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Ironman triathlon training guide
Training for an Ironman triathlon is a significant undertaking that requires dedication, discipline, and a well-planned triathlon training plan. But do not fear – you are not alone on this quest.
If only counting the two main event organizers, there are 45 Ironman and 5 Challenge races worldwide. With an average of 2 000 participants per event, we have some 100 000 Ironman triathletes walking the streets each year. And you are about to become one – outstanding!
This blog will explore the various aspects of Ironman triathlon training and provide tips and strategies for successfully preparing for this challenging endurance event. Enjoy!
- How to get started with Ironman triathlon training
- Ironman split distances and times
- What are your race day ambitions?
- How long does it take to train for an Ironman?
- Ironman triathlon training
- Energy, hydration, and recovery
- The Ironman triathlon training plan
- Ready to become an Ironman?
How to get started with Ironman triathlon training
Planning your triathlon training and racing season involves a beginning and an end. And as in all planning, it is wise to apply an iterative process. That is, set the goal and revise it in the context of your current situation.
Define your main goal for the season
Determining your Ironman triathlon goal is an essential first step. It will provide a clear target for your training and help you stay motivated as you prepare for the race.
You have probably already signed up for a full-distance race (if not, keep reading!). That is a good start on your journey, as the competition will act as your main goal for the upcoming triathlon training season.
Everything else will follow and build up to the big day.
What is the best Ironman triathlon for a beginner?
It depends! Even if Challenge Roth, Ironman Tallin, and Ironman Hamburg are among the usual top three contenders because of their course profile and overall event experience, it depends.
Think about it,
Another variable to take into account is logistics. It might be wise to find a race close to where you live. That will save you both traveling time and money.
Also, you are making it much easier for family and friends to come and cheer on you. And trust me, the latter can be the extra fuel you need to cross the finish line – with a smile!
As you can see, there is a lot to consider when you choose your first full-distance triathlon event. At a bare minimum, factor in the race course profile and your strengths and weaknesses.
And the latter leads us to your current fitness level.
Define your current fitness level
Before starting any new exercise program, assessing your current fitness level is essential. Start by consulting with a healthcare professional or certified trainer who can conduct a physical check and provide you with an overall evaluation of your fitness level. This may include testing and measuring body composition, flexibility, strength, and cardiovascular endurance.
Suppose a “live examination” is out of scope. Another way is to use one of the many online tools to determine your fitness level.
Also, consider how much physical activity you currently engage in regularly. For example, are you primarily sedentary, or do you engage in moderate to high levels of physical activity? This can give you a general idea of your current fitness level and, further on, how much time you can allocate to your training per week.
Ironman split distances and times
To help further in your decision process, let us examine each split in an Ironman triathlon.
In the table below, you will find all the distances in both metric and imperial measures.
|Swim||3 800 m||4156 y|
|Bike||180 km||111,8 mi|
|Run||42,2 km||26,2 mi|
|Total||226,3 km||140,6 mi|
Yes, it adds up to an impressive 226,3 km (140,6 mi) full-distance triathlon event, which yields average finish times of almost 13 hours. Including the times in transition. Again, this time heavily depends on factors like the course profile and the weather conditions on race day.
A way to start defining your physical strengths and weaknesses is to put yourself in the light of some historical data; it will hint at where you stand in the pack.
What is the average swim time during an Ironman triathlon?
The average swim time across Ironman events is around 1h20 min (approx. 2:05 min/100m). While men cover the distance in 1h18 min, women finish the 3,8 km in 1h22 min.
Since the typical swim cut-off time is 2h20 min, on average, you must swim slower than 3:40 min/100m before the race officials ask for your chip.
What is the average Ironman bike time?
The bike split is the most challenging due to its length and time in the saddle. On average, it takes some 6h20 min to cover the 180 km (112 mi) bike distance in an Ironman triathlon. It translates to a speed of 28,5 km/h (17,5 mph).
