much as possible, learn to be humble at the start and patient in the middle. The most common error in triathlon is front end loading effort and fading across the event. To race smart, you must train smart. Under stress, your basic training patterns will emerge. Program your desired patterns LONG before race week.

Pacing – appropriate “long slow distance” effort is neither slow, nor easy, however it takes four to seven hours for this to become apparent and many athletes are too shelled to remember the lessons when they get there. The workouts that follow will help you learn appropriate pacing within your longest sessions.

So… pacing, pacing, pacing… what about fitness? Your fitness is being built while you teach yourself about pacing!

Each workout addresses one, or more, critical success factor(s) for giving yourself a shot at a great day.


  • Big Day Training – swim, bike and run across an entire day
  • Honest Race Sim Rides – a continuous endurance session of similar duration, or distance, to your goal event.
  • A Half Ironman Race – freshen up and see what you can do across half the goal distance

These three types of workout are listed in order of importance for the issues that you will face on race day.

The greatest challenge facing us on race day is the duration of the event – 140.6 miles (226.2 km) is a LONG way to travel! While many elites are able to train themselves to the point where they come close to completing the iron-distance across a weekend, this is not practical for working athletes.

Big Day Training (BDT) offers you a technique to bring this elite approach into the realities of your training week.

The first step with BDT is to be able to move (at any pace) across your entire day.

Here is an example: Swim 60 minutes, Bike 5 hours, Run 60 minutes

  • All easy pace
  • Meals in between all sessions
  • Sessions are split apart
  • Total time to complete might be up to 12 hours including the breaks between the three sessions.


  • Body learns how to digest and function all day
  • Low biomechanical risk
  • Reduced fatigue

As you progress, you can make the back half of each session steady-state. This type of workout addresses the key limiter of most IM athletes -- base endurance.

You answer the question “How hard should I ride?” through your Honest Race Sim Rides.

Ride the shorter of: anticipated bike leg duration; and six hours. Split the ride into thirds (by time):

  • ride the first third slightly easier than goal race effort;
  • ride the middle third at goal race effort; and
  • ride the final third at slightly higher than goal race effort.

The descriptions above are deliberately general because you can’t solve an Ironman with pen and paper. In order to find out what is appropriate, you need to get out there and ride.

Additional tips:

  • Consider a loop that you can ride three times;
  • Note the effort required to go slightly faster each loop;
  • Stay calm if you discover that "slightly easier" effort early in the ride ends up being quite a tough pace to hold after 4/5 hours. Far better to learn this lesson prior to race day.
  • Start conservatively.

Running well requires humble and even bike pacing (power spikes matter more and more the longer the event duration).

Following your Race Sim Ride, do a short transition run (20-30 minutes). The run should serve as a reality check. Are you ready to run a marathon? If you have any doubt then dial your bike effort downwards. 26 miles offers a lot of time to make up for going “too easy” on the bike.

A Half Ironman (HIM) race can provide valuable information for use on Ironman race day. In order to consider your HIM race data “valid”, it is important to make sure that you were able to run well off the bike. I define running well as being able to run within 7 percent of your open half-marathon time. If you were not able to achieve this performance, then assume that you rode too hard.

The average heart rate from the bike leg should be used as the absolute maximum heart rate cap for your Ironman bike leg. Do not exceed this cap for ANY reason, even when climbing (adjust your gearing in advance of race day). When riding on the flats, you should be 10-20 bpm below this benchmark.

Athletes that have powermeters can use their HIM average power (not normalized) to set a maximum power cap (not target).

Your ability to execute a “valid” HIM race will give valuable feedback about the likelihood you will successfully pace your IM event.

Racing long requires exceptional humility, patience and fortitude. Don’t dip into the fortitude too early!

Final Note
In order to put it all together on race day, you will need to pace BELOW your best individual training performance.

Freshening up for Race Day enables you to link the swim and bike to an exceptional marathon. Giving yourself the opportunity to run well is the secret to successful Ironman racing.

We get what we expect.


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