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INTRODUCTION

As long-standing partners, IRONMAN and TrainingPeaks are thrilled to present the Ultimate IRONMAN Training Guide as a foundation for athletes to kick off their IRONMAN training journey. Packed with knowledge from IRONMAN University Certified coaches, this guide offers the very best information to help you evaluate your goals, find the right coach, and refine your training plan. Read on, and you will quickly realize that anything is possible. See you at the next starting line!

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CHAPTERS

Before you even begin your physical training for IRONMAN, you need to wrap your mind around the concept that good mental habits are learned, practiced and then become the new gold standard for your race day thought processes. Great athletes choose good emotional habits early in the season, change or discard old unhelpful habits, and then practice those good habits over and over again until they feel like old friends.

LANCE WATSON

LIFESPORT COACHING

6+ Months Out From Race Day: Setting Your Goals and Committing to Them

CHAPTER ONE
9 Minute Read

Choosing to do an IRONMAN is a huge and worthwhile undertaking, but our IRONMAN training guide will get you there. Before you even start training, there are a number of decisions about race and equipment selections, as well as mental prep and training strategies to take into consideration.

Let’s dive into them one by one…

Race Selection

With dozens of IRONMAN races around the globe, chances are you can find an event relatively close to you (or better yet, one far away in a location you’ve always wanted to visit). When selecting an IRONMAN race, take into consideration the course elevation, popularity, and timing of the event to make sure it best suits your needs.

Flat courses like IRONMAN ArizonaIRONMAN Florida, and IRONMAN Western Australia are popular choices for first-time athletes and those looking to qualify for the IRONMAN World Championship (and as such often sell out very quickly!), but at the end of the day, 140.6 miles is 140.6 miles, so pick a race that sounds fun and interesting to you.

Take into consideration the climate of the race (especially if you will be training in a different one) and if it suits your strengths. For example, if you’re new to swimming, picking a race that will likely be a non-wetsuit swim might not be the best choice. Also consider the travel costs associated with doing an IRONMAN. Registration fees can cost between US$700 and US$850 (depending on how early you register), and airfare, transportation, food, and lodging can easily tack on a few thousand dollars more when all is said and done.

Balancing Training with Day-to-Day Life

The mental preparation needed before you start IRONMAN training is an often overlooked (but incredibly important) aspect of your journey, not only for you but for your family and friends as well. Take into consideration your work obligations, family commitments, and regular social activities, and have honest conversations with your partner, spouse, and children about how your free time will be minimized during the next several months.

Good time management skills are an asset for any IRONMAN athlete. If you’ve never been a list maker, now is the time to start logging your daily activities and obligations so you can ensure both your IRONMAN training and day-to-day life continue to run in tandem with one another. IRONMAN Coach Meredith Atwood recommends making a mental list known as the “SRS” (Sucky Rotation Schedule), where you rotate a few items of your life down below the “suck line” for a few weeks (i.e. mowing the lawn and doing laundry) so you can focus on other areas you’ve deemed more important (helping your kids with their homework, 5:45 a.m. Masters swim three times a week, etc.).

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As with all things worthwhile, it will not be easy, nor should it be. So expect and prepare yourself for the difficulties that are bound to come up. It will be an emotional and physical roller coaster with its own peaks and valleys. Chances are you will doubt yourself along the way. When this happens, take a deep breath, trust in yourself and keep your sights on the bigger picture: You will be an IRONMAN! Just be warned it will change your life forever!

FRANK CAMPO

Baja California , Mexico, PRANA ENDURANCE

There are many different ways to prepare yourself mentally for the rigors of an IRONMAN, but what matters most is that you realize and accept that the next several months of your life will be very busy and challenging, but ultimately highly rewarding.

Choosing a Strategy

Now that you’ve chosen a race and prepped your schedule accordingly, it’s time to strategize your plan of attack for the next six-plus months.

There are really three ways to go about training for an IRONMAN: hire a coach, purchase a training plan or go it alone.

Hiring a Coach: Coaches can help you best plan your season, determine your fitness benchmarks so you can set realistic but challenging goals, analyze and track your progress, and adjust your training as needed. Coaches provide either virtual or in-person one-on-one assistance, and they can work with you on specific IRONMAN nutrition, skills and race strategies, strength training, and even mental preparation.

Following a Training Plan: There are dozens of training plans in the IRONMAN TrainingPeaks Training Plan Store that suit all levels from the time-crunched beginner to the advanced triathlete looking to qualify for the IRONMAN World Championship. For a small cost you can have all of your workouts uploaded directly into your TrainingPeaks account, allowing you to plan, track, analyze, and adjust your training and your weekly schedule as needed.

Top-Rated IRONMAN Training Plans

The benefits to following a training plan are that you will receive your daily workouts which are periodized to prevent overtraining, and additionally structured training plans make it possible for your intensity levels to be custom-tailored to your individual metrics.

However, you will miss out on the additional skills, one-on-one communication, and support that a coach can offer you, and a training plan is harder to adjust on the fly due to work, injury, and general life disruptions.

Going it Alone: Plenty of athletes have trained for an IRONMAN by simply reading a book, purchasing a free training plan online, or following the advice of a fellow triathlete. However, the risks you run and the benefits you miss out on are many, not least of which being overtraining, injury, and a loss of motivation due to burnout and a lack of support.

Training for an IRONMAN is a large endeavor, and as such your strategy for training for and completing one should not be taken lightly. Make a clear decision about which training strategy you’d like to follow before you begin training in order to avoid any training missteps.

With a truly fantastic coach, you end up with a friend, mentor, and fellow triathlete to whom you can entrust your dreams, frustrations, fears, and successes. – Heather Casey, IRONMAN Certified Coach

GREG. L.

IRONMAN LAKE PLACID FINISHER

Equipment Selection

The equipment needs for an IRONMAN can be as simple or complex as you make them. If this is your first IRONMAN, the list below gives you a good idea of the basics you’ll need during training and on race day.

IRONMAN Equipment List:

Swim Gear:

Wetsuit: A good-fitting, high-quality wetsuit is key, not only for durability, but also for the fantastic buoyancy benefits a wetsuit can offer a beginner open water swimmer.

Swim Cap

Goggles: Make sure your goggles fit well and have a wide lens for open water swimming visibility.

Trisuit: Invest in a tri-suit so you can wear the same outfit from start to finish without fumbling in the change tent. A two-piece or one piece is up to you (although many IRONMAN athletes opt for a two-piece to make bathroom stops easier throughout race day), just make sure it fits well and doesn’t chafe during exercise.

Bike Gear

Bike: At a minimum, you’ll need a road bike with clipless pedals and ideally clip-on aerobars. If you’re not sure if triathlon is more than just a passing hobby, consider purchasing a used one, however make sure to get it inspected for safety before you commence training. If you’ve been competing in triathlons for a while, consider splurging for a TT bike as well as a professional bike fit so you can make sure you’re riding as efficiently and as comfortably as possible.

Clipless Pedals: Clipless pedals will help keep your pedal stroke efficient, minimizing the amount of leg fatigue you’ll feel once you head out on the run. Don’t be intimidated if you’ve never “clipped-in” before, just find an empty parking lot and practice, practice, practice. Before you know it, you’ll never remember what riding without clips was like.

Bike Shoes: Cycling shoes are sturdy and help generate power with every pedal stroke. Make sure you purchase compatible cleats with the type of pedal you are using.

Helmet: Whether you go for a standard road bike helmet or splurge for an aerohelmet, wearing one is mandatory (and just common sense!).

Hydration System: You’ll need to carry a lot of water with you on your bike. There are a variety of hydration systems to choose from: ones that mount on the front in between your aero bars, cages that attach behind your saddle—some people even wear Camelbaks. Whatever system you purchase, start using it as soon as possible in training so you can readily access your fluids safely.

Sunglasses: Choose a pair with polarized lenses and 100 percent UVA/UVB protection. Sports sunglasses work best as they won’t slip or fall off your face during activity.