With a cut-off at 10h30 min (including max swim time + 10 min transition), you need to pedal faster than 23 km/h (14 mph) to be allowed to continue with the run.
What is the run time during an Ironman triathlon?
The average time to cover the final marathon in an Ironman triathlon is 4h55 min. It equals a pace of 7:00 min/km (11:15 min/mi).
With a cut-off at 17h (including max swim + max bike + 20 min transition), you need a run pace faster than 9:00 min/km (14:30 min/mi) to cross the finishing line with a smile.
As you can see, there is plenty of time to finish your Ironman event. And if you really want to take advantage of the expensive event fee, why not use the 17 hours to max? It all depends on your race-day ambitions.
What are your race day ambitions?
The next thing to define is your ambition for race day. And it would help if you think about your “success” in three levels, all creating their own distinct characteristics in your training,
And in the context of the podium discussion…
How do I qualify for the Kona Ironman World Championship?
If you are interested in qualifying, you must earn one of the most sought-after Kona spots. And to be on the safe side, you have to win your age group.
Every Ironman event includes one or more qualifying spots per age group for the World Championship. The number of competitors in that group determines the number of spots in a specific age category.
According to the Ironman organization, age groups between 35 and 44 usually have the most competitors and slots. So you do not always have to win your age group to get a ticket to Kona.
You can find a list of qualifying races and the corresponding qualifying requirements on the Ironman website.
A piece of advice – define your why
When you set your level of ambition, please do it for yourself, not for (or because of) someone else.
Unfortunately, we see this happens all too often. And it almost always results in “did not start” or “did not finish”. So you really need to want to do an Ironman to undertake the necessary triathlon training. If you are not in for it, it will be too easy to opt out during your darker moments.
That said (I do not want to scare you off), define why you want to train for an Ironman and what you are trying to achieve on race day. Note that all levels are equally good, so do not act on prestige and group pressure. Again, it is your choice.
So, when you have signed up for an event and understand your current fitness level, it is time to start the deep dive into training.
Given that so few aim for the podium, we will focus this article on those who want to accomplish or take a personal best.
How long does it take to train for an Ironman?
We often get this question. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix regarding the Ironman distance. It is helpful to understand that a full-distance triathlon is not just an extended version of the Sprint distance. And you will soon find that an event of this length involves different physical and mental considerations that will cause your strategy to vary from previous years and competitions.
To prepare for such a task, the secret sauce (if there is any!?) is consistent work over a long period. Therefore, it is important to gradually build up your endurance over time to stay motivated and injury free.
And if you are new to long-course racing, your training may stretch over several years. With that in mind, give yourself appropriate time to explore what works for you. So that you will be better prepared on race day.
An Ironman triathlon training guideline
To make it less abstract, allocate time for training at least 6-12 months before the competition. Generally, it is recommended to follow a structured training plan that includes a combination of endurance, strength, and flexibility training. Again, the timeline depends on your fitness level, strengths, and weaknesses.
A rough guideline can be,
So, how to approach your Ironman triathlon training?
Ironman triathlon training
No matter how experienced you are, the only three variables you can change during the training season to improve your fitness are frequency, duration, and intensity. That is, how often, much, and hard you should work out.
Let us explore those variables next.
Frequency – how often you should train
As a long-distance triathlete, you must practice swimming, cycling, and running regularly to add enough training stress to develop your capacity. Add some strength training, and the training frequency – how often you should train – will likely be high and end up in the range of 8 to 12 sessions per week.
Most of us – especially beginners – benefit more from a higher frequency with less duration per session than the other way around. So, you gain more from 30 minutes per day than 4 hours once a week.
Time management and alignment
You soon realize that training for an Ironman requires some prioritization and planning skills. However, since the frequency stays more or less the same during the season, you should slot all sessions in advance in your calendar.
