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.
Triathlon is a complex sport and takes a lot of research, effort, and knowledge for those just getting started. We talk to professional triathletes and GB Age-Groupers about what they wish they'd known before they started out.
Paul Suett - Team GB Age Group Triathlete
I wish I had known how to properly pace a race rather than going out as fast as I can for as long as I can. I seem to have got the grips of it now though.... well, most of the time!
Alice Tourell North - Team GB Age Group Triathlete
I wish I’d known how completely obsessed I would become with it! I did two races as a total beginner then went to my first Age Group World Championships in Edmonton, Canada and was instantly hooked. It’s the most competitive hobby I’ve ever had but I wouldn’t change a thing - my husband may disagree with this though as all his holidays, including our honeymoon, now include a triathlon!
Dominic Garnham - Team GB Age Group Triathlete
1. Quality training over quantity. Train smarter, not more.
2. Build up training slowly to prevent injury.
3. Just have fun! if you're not a professional triathlete, you don’t get paid to do this.
Megan Powell - Team GB Age Group Triathlete
I wish I'd realised how different the run at the end of a triathlon feels!
Melissa Hinojosa - Mexican Triathlete
1. How addictive it is
2. How expensive it can be to gear up (especially bike-wise)
3. When travelling to compete, your luggage will multiply and flying with your bike can be challenging/uncomfortable.
Ian Dodds - Amateur Triathlete
That silly 'kicking my bum with my heels' thing at the start of the run is actually super helpful and worth looking a bit ridiculous.
Ali Trauttmansdorff - Team GB Age Group Triathlete
That lots of people start to think you are either nuts or superhuman or both, but really you are just someone with resilience and motivation who is willing to feel challenged and push the limits for a few hours.
Sophie Kennedy - Team GB Age Group Triathlete
1. I wish I knew how much I would love races! I certainly would have enjoyed doing them earlier in life, but didn't enter until my boyfriend suggested I should.
2. Don't be put off by the price, have a look around at different events and locations as prices can differ quite a lot. Also they are worth every penny anyway!
3. In terms of the triathlon itself: My first one I'd never swum in open water before so I zig-zagged my way round the lake. It's definitely worth looking into spotting techniques and practising beforehand. Your cadence on the bike and the run can massively help with the weird legs feeling from bike to run.
Read more: Beginner Triathlon Advice
Read more: Beginners Triathlon Guide
In any multi sport and the build up to specific events, we all tend to have the same issue: not having enough time. I'm currently traveling a lot so I have to be organised and well prepared. This includes having my bag packed and always ready for the next training session. Here are my triathlon essentials that I always have packed in my gym bag.
Foam Roller and Trigger Point Ball
Recovery is key after every session in order to be ready for the next one. So, as a massage is a luxury, grabbing a trigger point ball to get my muscles and tissue back in order the first 10-15 minutes after a workout is a great solution. Even after long car drives or flights and even when I’m getting home at midnight, a few minutes are always spent foam rolling and using the trigger point ball and I’m definitely in better shape the next day!
I always have my Furgler 2.0 training shorts, Olperer T-Shirt and running socks in my bag. I love that this outfit is so versatile meaning I can wear it when I go out for my morning Espresso, on the way to the swimming pool, in the gym and of course, on a run. Added to that, thanks to the super fast-drying recycled materials, I can clean the clothes in any hotel room or even on the go and they’ll be 100% ready to wear again!
My favourite energy gel
Especially when I’m traveling, good nutrition comes short sometimes. So, in order to still being able to go full gas in a training session, fast energy can be exactly what is needed.
Instant Recovery Food
While protein bars are not normally my favourite choice because of the high sugar content, the Veganz organic cookie dough-style protein bar has a reasonable amount of protein while tasting just like your favourite kind of sweets could taste. On top of that, all Veganz products are plant-based.
There’s a big hype around dietary supplements, especially for those who are plant-based like me. With proper nutrition, vegans can get all necessary nutrients from a good diet but that can change when you’re not at home. When I’m not cooking and not having a real influence on where I go to eat because I'm traveling, I know the following day will be a hard and difficult day.
I try to be as prepared as possible and carry the following vitamin and mineral supplements: iron, magnesium, omega 3 fatty acids. When choosing vitamin and mineral supplements, don’t go for the cheapest choice. Rather go for some that are completely natural.
Read why magnesium is essential for athletes here.
Reusable Water Bottle
Sundried’s reusable water bottle is stylish, leak-proof and chemical-free. Made from advanced Tritan plastic it won’t break yet feels and looks like glass. With 750ml capacity, I’m able to do the extra hour and don’t have to drink my water combined with softeners. Great item to always have on board and it's good for the environment as it reduces the need for single-use plastic bottles!
About the author: David Rother is a Team GB Age Group triathlete and Sundried ambassador.
Michelle Dillon is a two-time Olympic triathlete who started her career as a 10,000m runner in the Commonwealth Games. She has represented Great Britain in many amazing races, winning silver in the World Duathlon Championships in 2001, gold at the European Triathlon Championships the same year, finishing 1st at the London Triathlon in 2002, and returning to claim gold at the World Duathlon Championships in 2005, among many others. After a back injury halted her career in 2008, she turned to coaching and has coached some of the finest athletes the country has to offer such as Jodie Stimpson and Emma Pallant. She took some time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions for Sundried about life as an athlete-turned-coach.
Do you come from a sporty background/family?