Run Gear

Running shoes: Spend time picking out running shoes that fit well, which will not only make those miles more comfortable, but will also prevent injury. Replace them roughly every 200 miles, and make sure the pair you wear on race day are completely broken in.

Hat/Visor: Even if your race is in a colder climate, you’ll still be out in the elements for several hours and will want to cover your head for sun protection.

Hydration belt/vest: Even if you plan on utilizing the aid stations, it’s always a good idea to keep some fluids and extra fuel on you.

Technical Gear

GPS Watch/Heart Rate Monitor: Invest in a watch with both GPS and heart rate functions. Most devices with bluetooth sync directly to your TrainingPeaks account for seamless activity uploading.

Indoor Trainer: Depending on where you live, training indoors might be a fact of life for at least part of your race training. Training rides allow you to pack in highly-efficient workouts in minimal time, so consider purchasing one for convenience, if nothing else.

Bike Computer: From turn-by-turn navigation to heart rate and power displays, bike computers do much more than just tell you how far you’ve ridden. When you’re out on a four-plus hour ride, you’ll be happy you have one to keep your efforts in check.

Power Meter: While optional, consider training with a power meter so you can track your training, analyze your progress with your coach, make adjustments, and maximize your time in the saddle.

Spend your money on a good bike fit and coaching. Those two things will get you much more value than any other piece of tri equipment.

DAVID D.

IRONMAN FLORIDA FINISHER

Once you’ve picked out your ideal race, planned a training strategy, purchased the necessary equipment, and mentally prepared yourself and your family for the long road ahead, you’re ready for training to begin.

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COACH MATCH SERVICE

4+ Months Out: Focusing on Weaknesses and Setting Fitness Benchmarks

CHAPTER TWO
8 Minute Read

Now that you’ve decided upon a race and a strategy to reach your goal, here is where the hard work really begins. In this section of the IRONMAN training guide, these roughly eight weeks are all about perfecting your technique (especially in your weakest discipline), working on proper form and handling, as well as setting the right fitness benchmarks from which to build from and assess your progress.

IRONMAN Weekly Training Hours*:

IRONMAN Weekly Training Hours - 4 Months Out
  •  Biking: 3-6 hours/week
  •  Swimming: 2-4 hours/week
  •  Running: 2-4 hours/week

*These totals will vary greatly depending on your triathlon experience, age, and fitness level. Always defer to a coach for the most effective training results.

Swimming: If you feel that your swimming ability is your greatest hurdle heading into your first IRONMAN, take note: you are in the majority. While the thought of swimming for well over an hour straight (in open water no less) might seem daunting, the key is to build a solid foundation of technique and efficiency before building up an excessive amount of mileage.

Use these eight weeks to either perfect your freestyle technique with drills or focusing on pacing. “Pacing is a big problem for many triathletes. By not swimming mechanically well enough to start at a steady effort, they struggle with keeping a sensible pace and start on the bike with unnecessary fatigue,” says Speedo Coaching Advisor Dan Bullock. “Once you understand good pacing, it can be key to further improvements in the water.”

Now is the perfect time to start swimming with a Masters group, or if you can afford it, getting a one-on-one swim consultation to identify your stroke inefficiencies. Doing this now can stave off frustration and/or injury when your weekly swim mileage increases in the coming months.

Cycling: The bike leg of an IRONMAN takes up by far the longest amount of time, and therefore is also the best place to save time. As such, it will necessarily take up the lion’s share of your training volume, particularly in the critical build weeks roughly two months out from race day.

If you’re new to any aspect of road riding — clipping in, handling skills, riding in a group, etc. — then now is the time to address them in earnest. “All too often I’ve seen good results lost due to a rider’s poor skill set when riding the bike. I know that rider has worked really hard in their training, they’ve committed to a tough training plan, and yet the results don’t match up to their power profile,” says Coach Colin Batchelor.

Work with a coach or an experienced cyclist to gain confidence on the bike, and pay attention to the type of IRONMAN course you need to be trained for. Are there a lot of hills? Any technical descents to be prepared for? Searching on forums for other athletes’ experiences at your event’s bike course can alert you to any types of terrain you should plan ahead for.

Running: Even an accomplished marathon runner will encounter an entirely different type of 26.2 miles when they exit T2 during their first IRONMAN. After a 2.4-mile swim and 112-mile bike, your legs are going to be more than a little tired!

That being said, good running form and muscle alignment can do wonders to help keep even a newbie IRONMAN athlete from completely falling apart.

Much like swimming, efficient running form should be cultivated now so that when your mileage ramps up, your body will be foundationally strong and ready. “The key to developing good form is to ingrain proper movement patterns into your muscle memory so that they become automatic,” says Coach Adam Hodges. “And proper movements can be trained through drills.”

Incorporate some dynamic drills, such as butt kicks and side-to-side skips, as well as some short (100 meters or less) barefoot sprints in grass to help improve your turnover and condition your primary and secondary running muscles.

You can totally do this! An IRONMAN is a daunting challenge, but if you get a good training plan and follow it, you will cross that finish line.

RONNIE R

TWO-TIME IRONMAN FINISHER

Setting Your Fitness Benchmarks

Even if you are not a data-driven athlete, fitness metrics play a vital role in not only getting you to the IRONMAN start line, but successfully getting you to the finish line as well. By setting your fitness benchmarks, you not only create a barometer from which to base your workout efforts around, you also set a starting place from which you can more easily gauge your progress and fatigue.

While there are a number of metrics you can measure, let’s keep things simple and focus on Functional Threshold Power (FTP), Heart Rate Threshold, and your Training Stress Score (TSS).

Functional Threshold Power (FTP): FTP, measured in watts, is the greatest mean maximal power you can currently sustain for one hour. Your FTP is not a stagnant number, but rather it should increase as you gain fitness and you will see a decrease if you lose fitness, are overtrained or are ill.

This is important because measuring your FTP at the beginning of your IRONMAN training will allow you to see how you improve, as well as indicate if something is either going wrong in your training or if you need to rest. In order to measure and track your power output you will need a power meter and bike computer, as mentioned in chapter one.

There are many tests for measuring FTP, but it’s unlikely that a one-hour effort on the bike is going to give you accurate data (unless you can find a 40K time trial race to do). The most common field test for finding FTP is a 20-minute, steady-state ride done at maximal effort. It should be treated as a race, so be rested for it. This test can be done indoors or on a flat road, but if you are riding outside be careful to keep your head up and not staring at your bike computer the entire time. “A hard 20 minutes is doable even if your motivation isn’t race-like,” says TrainingBible and The Power Meter Handbook author Joe Friel. “The biggest mistake athletes make in doing this test is starting out much too fast for about five minutes and then fading over the next 15 minutes.”

If you subtract five percent from the average power output of that 20-minute effort, you will get your FTP. All of your power zones (Zone 1 being recovery and Zone 5C being your maximal hard effort) will be based upon this number. It is a good idea to retest your FTP every six to eight weeks during training in order to keep it accurate.

Heart Rate Threshold: Your Heart Rate Threshold (HRT), also known as lactate threshold heart rate, measured in beats per minute (bpm), is the greatest mean maximal heart rate your can currently sustain for one hour.

Training with heart rate alone is a viable option for many IRONMAN athletes. While running power meters do exist, most triathletes still depend on heart rate threshold and pacing for running. In order to measure and track your heart rate you will need a heart rate monitor and GPS watch, as mentioned in chapter one.

One of the most common tests for measuring HRT is a 30-minute steady-state effort, preferably on a flat surface such as a running track. On rested legs and after a good warm-up, begin your 30-minute time trial, but do not press the “lap” button on your watch until you are 10 minutes in. Your average heart rate during those last 20 minutes is an estimation of your HRT. Much like with FTP, this number will determine your training zones and should be re-tested roughly every six to eight weeks as your training progresses.

