Ironman is the biggest draw, the biggest dream and the biggest undertaking in Triathlon. I am surprised how quickly people jump onto the Ironman wagon once they have a try of their first Triathlon. I get to meet them, I know people who try an Ironman without ever having done a Triathlon, I guess when you don't know what you are in for, that could be the charm.
This year I have had many athletes training for 1/2 Ironmans as their goal for their first year of Triathlon and a few who chose both the 1/2 and Ironman for their first year. How do you even begin.
First - how fit are you?
In order to do the repetitious training of swim, bike and run without getting an injury, I am usually pushing these athletes to build their core, hips and shoulders. This is essentially the off season training we begin with, getting in some bootcamp style biking with weights and core all focusing on the sports they will be training in. We spend a few months here. The aerobic is not the focus, but it is present throughout the training, you never want to lose your run fitness, so we keep the distances shorter.
For the swim, I focus on Technique. This year the focus will be more specific on technique until Base Training. If I am completely intent on getting the stroke perfected then as we move closer to race day, the stress of the swim increases and the shift of focus becomes endurance and speed. These both work against hanging onto new technique changes. Why, just because the focus on the individual is no longer on what they are doing in the water, but how far and how fast, these are never good focuses when technique is the need.
Run training, over the last year the run intensity was brought up during base, I do hills and we did a few intervals. I may put this one off a little longer to avoid the injuries that come with it, and an early peak (pre-race). Athletes are insistent on training harder all the time, as a coach you are there to keep them on track. Peaking too soon is a problem of increasing intensity too soon. This year I see hill climbing as part of the program again. Other years I have done this, it is a great learning experience for form and using gravity to your advantage, it builds strength and foot and ankle strength. This workout also keeps training interesting when we get outside, it isn't road running, it isn't treadmill running.
Bike Training, this last year the workouts were not easy, we kept to the classroom and the midweek workouts were done on trainers. It is really hard to assess a bike fit and form when you are on a spin bike. I may need to run a few individual classes where we bring in the bikes and trainers and do a workout that way. Heart rate testing on the bike sounds like the ticket, we may be able to pull this one off.
Base Training - this is where we begin to build in the volume, there is a long bike, long run and a long swim. We progress slowly, so the longer away from you event you begin your base the slower you can afford to build, this allows for the best peak on race day. You need a really great base in order to sustain the build and peak. I keep the core, shoulder stability and hip mobility involved all the way through the base phase.
The midweek training is starting to look like triathlon training with strength. We are doing longer bootcamps to try to build the endurance in and keep the intensity high. The nutrition side of training is important, so this particular long highly intense day makes people learn what will work on race day and what won't. Lately I think we need to keep this day in all the way to race day. We are losing our hardness heading into the races that happen further away from Bootcamp. I have tried to write it in, but I think the intensity of a class based training is higher than individual training. This year I will be changing this. I will keep the Friday Class running through the summer when I can.
I may need to shorten some rides to encourage higher intensity practice on the bike, but this only works for people in their second or third year of Ironman training. That first year is spent mostly in volume and endurance building so that on race day it is no question they can finish and they have a set pace they can dial into.
Swim Training becomes more about holding good technique over longer sets. We are starting to do some base line timings to see where we are at in relationship to our goals. Technique is the focus, but we are having to hold it longer each time.
Build - this is where we are starting to reach maximum volumes, we are increasing the intensity of our midweek workouts and getting our continuous open water swims in. We practice tactics in the water and nutrition strategies on the bike, to see what will work for race day. The shorter runs are becoming threshold intervals held longer and longer,the long run is reaching peak volume, 2 times before race day. Build is usually done once we are outside for our training. So their is a shift that happens here where the whole biking changes, the will to do intervals is gone as people don't like to fight headwinds and hills. It becomes less inviting to do your hard bike in the rain, I think indoor training may help this coming year, or less rain.
Peak - when we are peaking we have achieved all of our maximum distances, all of our hardest workouts and we are beginning the recovery and sharpening phase. You will reduce your volume and start to hit your race pace as everything shortens up. You are making sure any injuries are fully tended to before race day. THis is your time to gather your energy for the race. Focus, Focus, Focus, write a race strategy, do not leave the race to chance, have checklists be prepared, you trained all year for this make sure you plan the day and have ways of dealing with adversity on the fly during your race.
Race Day - Ironman is for the first timer a trial to see if you have what it takes, it is realizing your potential, you will ask yourself many times during this event, "What was I thinking?" "I can't do this". That is negative thoughts, they can rule your day, so practice the rebuttal and understand that you have what it takes, any thought in your brain should be focused on executing your race.
During the swim, your focus is on technique, pace, sighting, stay focused and you will have your best swim, do not think about what others are doing, you can only control what you are doing, it is your race.
Transition, be brief and prepared, know what you are getting, get it and go. You can easily take 3 minutes off transition by being clear about why you are there, rehearsing how you will get dressed so that you get your jersey on before your helmet.
Biking, focus on pace and nutrition. The aid stations are a set time apart, this allows you to use each aid station as a reminder to take electrolytes, drink a bottle of water in between every 2 aid stations if they are an hour apart, remember to eat so many calories every 2 aid stations. Focus on cadence and perceived effort, remember you have to do a Marathon when you get off the bike.
The Marathon, you will meet so many people who want to talk to you on the run, this makes it enjoyable, you should focus on one mile at a time and walk while you drink at the aid station. If speed is your goal and you are new to this, this strategy works, your legs get a break and a stretch and you will actually catch up to anyone who didn't take the small walk break. Your legs will last longer and prevent cramping when you take those short walk breaks, plus you get to drink your fluid without tossing it into you lungs instead.
When you get to the finish chute, it was only 1 year ago you signed up, you asked yourself all year, can I do this? If you can do the training you can do the race. Raise your arms up with whatever little energy you have left and smile as big as you can, look for the camera keep the arms up keep smiling until you see the flash, at that point you have also heard those words "You are an Ironman!" Enjoy this moment and let it all sink in, let them take off your timing chip, if you bend down now, you might black out. Take time to walk it down until you feel okay and have a bite to eat. If you aren't feeling well, haven't peed in forever, get to the medic tent let them check you out. If they do IV here it is less trouble than heading into a hospital waiting room the following day.
If you are a repeating Ironman, never take those words for granted "You are an Ironman". You earn this every year, it is something you will understand that circumstances change and one day this may not be something you can accomplish, you will look back on every one you did as a great memory. We all get focused on always getting better, but honestly that we do it, is what is important. That you can do it, is what you need to cherish. Life is about the journey, this journey to Ironman is the road less travelled for sure. What you will know when you are done, is that when you put your mind to something and follow it through with hard work and planning, you can do it. If you can do Ironman, what else can you do, it becomes an instant feeling of freedom, we have gotten rid of our limits, we can achieve anything we put our minds to.
Post Race - now is the time to finally mow the lawn, visit the friends you haven't seen in the last year, eat the food you denied yourself and look at the finishers photos. It feels like so long ago already. Time to sign up again.