Then you know that on Monday, it is cycling. On Tuesday morning, it is swimming, etcetera. So yes, it is crazy to know what you should do every day, several months in advance.
We cannot emphasize it enough – aligning your Ironman journey with your social context is vital for you to succeed. With the proper backup from your family members (and coworkers), you lower the friction and free up the necessary time for your training.
Duration – how much you should train
When you think about how much you can train, ground your discussion in your life situation. That is, consider family, work, and training. Plan for less time per week than you can handle to give yourself some buffer. For example, 9 hours on average per week.
Revisit that number after four weeks of structured training,
Make a new decision to continue as is or adjust accordingly. Remember, you are into triathlon as an age-grouper and for fun. And life always comes first!
Guidelines for frequency and duration
So, how many hours a week should you be training for an Ironman?
As a general guideline, training for at least 8-15 hours per week is recommended to prepare for an Ironman triathlon. This can involve 4-6 days of training per week, with longer workouts on the weekends.
And when you combine frequency and duration, you get training volume. If you divide it over the three disciplines, you should spend around 50 % on the bike. And split the rest equally between swimming and running.
Intensity – how hard you should train
If you are like most aspiring long-course triathletes, you are highly motivated – sometimes too motivated. So, in our experience, when we talk about how often and how much you should train, the response is usually – great, let me start! And off you go, and immediately execute some high-intensity workouts.
Unfortunately, we meet with too many athletes who assume it is a waste of time if they are not completely exhausted after each training session. However, attempting to train with a high volume (frequency*duration) and high intensity will only lead to overtraining, burnout, and injury. And this is particularly true for Ironman athletes.
So, how hard should you go when training for an Ironman? Well, the short answer is – not hard at all.
To understand “how hard”, it is vital to understand the concept of zone training. Whether measured via heart rate, pace, or power, you should keep the bulk of your workouts in zones 1 to 3. That means low to moderate intensity. And less than 10 % of the volume is at or above the functional threshold (zone 4).
This is by far the hardest thing to grasp as an ambitious and motivated triathlete. And every week, we get questions like – should it not be harder? Usually, the answer is – no!
Since zone training – or better, the zones – are highly individual, you need to make physical tests to calculate your training zones.
When you join our Ironman triathlon training plan, we will help you to conduct the tests and set the proper training zones.
Energy, hydration, and recovery
When training for an Ironman triathlon, there are a couple of aspects besides the actual triathlon training you must master. Namely how to fuel and hydrate your body adequately and how to rest and recover enough.
Remember this simple rule: while the training breaks you down, the rest and recovery build you up.
Again, if you apply a too-hard training discipline with little time to heal, you eventually become overtrained and burnout. Or even worse, injured. Please, act wise and follow the below guidance.
Rest and recovery
Here are some tips for getting recharged and fully prepared for your upcoming training,
Ironman refueling strategy
By eating well-balanced food and drinking enough water, you are helping yourself recover even better. Here are some refueling tips,
The Ironman triathlon training plan
Participating in shorter triathlon distances is possible without a structured training program. However, a no-plan strategy becomes less feasible as you enter the full-distance game. And our Ironman triathlon training plan will significantly improve your chances of finishing and performing at your best.
When planning your season, follow the above discussion. To summarize it,
- Set the goal by signing up for an Ironman event.
- Define your current fitness level.
- Find out your strengths and weaknesses.
- Describe your ambition and your Why!
- Find out how often and how much you can train.
- Combine endurance, strength, and flexibility training.
- Train consistently throughout the season and with the right intensity.
- Refuel and recover on a level that is appropriate for you.
- And always remember to have fun. Always!
Ready to become an Ironman?
Our personalized Ironman triathlon training plan will help you achieve your goals and crush your race day. The step-by-step guidance will keep you motivated and injury-free throughout your training journey.
Don’t just dream of crossing that finish line – make it a reality with our expert training plan.
Sign up today and take the first step toward becoming an Ironman!
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