Training Stress Score® (TSS®): Your Training Stress Score is a unique score developed by TrainingPeaks that factors in relative intensity, duration and frequency of each of your workouts, allowing you to quantify them and track your progression using TrainingPeaks’ Performance Management Chart (PMC).

Simply put, your TSS score takes into account your form, fatigue, and fitness for a given workout so that you can properly build, recover, and peak at the right moments (i.e. on race day). Using TSS and the PMC are by no means only useful for elite athletes, in fact they can be very helpful for newbie athletes training on their own without a coach. In order to use TSS and the PMC you will need a TrainingPeaks account and either a heart rate monitor or power meter (ideally both).

With your specific weaknesses addressed and your fitness benchmarks set, you are now heading into the heaviest weeks of your training, where race specificity training, staying motivated and avoiding injury will be key to your success.

Attacking a weakness means finding out exactly what is causing the issue. You must identify the cause of your weakness and only then you can train to strengthen those areas.

ALLIE BURDICK

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2-3 Months Out From Race Day: Race Specificity Training and Staying Motivated

CHAPTER THREE
20 Minute Read

Now that you’ve built a strong training foundation and clear fitness benchmarks, you are ready to dive into the real “meat and potatoes” of IRONMAN training. Expect your training hours per week to increase sharply, making time management the key to balancing your racing goals with your other day-to-day priorities.

IRONMAN Weekly Training Hours*:

  •  Biking: 6-10 hours/week
  •  Swimming: 4-6 hours/week
  •  Running: 4-7 hours/week

*These totals will vary greatly depending on your triathlon experience, age, and fitness level. Always defer to a coach for the most effective training results.

Take a deep breath and enjoy how far you’ve come. Now is the time to get laser-focused with your training and mimic the conditions, mileage, and your nutrition strategy as closely as possible with what you’ll encounter on race day.

Tune-up races are a great opportunity to do this, just be clear on what your goals are for these types of races and stick to them. This is also when you might experience some slight overuse pains or sometimes even full-blown injuries. Relax, and do what is necessary to rest, heal, or push onward carefully.

Find opportunities during your training months to become mentally tough. Working out in bad weather for example. I had to ride 20 miles on a flat tire during one of my long training rides—it was the best training I could have had. Being mentally tough will save your day and get you across that finish line.

P. DUNN

IRONMAN LAKE PLACID FINISHER

Race Specificity

Race specificity training does not mean doing several 140.6-mile long training sessions. What it does mean is carefully planning out your workouts so you can mimic the specific conditions, terrain, and physiological stress you will encounter on race day. It also means planning and practicing a dialed-in IRONMAN nutrition plan that you know works well for your body during several hours of activity.

One way you can learn your specificity needs is by looking through previous training logs leading up to previous events you’ve done and seeing if the workouts you were doing were close to what you encountered on race day.

For example, if you were training for Escape From Alcatraz and did most of your rides on a straight, flat road and all of your swims in a warm pool —you weren’t practicing race specificity, and it could have hindered your performance both physically and psychologically.

Take some time to learn about the type of IRONMAN course you’re training for, and plan your long rides, runs, and swims accordingly. Is it a hilly course? Is it normally very hot and humid or is the swim often very cold and choppy?

If you have some big hills to encounter on the bike, incorporate hill work during your long rides. If you’ll encounter hot, humid weather but you don’t live in a relatable climate, start factoring in heat acclimation strategies in the weeks leading up to the event.

There are some tools you can use to take specificity training to a deeper level. For example, Best Bike Split software allows you to actually input your specific metrics (FTP, weight, bike fit, etc.) and get an accurate bike split prediction for the particular course you’ll be riding. This can make it possible to train more specifically for the course earlier on and make tiny adjustments that could lead to big time advantages on race day.

If you will be doing a race at altitude, now is also the time to consider a training camp or trip up at elevation. How elevation affects you is a very individual thing, and as such there are many theories as to how best to acclimate, how early to travel up to altitude before a race, etc.

Training Intensity:

Any amateur IRONMAN finisher will tell you that it is not a race done entirely at a high intensity. It’s a long day! However, during your training you should be including some high-intensity efforts to help build stamina, speed, and the physical adaptations necessary for long-distance racing. These can take the form of interval training, and can be done for all three disciplines, or even within a brick workout.

So what’s the right formula of high-intensity versus low intensity efforts? Coach Matt Fitzgerald has written extensively about the 80/20 rule, which is based on the idea that ideal athletic adaptation comes when 80 percent of training is done at a sub-threshold pace, and 20 percent is done above threshold.

In other words, intervals should account for about 20 percent of your training in order to gain the maximum benefits of both aerobic and anaerobic conditioning. The rest of the time you should be working on long, easy mileage as you increase your body’s endurance and stamina.

Get specific 80/20 Triathlon Training Plans here.

Get in the Water Often

Now is also the time to start working on your open water swimming. If, like many newbie triathletes, you have done little more that float on a raft in the open water—you need to jump in! This is also a great opportunity for some race specificity training, as the type of open water you’ll be swimming in for your race should be considered and trained for. Is it an ocean swim? A point-to-point lake swim? Open water swimming techniques will vary widely depending on these factors, and if you start practicing for what you’ll encounter you’ll be a stroke ahead of many of your competitors on race day. If you have a fear of open water, now is the time to tackle it.

Open Water Swimming Techniques:

Sighting

Sighting takes practice, pure and simple. During a race you’ll have large buoys to sight off of, however in open water training you might not, so get accustomed to finding a spot on the horizon to glance up at to ensure you are going straight and swimming the most efficient line. Be aware that while from the shore you can clearly see that particular tree, when you’re down low in the water only inches from the surface—you might not be able to see it. So pick a sighting object that is tall, large, and bright enough for your needs.

You don’t need to sight every stroke, in fact, that will wear you out and slow you down. Practice looking up every 10 strokes and over time you will learn how to sync your sighting with your breathing.

Keep in mind that sometimes your sighting might be hindered due to the sun (and occasionally even fast-moving fog), so before you head into the open water make sure your goggles are clean, de-fogged, and tinted or polarized if necessary. Many newbie open water swimmers feel more comfortable with larger lensed goggles, so consider purchasing some wide-angle lenses so you can see more clearly above and below water.

Breathing

If you’re new to swimming, you likely have a dominant side that you breathe on, however during an open water swim you’ll want to at least have the option of breathing bilaterally. Not only does it help streamline your stroke and help you find a rhythm, but when you’re swimming with a lot of other people very close to you, breathing on your dominant side might not always be an option. Work on this at first in the pool before trying it in open water as it can cause you to inadvertently drift.

At the start of a race your heart rate will likely ramp up quite a bit as you swim away from shore. This is perfectly normal, but it is something you can get accustomed to by practicing a fast-paced swim away from shore. Learn how to control your breathing to calm your heart rate now so it isn’t such a shock come race day.

Water Entry

Some IRONMAN races are done in waves (also known as a rolling start), meaning you’ll be starting with only your age group and some space will be created between you and the swim group ahead and behind you. However, many IRONMAN races are still mass starts, meaning all 2,000+ people head into the water at once. Yes, things do get a bit chaotic, but it’s important to remember that you are never in danger and as long as you keep moving forward and stay calm, the crowds will usually thin out eventually. If you are really uncomfortable with the water entry, remember you can always hang at the back until everyone else has made their way into the water.

Practice your water entry to get accustomed to either starting in deep water or from the shore. Head into the water with a group of other people and get used to what it’s like to swim so close to another person for a few hundred yards. Tune-up races are a great opportunity to get used to water entries as well.

Swimming in a Crowd

Once you’ve made it through the water entry, you still have to get comfortable being bumped, slapped, and even occasionally kicked by other swimmers. Remember not to take it personally! Now is the time to get accustomed to the congestion. Find an open water swimming group to tag along with and remember to just keep your head down and keep going.