Yes, when I grew up I found running and this was my passion from a very young age. I pursued it and started training more seriously when I was about 13. I saw improvements immediately and went on to win cross country for my school, then later on at 21 I represented my country (which was Australia at the time) at the Commonwealth Games in the 10,000m. My parents weren't particularly sporty, I just had this need to run and followed my dreams!
Growing up, did you always know you wanted to be an elite athlete?
When I first found running and started training more seriously, I knew that I wanted to be an elite athlete, I had so much motivation to train even if it was on my own. I would go running after school and make up my own training, I just loved to push myself and knew this would be a massive part of my life. I left school and immediately followed my dreams and started making a living out of sport so was able to support myself and see how far I could get.
Photo credit: Darren Wheeler www.thatcameraman.com
What piece of advice do you wish someone had told you when you first started competing?
Don't over train. Little did I know injuries were something I would have to deal with for most of my career. I could push myself all day but my body would break down easily. Back when I was competing, there wasn't enough advice on strength and conditioning, instead it was the more training you could do the stronger and tougher you were. So injuries for me held me back from reaching my full potential!
What is something unusual we might not already know about you?
Well I was born a breach baby (feet first) and the cord was wrapped around my neck which stopped me from breathing. I was taken to intensive care, they thought they had lost me, but thankfully they brought me back to life. I guess I wanted to run from the very beginning!
What has been your favourite part of competing at an elite level?
Racing the best in the world and being able to push myself to my limits. I loved the push and challenging myself to be the best I could be as an athlete.
What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?
When I look back on my career now I don't necessarily think it was a particular race that I won that made me proud, it was more what I had overcome with injuries to get on the start line. For example, the last year of my career I had suffered back problems for years, but this particular year I had two disc protrusions which were extremely painful and limited me to my bed for months at a time. I thought my career was over when the doctors told me to stop, however I gave myself one more shot at a "come back" and surprised myself to win a non-drafting race in the USA against some World Class competitors and broke the course record. It showed me that with the right mindset and determination you can do anything you want. My year lasted a few more races before I had to have a major operation on my spine.
How do you overcome setbacks?
Just like what I was talking about above, setbacks can be tough and very challenging as an athlete and in life in general. Sport has taught me a lot about myself, especially when I've had major setbacks in my career. Staying patient is extremely important but certainly not easy, setbacks are character building and if you can get through them you always come back stronger!
How does being a coach compare to being an athlete?
It's completely different. As an athlete, you just have to think about yourself and your training, whereas being a coach you are responsible for someone else's career; you help them make decisions which can be crucial to their development in the sport. You have to be very understanding and patient.
What's your favourite part of being a triathlon coach?
I love being able to pass on my knowledge from all the things I have learnt through my career, so if I made mistakes I try to ensure that they don't make the same. It's very rewarding bringing on an athlete whether it be a World Class athlete or an Age Group athlete, seeing all my athletes do well makes me very proud.
What advice would you give someone entering the world of triathlon for the first time?
I would say invest in a good coach, it's so valuable to have a coach with the knowledge to help you make the improvements, and help you talk through your training, give you advice on nutrition, injuries etc. We have a host of World Class coaches who coach athletes at all levels from beginners to the most advanced athlete and we are ready to help you. Contact us via our website Team Dillon Coaching to find out about our coaching.
Harrison is a bright, intelligent, promising young athlete who already has some impressive titles under his belt. After winning the Sundried Southend Triathlon, we had to invite him on board the team. He tells us more.
Have you always been into sport?
Yes, it has been a key part of my life for as long as I can remember. When I was younger I mainly ran and played rugby, dabbling unsuccessfully in football and golf before choosing to focus on triathlon in year 10 (age 15).
What made you decide to enter triathlon?
I went down to the local triathlon club (East Essex Tri) initially just to improve my running. However, after they encouraged me to try swimming and I’d got to the point where I could swim 400m without drowning, I borrowed my dad’s bike and entered my first triathlon.
What’s been your best race to date?
I won the World Duathlon Championships for the Under 20 age group in 2016; the race went perfectly, a rare occurrence in multisport.
And your proudest achievement?
Probably winning the recent Sundried Southend Triathlon; there’s nothing quite like winning your home race by over two minutes in front of a huge crowd.
Have you ever had any racing disasters / your toughest race yet?
A couple of years ago I won the Great Notley Duathlon... at least I thought I won the Great Notley Duathlon until I crossed the line to find I’d been disqualified for improper racking.
How do you overcome setbacks?
By returning to Great Notley the next year and winning it by the biggest ever margin.
What is the best bit of advice you wish someone had told you before you started competing?
To get my swimming stroke sorted before I started doing regular swimming sessions; it took Gill and Dawn at Tri ‘n’ Swim Well months to fix all the bad habits I had developed.
What are your goals for 2017?
2017 has, so far, had to be painstakingly quiet because I’m doing my A-level exams. That said, I have already achieved a few of my targets; I won the European Duathlon Championships and captained the Essex Cross Country team at the English Schools, both targets of mine for a couple of years now. I want to test myself over an Olympic distance triathlon at some point, break the 1-hour mark for a 25-mile time trial, run a sub-4 minute 1500m and swim a sub-4 minute 400m.
Who do you take your inspiration from?
Jan Frodeno, Alistair Brownlee, and my grandfather, who, at 82, still cycles every day.
What do you like about Sundried and what’s your favourite bit of our kit?
I really like the fact that a brand so local to me is so radical and progressive in its vision. My favourite bit of kit is the Olperer t-shirt; it looks great, fits perfectly, and – because it’s made from coffee it stops you from overheating on your long summer runs.