Swim 2.4 Miles. Bike 112 Miles. Run 26.2 Miles. Time allowed 16 hours.
The journey to become an Ironman is long and arduous and starts for many different reasons and from many different levels of ability and experience. The goal to ‘compete or complete’ an Ironman is what makes it such a difficult and unique challenge but can ultimately lead to the most amazing achievement of an athlete’s life. The road is long and is littered with obstacles that can, without preparation and a strong mind, derail the process at any given time.
If you want to hear those immortal words at the end of a gruelling 140.6 miles – ’You are an Ironman’ – then the 5 pillars of Ironman training may just help you achieve that goal.
I will be the first to admit that these are not always easy to adhere to and it is easy to make mistakes in race preparations. Normally, either over training or under training are the biggest downfalls. Over training is easy to slip into when the body is feeling good and fast progress seems achievable if you just push harder, longer, faster. Wrong! It can take a strong, fit athlete 3-4 months to prepare for an Ironman and it can take a year or longer if you are starting from a different base point.
Under training often results from a busy lifestyle, lack of conditioning and rest, injuries, and poor nutrition plus sometimes simply a lack of commitment. Commitment is something I have never lacked but pushing too hard too soon has often caused me to reassess my training. Remember, you need to know where you are now (Point A) to understand where you want to get to (Point B) and the time in which you have to do so. The base training phase of any Ironman program creates the platform for any athlete to build a solid training foundation.
Ironman training is all-consuming and selfish. It affects family life, social activities, diet, sleep, wallet contents and stress levels. You will need support, understanding family and friends and a whole lot of determination. On the flip side, you will never feel more invincible, strong, fast, healthy, focused or proud.
The 5 Pillars of Ironman Training
Ironman triathlon is a sport in itself, not a combination of swim, bike, and run. We balance our strengths and energies, our weaknesses and abilities to train and race holistically. Ironman does not allow a strong swimmer to be out of the water first and stay there if their bike and run don’t match their initial speed. Balance is critical.
Triathlon training is a juggling act. Family, work, training schedules, rest and recovery, house admin, shopping... the list goes on. Where do we find the time? This becomes a skill in itself. 5am runs, 45-minute core sessions during lunch, late night swims when the kids are in bed.
Personally, I do 50 squats every time I clean my teeth, 50 calf raises when I’m showering, stretch while watching TV, and I always take the stairs. This way, you can maximise your activity levels even if you have a busy lifestyle.
What is endurance? The ability to last. The ability to sustain long periods of physical activity at any given level of exertion.This all comes from a properly organised and planned training program. Ultimately, if you can sustain, you will succeed!
Probably the most important pillar. Training plans allow structure but what if they can’t be adhered to? Illness, injury, family holidays, work. We have to be able to overcome and adapt. If you have a niggling injury that prevents you running, can you increase your swim and bike sessions? Adaptation and an intuitive flexibility is the key to prevent burnout and injury. Listen to your body, no one knows it better than you do!
Successful training incorporates a spectrum of intensity, from full throttle workouts to rest and recovery. It’s the valleys that make the peaks possible and both are essential to real consistent progress. Proper rest allows the body to grow and develop. Don’t forget that professional athletes train really hard but they also rest for the remainder of the day. Their food is prepared for them and all they do is get ready for the next training day. We don’t have that luxury so when you get a chance to rest, take it!
Prepare well, stay consistent, balance your training and life, be adaptable and don’t forget that recovery is as important as training itself.
See you at the start line.
About the author: Mick Cronin is an Ironman Certified Coach.