Eventually, you will even learn how to use the crowd to your advantage. If you pick a swimmer slightly faster than you and stay at their heels, you can actually “draft” off of them and save some energy. Just remember to sight for yourself as you can’t be sure that they are swimming straight themselves!

If finding open water proves difficult for you, there are several ways you can start practicing for the open water in a pool.

  • Pick a spot on the opposite side of the pool and practice sighting as you swim down the lane.
  • Work on your hypoxic breathing (i.e. learning to breathe every three or four strokes instead of every stroke.
  • Work on your bilateral breathing skills.
  • Practice swimming with a wetsuit on to get used to the tight fit and buoyancy (and to determine any possible chafing areas).
  • Practice swimming around an object in a pool to simulate swimming around a buoy.

Brick workouts (running directly off the bike or biking directly after you swim) should become a major part of your training regimen around this time for this very reason. If you’ve ever done a triathlon before, you are familiar with that “jelly” feeling you get when you head out on the run after getting off your bike. This is because your body had to shunt the blood from the muscles used predominantly to those muscles needed for running.

While you can’t completely get rid of the “jelly legs” you’ll feel jumping off the bike and into the run, by practicing with brick workouts regularly in your training, you can get used to the feeling and even get more efficient at shunting the blood faster.

Before an IRONMAN, it’s important that you experience what it feels like to go for a four-hour ride followed by a one-hour, moderately paced run—especially in conditions similar to those you’ll face on race day.

For example, if you know your IRONMAN run is a mostly flat, multi-looped course in the heat, then plan a run off the bike at the hottest time of day on a similar type of run terrain.

And remember, brick workouts don’t only mean bike-to-run transitions. Get accustomed to how you feel when you jump on your bike for a 90-minute ride after a long Masters swim workout. These types of adaptations will serve you well on race day.

Strength Training

While it may seem like finding time to strength train on top of everything else you’re doing is impossible, it’s worth it to incorporate some sort of strength work one to two times a week to prevent injury and to prepare your body for the demands of an IRONMAN.

You can keep this strength work simple by following a bodyweight-only routine, perhaps directly after getting out of the pool or even as part of a dynamic warm-up for one of your runs. Remember to allow at least 24 hours between a lifting session and a long ride or run for adequate recovery.

Strength training for long-distance racing can be complicated to balance on your own. If you don’t have a coach, consider trying an initial strength training session with a personal trainer at a local gym in order to get a basic group of exercises in place.

You could also sign up for an online course on strength training in order to better understand strength adaptations and how to build a more long-term training plan for performance success.

Check out the TrainingPeaks University course on strength training for triathletes here.

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A common mistake I see athletes make is not really training specifically for what they want to accomplish. I find many athletes do this because they are not aware of what their specificity really is. If you’re an IRONMAN triathlete, you need to prepare for a large, single-day stress, not a series of stressful days in a row, beating you down.

JIM VANCE

TrainingBible Coaching / SuperFly Coaching, San Diego, CA

IRONMAN Nutrition

The other, even more important aspect of race specificity training involves dialing in your nutrition plan through careful practice. While it’s fun and rewarding to stop at a coffee shop halfway through your five-hour ride and eat pastries, it’s not very race specific.

While you can get by with very little thought to nutrition during shorter distance triathlons, the truth is that the biggest problem IRONMAN competitors face on race day is not a lack of fitness but rather a poor nutrition plan (or a poorly executed one).

Nutrition needs vary widely from person to person, so if you have the ability work with a coach or sports dietician to find a plan that works for you it can be very helpful. However, here are some basic nutrition guidelines to help you craft your own nutrition plan:

  • Carbohydrate is king: In a race lasting 12+ hours, your main source of fuel will be from carbohydrate. Keeping your glycogen stores up will give you the energy to keep moving forward. “A good rule of thumb is to ingest 60 grams of carbohydrate per hour,” says nutrition expert Asker Jeukendrup. “What form this takes is entirely up to you and your personal preferences.”
  • Know your sweat rate: During a short but intense run or ride (ideally 90 minutes), you can calculate your sweat rate by simply weighing yourself (non-clothed) before and after the workout, converting the ounces lost into milliliters and adding this number to the amount (in ml) of fluid you consumed during your workout. Then divide this number by the duration of your workout to learn how many ml/hour of fluid you lose during activity.

To get a detailed description on how to do your own sweat rate test, watch the following video from Global Triathlon Network’s Triathlon Training Explained:

Once you have an idea of how much fluid and carbohydrate you need, you can craft a nutrition strategy to practice regularly in training. Use your long runs and rides as times to experiment with different consistencies (gels and bars or only liquids) to see what works best for you and keeps your energy levels up.

Training with specificity also means testing out your nutrition plan in similar conditions, since your hydration and fueling needs will change if the temperature is much warmer or cooler. If you’d like to use what is available on course, now is the time to start training with it to make sure it works for you.

Even if the majority of your nutrition will be carried, it’s still a good idea to learn about what will be available on course and test it out during your long training sessions. Above all, once you find a product that works in training—don’t switch it out on race day! This is time well spent in your heavy training weeks that will prevent you from bonking or suffering from gastrointestinal distress or dehydration on race day.

For my first IRONMAN I went in without a nutrition or hydration plan whatsoever. The only thing I planned to do was drink a lot and grab a banana whenever I saw one. Somehow I survived. But now I go in with a much better plan because you need more than dumb luck to get through with a smile on your face.

GREG L

IRONMAN LAKE PLACID FINISHER

Tune-up Races

While your IRONMAN will likely be your priority or “A” race for the season, when crafting your Annual Training Plan you should include a few shorter races as part of your lead up to your IRONMAN race day.

Tune-up races are great opportunities to test out nutrition strategies, work on transitions, dial in your ideal racing pacing, and generally just iron out any race details that are hard to simulate in training.

These types of races can be split into two categories: “B” priority races and “C” priority races. According to USAT Level 2 Coach Jen Mathe, you should schedule a “B” priority race roughly a month prior to your IRONMAN race (ideally at the end of a recovery week). “These events allow you to practice different pacing or nutrition strategies before you get to the big show,” says Mathe. “If you are new to triathlon, these events can give you race experience and help you build confidence going into a big race.”

Mathe recommends that you treat “C” priority races like pure practice and race specificity training opportunities. “You should not expect to earn a personal record in a “C” priority event,” explains Mathe. “But you should expect to learn a lot about how you race and how your body responds in different scenarios.”

No matter how tempting it may be, remember all tune-up races are just part of your IRONMAN training journey—they are not the end goal. While you may want to test out pacing efforts on the swim, bike, or run, it’s not a good idea to “race” the event at an all-out effort without a solid answer for why doing that will help you in your IRONMAN training.

For your “C” priority races, choose one or two areas to focus on, for example nailing your T1 transition or successfully holding your marathon goal pace for the entire run. By testing out nutrition with your pacing strategies in a racing environment, you can more accurately determine what works best for you.

Brick Workouts

As your workout mileage increases, you should also begin incorporating “brick” workouts into your training regimen. A brick workout is basically two different sport disciplines performed back-to-back. Most commonly it is done as a bike-to-run workout, however it can also be performed as a swim-to-bike workout.

These types of workouts help your body adapt to the muscular and cardiovascular requirements of triathlon racing, namely differing muscle and nerve firings that need to take place while switching from biking to running or swimming to biking.

Brick workouts, like tune-up races, are another great opportunity to practice your transitions. Try setting up your trainer on a pool deck or set up a mini-transition in the back of your car so you can quickly go from bike to run.

If you are new to triathlon, you will find that running off the bike will make your legs feel like, well, bricks. By completing brick workouts regularly (and through your tune-up races), you can learn how to run off the bike faster and more efficiently.

According to Coach Heather Blackmon, you should start incorporating brick workouts into your routine around 12 to 16 weeks before race day. “Your first brick workout can be as easy as adding a one-mile run as soon as you finish a bike workout. Although simple, this will help you get used to that transition and you’ll notice this brick becomes easier after just a few weeks,” says Blackmon. “As your training progresses, you can slowly increase both the intensity and distance of the run to closer reflect the race you are training for.”

For an IRONMAN, you will want to build up to a two-hour-plus run off-the-bike, preferably during one of your long (5+ hour) rides. Remember, you’ll want to build up to this brick workout distance slowly over time, and you’ll need adequate recovery time after these workouts as they will be taxing on your body.

If you’re looking for a basic brick workout, try doing the following:

1. 1-hour bike ride as follows:

  •  15 minutes easy Zone 1 warm-up
  •  3 x 1 minutes at Zone 4 with two-minute recovery in between
  •  3 x 5 minutes at Zone 3 with one-minute recovery in between
  •  15-minute easy Zone 1 spin

2. Get off bike and plan a quick change into running clothing/shoes (try to keep this transition to under five minutes).

3. 30 minute run as follows:

  •  10 minutes easy Zone 1
  •  Do 5 x 2 minutes at Zone 3 with one minute easy Zone 1 recovery in between
  •  Five-minute easy jog/cool down in Zone 1

For a more advanced brick workout, check out this swim/bike/run brick from Coach Mike Ricci.

Staying Motivated

While your IRONMAN will likely be your priority or “A” race for the season, when crafting your Annual Training Plan you should have included a few shorter races as part of your lead up to IRONMAN race day.

With five hour rides, long runs, and thousands of swimming yardage adding up, you are bound to feel overwhelmed, distracted, and unmotivated at some point in your IRONMAN training. This is perfectly normal and not something to feel disheartened about. There are a number of things you can do to spark your motivation when things get tough:

  • Join a group: If you haven’t joined a triathlon club or online endurance sport community, now is the time to do it. Training with a group of like-minded individuals, often people who are also training for an IRONMAN, can give you extra motivation to show up to workouts and can also make the time fly by on those really long training sessions. Not only will you find a sounding board for some of your biggest training questions and conundrums, you will likely make lifelong friendships that last way beyond you crossing that finish line.
  • Talk with your coach: Keeping your goals and motivation in check is just one of the many benefits of having one-on-one coaching. Don’t hold back on how you’re feeling, let your coach know if you’ve been dreading workouts or having a hard time fitting in everything on your plan. There are always adjustments that can be made to keep your biggest goal in mind—having a safe, fun, and rewarding IRONMAN training experience.
  • Assess your time management: Now might be a good time to revisit Coach Meredith Atwood’s one-on-one coaching SRS List. You might need to knock some other aspects of your life down below the suck line (i.e. laundry) so you can free up some more time to train or simply relax a little bit more. Talk with your loved ones to make sure you feel supported, and let them know that any words of encouragement will go really far in helping you knock out those long workouts. Maybe your spouse can meet you at the halfway point of one of your rides with your kids so you can all share a quick coffee before you head back. Just knowing they are there waiting for you can give you extra incentive to tick those miles off.
  • Gauge your fatigue level: If you’re finding yourself constantly unmotivated, cranky, and lethargic, chances are you are simply overtrained. Scale back your workouts (and take a day off!) for up to one week and see if your motivation starts to creep back in. Crankiness and chronic lethargy are telltale signs from your body that you’ve simply ramped up too quickly and need some time to recover and absorb your training load.
  • Find your North Star: If you’ve gone through the above four tips and are still having trouble finding your training motivation, then you need to dial-in why you are doing an IRONMAN in the first place. Is it to raise awareness to a special cause near to your heart? Is it to improve your fitness for your children? Whatever your reasons for signing up for an IRONMAN are, you need to reflect upon them and put the whole IRONMAN training process into perspective. Try writing down three reasons why finishing an IRONMAN is important to you and focus on them when training becomes difficult.

Injury Setbacks

No matter how dialed-in your training and recovery plans may be, there is still a high probability that you will be at least temporarily sidelined during your IRONMAN journey. The key is to not ignore the symptoms of a nagging injury.

Small overuse injuries such as heel pain can quickly flare into full-blown plantar fasciitis if not addressed and corrected early. Make stretching, foam rolling, and icing a regular part of your recovery routine, particularly as you head into some of your weekend big mileage days. If possible, start scheduling regular massages so you can address tight areas before they start to hinder your body mechanics.

Here are five common IRONMAN training injuries* and how to treat them:

IT Band Syndrome:

Symptoms: Pain, tightness, and inflammation of the iliotibial band (connective tissue that runs along the outer thigh and knee), pain usually increases with activity.

Causes: Tight hips and hamstrings; running on uneven surfaces; overuse; physiology

Treatment: Foam rolling along the IT Band; icing; rest; increasing flexibility in the hip and hamstrings; active-release therapy; physical therapy

Plantar Fasciitis:

Symptoms: Pain, tightness along the plantar fascia, a flat band of tissue that connects your heel bone to your toes. Can appear as heel pain or pain along the underside of your foot post-exercise, and is often at its worst in the morning right as you get out of bed.

Causes: Tightness along the plantar fascia and calves; overuse; foot mechanics

Treatment: Keep a frozen golf ball in your freezer and roll it along the underside of your foot at night before you go to bed; foam rolling; rest; plantar night splints; physical therapy

Swimmer’s Shoulder (Tendinitis):

Symptoms: Pain and inflammation of the rotator cuff and surrounding shoulder muscles, usually exhibited as a dull pain post-exercise but can eventually turn into a stabbing pain during activity.

Causes: Poor stroke mechanics; overuse; arthritis

Treatment: Pain relievers; rest; active-release therapy; physical therapy

Shin Splints:

Symptoms: Also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, is a term for lower-leg pain (usually along the front of the shin) that appears most frequently during running and other high-impact activities.

Causes: Ramping up mileage too quickly; overuse; poor running mechanics; poor-fitting running shoes

Treatment: Icing; rest; avoiding running on hilly or uneven surfaces; stretching the Achilles and calves regularly

Runner’s Knee:

Symptoms: Also known as patellofemoral pain syndrome, this inflammation of the patella (kneecap) exhibits as pa in behind or surrounding the knee area and can be dull or sudden and severe.

Causes: Overuse; poor running mechanics; weak or tight quadriceps muscles; arthritis

Treatment: Icing; rest; pain relievers, strength training of the quadriceps and hamstrings; hip mobility; active-release therapy; physical therapy

*All of these injuries can vary greatly from mild to severe. Always consult a medical professional for the most accurate diagnosis.

Coming back from an injury can be a mental challenge for even the most dedicated athlete. Make time to work on your mental skills during this time and you will not only come out of the injury physically stronger, but more psychologically tough as well.

Work with your coach, speak with friends and family or even consult with a sports psychologist to make sure you are keeping everything in perspective. A few weeks off will not derail your IRONMAN dreams as long as you have a clear plan for how to rehabilitate and move forward with your training—and a willingness to adjust your goals as needed.

If you are dealing with an injury an uncertain how to keep your emotions and mental skills in check, sign up for our TrainingPeaks online course “Mental Toughness for Injured Athletes: How to Regain Confidence and Return to Competition,” led by acclaimed mental skills expert Carrie Cheadle to help give you some tools for how to return to competition healthy and motivated.

Now that you’ve dialed in your race-day nutrition plan, got some tune-up races and brick workouts under your belt, and kept up your motivation (possibly through some injury setbacks), you’re ready to ease up your training and allow your body to absorb all the hard work you’ve done during your IRONMAN taper.

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4 Weeks Out From Race Day: Tapering and Equipment Maintenance

CHAPTER FOUR
10 Minute Read

Congratulations! You’ve made it through some tough big days of IRONMAN training, possibly a few setbacks, and now you are on your way to the starting line. From this point forward, it’s important to remember that from a fitness perspective, there is nothing you can do (think last-ditch effort training sessions) that will make any noticeable gains in your performance level.

On the flip side, there are many things you can do to arrive on race day fatigued and not ready to race at your best. This is where a good IRONMAN race taper comes in. Tapering is an art form in itself. It is mentally and physically challenging—but worth it. Instead of doing junk mileage, take these last few weeks to ensure your equipment is in good working order and your race travel logistics are all tied up.

Tapering Defined

The right way to taper for a long-distance event such as an IRONMAN is a hotly-contested topic among endurance athletes and coaches—and for good reason. The right taper will set you up for success, whereas a lousy one will derail even the most closely followed training plan. So let’s start with some basic questions about why tapering properly is so important, and some common tapering conundrums:

What is the purpose of a taper?

The large mileage and training load you accumulated during your last build phase heading into your race was very taxing on your body. You activated important neurons, built new muscle fiber, gained mental strength, and conditioned your heart, lungs, and even your gastrointestinal system on how to function during very long activity.

This hard work lays the foundation for your race, but it takes time for your body to absorb all of these new adaptations. Your body can’t do this properly without rest. By giving your body time to absorb, reset, and build, you’re essentially solidifying all the hard work you’ve done previously so you can take advantage of it on race day.

Should I completely stop working out for a month?

A taper doesn’t mean shutting down your output entirely, but you will take the focus off of high-volume and instead turn it toward short muscle and nerve activations (think more tempo runs and less long, slow distance).

This decrease in mileage will happen slowly over the four weeks, so don’t halt your training completely. Think of it as a slowly decreasing line with little spikes of intensity thrown in. As you approach race week, you’ll take a few more days off here and there as well.

I’ve reduced my workout load accordingly, and I feel terrible. I even got a cold and have noticed some pain in my knee that I never noticed before!

Relax, all of these situations are quite normal. It has been said by many a coach that you know you’re tapering correctly when two weeks out from your big race you’re feeling absolutely terrible.

Mentally, your body has become accustomed to the high training volume and you might feel some anxiety or even depression once your training hours taper off. Use these extra hours in your week to focus on your mental health, spend time with friends and family, get massages, and get all your race-travel and equipment logistics in order. Use these extra hours wisely for taking care of yourself and preparing your body and your equipment for the task ahead of you.

From a physical standpoint, your lethargy is a sign that your body is rebuilding and resetting—which is a good thing! However, you might feel like you’re coming down with a cold (or actually come down with one) or notice some aches and pains you didn’t before.

High-volume training can suppress your immune system, and many common overuse injuries can be overlooked simply due to the intense nature of the training. This is why at the first sign of rest, your body might feel like it’s falling apart a little bit. Focus on a healthy diet and lots of sleep and you will start to feel excited and energetic just in time for race day.

How should I adjust my nutrition during my taper?

According to Dr. Rick Kattouf, nailing your IRONMAN nutrition taper involves focusing on timing your fueling so that you get the most benefit. He says to make sure that you eat first thing upon waking up and within an hour after finishing each and every workout. And even if you find yourself heading into race day with some extra weight, remember that now is not the time to shed weight or follow a new fad diet of any kind.

Over the years I’ve seen many athletes not achieve their full potential in races because they failed to execute a proper IRONMAN taper. I’ve witnessed triathletes who have not backed off enough and were tired and flat at the event; I’ve also seen those who have dialed back their training far too much, and dulled the fitness that they had taken months to hone.

DAVE SCOTT

Shrewsbury , United Kingdom, 6X IRONMAN WORLD CHAMPION & COACH

IRONMAN Training Gear Maintenance

With your training schedule slightly opened up, you’ll quickly discover there are a number of items on your pre-race to-do list that need to be taken care of, so now’s the time to get them done!

There’s nothing more heartbreaking than seeing someone have their IRONMAN race goals destroyed by an avoidable mechanical or equipment failure. Yes, some things are largely unavoidable (puncture flats for instance), but most situations can be avoided by simply checking your equipment and getting a quality bike tune-up well ahead of race day.

Equipment Checklist

Wetsuit: Check for signs of wear, particularly in the shoulders and around the zippers. Have any holes patched up.

Goggles: Check the straps for signs of wear, and consider purchasing goggle defogger wipes (baby shampoo and water can work well in a pinch).

Bike: Unless you are a bike mechanic, spend the money to have someone go over your bike to make sure everything is working properly. Many bike shops offer a “pre-race tune-up.” Check your tires, tubes, chain, shifters, and brakes and have anything replaced as needed. Purchase extra tubes, CO2 cartridges (or a portable bike pump), and plan on having everything you’d need to change a flat on your bike during the race. Not doing this can cost you hours waiting for a sag wagon to arrive!

Helmet: Make sure your helmet meets the safety standards required by your race. A good universal safety requirement is that of the USA CPSC, and a sticker stating your helmet meets this standard should be able to be seen clearly on the inside of the helmet. Make sure your straps work correctly, as an unstrapped helmet can lead to a disqualification.

Cycling shoes/cleats: Make sure all straps and buckles are in working order, clean your cleats, and apply a lubricant to them as well. If you are using cages, make sure those straps are secure and not overly frayed.

Running shoes: If you’re going to buy a new pair of racing shoes, now is the last possible time to do it to give you enough time to break them in properly before race day.

Bike Transport

Don’t leave your bike transport planning to the last minute. Not only can bike transport be expensive, but depending on your transport method, it might require a lengthy lead time. Plus, in many scenarios you will need to reassemble it once you reach your race, and if you aren’t sure how to do this you’ll need to find a bike shop or mechanic to do this for you.

There are three main ways of transporting your bike to a destination race:

Using a transport service: There are a few reputable bike transport services that, while costly, basically take care of all of your equipment transport concerns pre and post race. You typically drop off your bike (and your gear for an additional cost) at a local bike shop and then pick it up at the race expo. After the race you simply turn it in and pick it up at the same bike shop once you get back home. You’ll likely need to remove your pedals before you drop off your bike, so make sure you remember to bring them with you to the race!

Transport services can remove a lot of the stress of race planning and travel, and if you book things far enough in advance you can save some money. One thing to keep in mind is that the drop off time for bikes before a race can sometimes be lengthy, so plan to not have your bike for at least two weeks before race day and possibly another few weeks post race as well.

Boxing and shipping it there yourself: If you feel comfortable trusting your bike to the postal service, this can be one of the more economical ways to go—but it isn’t without its risks. Many bike shops will pack your bike for you, but make sure you use a solid bike box or bike case. If you can fit some of your race equipment in the box it can be a good way to provide additional padding and save some room in your own suitcase. Be sure to get your bike insured and have it delivered to a bike shop near your event so it can be reassembled in time for you to take it out at least a few test rides before race day. Pay particular attention to the transit time, especially if you are traveling internationally for your event as this can delay delivery dramatically!

There are a few companies out there who offer shipping services for you. They will either pick up your boxed-up bike at your home or a local drop-off location (usually a bike shop). They can even provide you with a specially made bike box and deliver it to your preferred destination.

Flying with your bike: Many athletes opt to take their bike with them on the plane, and there are certainly a number of reasons to go with this option. You can use your bike up until you are ready to leave for your race, and you will have it right when you arrive at your event. However, traveling with a bike can get very pricey. Airline fees for oversize items such as bikes vary widely, and can depend on if you are traveling internationally as well.

Invest in a solid bike carrying case, because as much as you think your bike is amazing, baggage handlers could generally care less about it. Many an athlete has had the experience of watching their beloved TT bike being flung out of the back of a plane’s cargo area onto a truck.

Again, if you’re packing your bike in a case or box, pad it generously—particularly the more delicate areas like brake levers, chains, and derailleurs. And if you’re not comfortable doing it yourself, make sure you have a qualified mechanic or friend ready to assemble it as soon as you arrive so you can test to make sure everything is in working order.

Finalizing Travel Logistics

By now you should have all of your travel plans in order: plane tickets, accommodations, rental car, etc. But it’s a good idea to double-check that your reservations are confirmed, and possibly make any last-minute changes as needed. Here are some basic IRONMAN pre-travel tips to finalize now:

  • If you are traveling internationally, you should plan to give yourself an extra few days before the race to get over jet lag.
  • Take some time to familiarize yourself with the event area. Learn how far you are staying from the race venue, approximate travel times, as well as the location of important amenities like groceries, restaurants, and gyms.
  • Stock up on any race week or pre-race nutrition items to make sure you aren’t left frantically searching for them the night before your race.
  • If you are traveling with your family, start researching things for them to do during race week to keep them occupied while you rest and prepare, and find a few fun things to do together as a family post-race to reward them for all their patience these last six months!

With your taper winding down, race time is right around the corner. Prepare to pack up, ship off, and let the official race week countdown begin!

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7 Days Out From Race Day: Final preparations

CHAPTER FIVE
13 Minute Read

The time has come to showcase all of your hard IRONMAN training. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the race-week excitement, but try and put an emphasis on good nutrition and rest as much as possible.

If you’re traveling a great distance to your race, plan some extra time to allow for jet lag and/or altitude acclimation. Keep your special needs bag checklist (more on this below) handy so you can get everything packed and ready to go long before race morning.

Finally, enjoy some time at the expo and with friends and family, then quietly excuse yourself to get some alone time to focus on your mental game plan for race day. And above all else, stay off your feet as much as possible!

IRONMAN Travel Do’s and Don’ts

Race travel is inherently stressful. You have a big event on the horizon, often a lot of luggage (perhaps even a bike!) in tow, and there is a general sense of urgency to get to the race and get everything sorted.

You can mitigate a lot of this stress by being well prepared and well equipped. First of all, don’t leave anything to the last minute. Have your bike either safely en route or packed securely to fly with you no later than the day before your flight.

Don’t leave packing to the last minute either. Lay out everything you know you’ll need to race on the bed so you can be sure you have it all, and rest assured during transit that everything you need has been accounted for.

Here are some helpful do’s and don’ts during travel to make sure you arrive at your race destination as prepared and healthy as possible.

Don’t sit near someone who appears ill. This is a completely reasonable time to be “that guy” who asks to be reseated. If you have to sit next to them, consider wearing a face mask and make sure you wash your hands thoroughly before, during, and after your flight.

Do wear compression socks. Whether you’re stuck in a car, plane, or train for several hours en-route, you’ll want to keep your blood flowing. Not only do compression socks reduce your risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), they can also enhance your body’s ability to push lactic acid out of muscles for more adequate recovery.

Don’t experiment with new foods (at least not until after the race). That local delicacy might seem harmless, but now is not the time to be introducing new foods to your already nervous stomach. Stick to foods that you eat often at home, and then let your tastebuds run wild after you cross that finish line.

Do drink plenty of water. If you’re traveling by air, you’ll want to consume at least eight ounces of water every hour of your flight. Yes, you might be making a few more trips to the airplane bathroom, but it’s a good way to make sure you keep your blood flowing anyway. Consider getting an aisle seat for this reason—or better yet a bulkhead seat for optimal legroom.

Don’t imbibe during travel (or during race week). Now is a good time to refrain from all alcohol, but this is especially true during air travel where it can very quickly impair and dehydrate you. If you are a daily drinker, aim for no more than one drink per day in the weeks leading up to your race.

Do bring food with you onto the plane, train, or with you in the car. Airplane food is not geared for the endurance athlete, and neither is the food at a highway rest stop. It will leave you bloated, lethargic, and riding the sugar crash roller coaster. Avoid high fat, high sodium fare during travel and instead bring along some lean protein and nutrient dense options like whole grain crackers with hummus, grilled chicken salad, bananas with almond butter, and low-sugar protein bars.

Don’t skimp on sleep. Yes, you’re nervous and sleep might be harder to come by, but make as much of an effort to get in eight to nine hours a night as possible. Your body will need that extra shuteye to keep your head in the game on race day. Try to sleep on the plane, and plan on taking a nap every day leading up to your race if you can (eye masks and noise-cancelling headphones can be a great help for this).

Do take precautions to prepare your body for jet lag. Once en route, set your clock to your destination’s time so you can eat, sleep, and be awake accordingly. Give yourself a few extra days if you’re crossing the international dateline. If you land in the afternoon, try your hardest to stay awake until a reasonable bedtime hour.

Alternatively, if you land in the morning but feel completely spaced out, take one short nap early in the day and then try to stay awake until bedtime. Staying hydrated can do wonders for jet lag, as can a very easy jog or other workout done as soon as you reach your hotel.

Don’t underestimate the importance of acclimation. If your race is at any elevation above 4,000 feet, your body will need some time to adjust. There are a lot of theories on proper acclimation strategies (and your ability to acclimate is a very individual thing), but generally you’ll want to arrive at least three to five days ahead of time if at all possible. You can mitigate some of the effects of altitude by staying hydrated and sleeping well.

Course Familiarization

Once you reach your race destination, you might feel pulled in a hundred directions. Stay calm and understand that you have more than enough time to get checked-in, get your race packet, and then get your bearings. Plan on spending at least a day familiarizing yourself with each section of the course.

Swim course

Many IRONMAN triathlons have scheduled course swims, which are great opportunities to not only get accustomed to the swimming conditions you’ll face on race day, but also to meet other athletes. If your race has a particularly cold swim, plan on swimming every day leading up to your race to give your body time to adjust. Alternatively, if your swim is looking like it’s going to be a non-wetsuit affair, you’ll want to practice swimming at least 15 to 20 minutes sans wetsuit to get used to the lack of buoyancy compared to a wetsuit swim.

If the swim buoys are set up, take the time to practice your sighting and breathing, and try swimming in a tight group to simulate race-day conditions as much as possible. If your swim is a beach start, practice your entry technique as well. Try removing your goggles mid-swim so you can practice putting them back on without disrupting your rhythm.

Bike course

Now is not the time to go ride the entire 112-mile bike course! However, a car ride through at least the majority of the bike course can be very helpful. Take note of where the aid stations will be, as well as where the special needs bag pick up will be located.

If your course has some tight turns, steep pitches, or speed limit areas, you should go see them beforehand so during the race you can anticipate them accordingly. Take note of any potholes, gravel on the road, or traffic intersections, and proceed through these areas with caution on your bike.

Run course

Try to drive the run course at approximately the same time of day you will be running it so you can plan your clothes choices accordingly. Take note of the location of aid stations and special needs bag pick up. Make sure you are well aware of any multi-looped course designations so you don’t inadvertently cut the course.

Bike Check-in

The logistics of many IRONMAN races are more complicated than your average triathlon. Many IRONMAN races require you to check-in your bike (and sometimes all your transition area equipment except swim attire) the day before your race, so be aware of this and plan accordingly.

Make sure you have your race number properly attached to your bike (and helmet if necessary) before you check it in. If the weather the night before appears threatening, bring a trash bag to cover over your bike and bike seat. Alternatively, if the weather will be exceptionally hot, take a little bit of air out of your tires before you leave it on the rack overnight (but remember to pump it back up before the race starts!) to avoid any flat tires. Bring a pump.

Special Needs Bags

Special needs bags can be a lifeline for an athlete during their race. In an IRONMAN there are usually two special needs bag drop offs, one at roughly the midpoint of the bike and one at the midpoint of the marathon. Even if you don’t think you’ll use them, it’s better to pack them (do this a few days before the race, not frantically last minute!) and have them there for you just in case.

While many athletes pack them and then never use them, sometimes even knowing it’s there waiting for you can be enough motivation to keep moving forward. Special needs bags are meant to be filled with whatever (legal) means you need to refuel, recharge, and reinvigorate yourself.

For some, this means little more than a refill of your particular hydration drink, some bars, and lip balm, while for others it means pictures of their kids, motivational notes from loved ones, and a clean pair of socks.

Here is a list of ideas for what to put in your special needs bags, so you can print it out and use it when you prepare to pack yours (final warning: don’t do this on race morning!):

Special Needs Checklist

  • Travel-size pouches of your tried-and-true hydration drink (this is not the time to experiment with something free you got from the expo!)
  • Extra water bottle (if your race is extremely hot, freeze it the night before so it will be nice and cool when you get to it)
  • Your favorite flavor of bar/gel/chew
  • Arm warmers/arm coolers
  • Extra layer of clothing/windbreaker
  • Extra salt tabs
  • Mild pain relievers (Ibuprofen, Motrin, etc.)
  • Extra CO2 cartridges
  • Extra tubes
  • Clean pair of socks
  • Extra pair of sunglasses
  • Lip balm
  • Sunscreen (always a good idea to spend two minutes reapplying it rather than deal with heat exhaustion later)
  • Extra visor/hat (In case you forgot it in T2 or you want a dry one after excessive sweating or inclement weather)
  • Lubricant (Hey, chafing happens.)
  • Inspirational note or mantra
  • Pictures of your family

Do some mental training to prepare for race day. Take some time to come up with some mantras that you can use to keep you focused on form and execution. Having those thoughts to focus on when things get tough can help keep you positive and focused during your race.

PETER D.

IRONMAN LAKE PLACID FINISHER

Rest and Mental Game Preparation

Ideally your mental preparation for your race began the same day you signed up for the event and continued in earnest throughout your IRONMAN training. That being said, in the days leading up to your race you should set aside some dedicated time to practice race visualization, positive thinking, and relaxation techniques.

Race Visualization

Race visualization is a popular and proven technique often used by professional athletes and age-groupers alike. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with your race course, take some time to find a quiet place to do some race visualizations every night leading up to your race. The key with race visualizing is to not let negative thoughts or scenarios overtake your practice.

Start by choosing a few areas of your race that you feel unsure about. Imagine yourself swimming smoothly through the open water as you easily guide yourself around a buoy. See yourself exiting the water feeling confident and energized. Go through the logistical steps of your T2 transition: Removing your helmet and bike shoes, putting on your running shoes, applying sunscreen, and starting your watch as you head out on the run course in a slow but steady jog.

Some people also take the time to visualize themselves overcoming race day obstacles that might occur, so if they arise they are ready for them. Visualize yourself calmly and efficiently changing a flat on the side of the road and plan how you will react to that scenario.

Positive Thinking

While you have put in hours and hours of hard training, for a race like this, your fitness level is truly only half of the equation—the other half is your attitude and mental strength. Many athletes develop a very negative dialogue about their race day readiness, particularly in the final days leading up to competition. They doubt themselves, or they fixate on things that are truly out of their control. Control the areas of your race that you can: your nutrition plan, your pacing strategy, your attitude, etc., but accept that many other areas of your race are simply out of your control.

Nip that negativity in the bud by stopping yourself every time you think a negative thought, taking a deep breath, and replacing that thought with a positive one. Over time, this practice will get easier.

Don’t set unrealistic expectations for your race. Be kind to yourself. While it’s perfectly normal and healthy to have race goals, try making them more guidelines than hard and fast ultimatums.

You’ve worked very hard to get here, so find gratitude in the little moments and make room for peaceful solitude any chance you get. Find a simple mantra that you can repeat to yourself to center your mind and make you feel better about yourself. Chances are if this mantra works for you during race week, it will be a valuable tool to draw from on race day as well.

Relaxation Techniques

It can be hard to relax in the days leading up to a big race. You have a lot of tasks to take care of, you’re tapering and feel cruddy, and you might feel pulled in a thousand directions with friends and family who are also attending your event.

Meditation and breathing exercises can be very beneficial for athletes of all abilities. They center your mind around a single thought, phrase, or image and allow you to—for a little while at least—stay completely in the moment. Being able to stay in the moment is one of the most powerful tools in your IRONMAN race day arsenal.

At various points during your race, your mind will be intensely focused, then aflutter with activity and then suddenly wander aimlessly (perhaps due to boredom or fatigue). Being able to stay in the moment and focus on the task at hand (holding your power, streamlining your swim stroke, running with proper form, etc.) will keep your energy levels up and prevent you from getting overly worked up or distracted by things going on around you.

There are many free apps that provide guided meditation, as well as numerous online videos on mindful breathing. If you’ve never meditated before, don’t be surprised if you find it very difficult the first few times. Keep at it, and by race morning you’ll be able to get to a focused, calm state quickly.

Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with the course, packed your special needs bags, checked in your bike, and got your race day mental strategy dialed in—you are ready for race day!

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Race Day: What to Expect Throughout Your Big Day

CHAPTER SIX
14 Minute Read

Take a deep breath as you approach the starting line, glance over at the finish line and prepare yourself for a fun, challenging journey between these two points. From the moment you wake up to the second you cross that finish line, your timing and pacing will be paramount for success. We’ll take you through this entire amazing day, from what to eat when you wake up, to how to navigate T1, as well as what to expect during each leg of the race.

Pre-Race Routine

IRONMAN races start early for a reason—it’s going to be a long day! Most age group IRONMAN starts are between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., and you’ll want to plan on being up several hours before the starting gun goes off.

Because you have been following this guide, you have your special needs bags already packed, your nutrition plan all dialed, and you are already aware of exactly how you are getting to the start line and how long it will take to get there (go you!). You can now focus on fueling and prepping your body and mind for the big event.

Lay out your race clothes the night before, including any race belts and portable hydration systems. Put on a layer of sunscreen on your body and face before you put on your clothes so you can make sure you’re adequately protected.

Fill up your water bottles before you get to the race event so you aren’t running around last-minute trying to get all your hydration mixed and ready to go.

Nutrition Timing

You’ll need to top up your glycogen stores that have depleted overnight, but you also need enough time to allow for that food to largely digest before you start your race. Plan to eat an initial breakfast that contains carbohydrates and some protein a minimum of three hours before your race begins. This will give your body enough time to digest and absorb the necessary nutrients before high-intensity exercise begins.

You should also begin your hydration well ahead of the start of the race. Start drinking your preferred (and tested!) electrolyte drink with your breakfast, and continue to sip from a water bottle as you head to the race start.

Once you are at the race event, take in roughly 100-200 more calories within an hour of the start (a gel, some energy chews, a banana—whatever you are accustomed to eating shortly before your workouts), along with plenty of water or electrolyte drink.

IRONMAN can change your life if you let it. I wish someone gave me the same advice that I was given before my wedding day: make sure you take the time to take everything in. Don’t just put your head down and think only about racing—find moments to just be proud of yourself.

LAURIE M.

2 X IRONMAN ARIZONA FINISHER

IRONMAN Warm-Up

How much of a warm-up you need for an event like an IRONMAN is a highly individual thing. According to acclaimed Coach Jim Vance, an athlete simply looking to finish the IRONMAN doesn’t need a lengthy warm-up, however an athlete looking to compete should plan a more detailed routine in order to prep their muscles for the demands of the day.

The main idea for an IRONMAN warm-up is to prepare your body and mind for the demands of the day, so the particular racing conditions should factor into your own warm-up routine. If it is a cold morning or the water temperature is cold, you’ll need some time to prepare your body to perform in these conditions. Vance recommends a progressive warm-up that focuses on your mind, your nervous system, and your muscular system—in that order. Here are some details of each of these three types of warm-ups:

Mental Warm-Up: Now is a good time to revisit some of the mental preparation tactics discussed earlier, including race visualization and meditation. Either when you wake up or perhaps in the car on the way to the race event (as long as you’re not driving!), take some time to open up your meditation app and get into a relaxed but focused headspace. Visualize your start, imagine yourself looking strong as you cross that finish line, and push out any negative thoughts immediately.

Nervous System Warm-Up: Some quick activation exercises will help get your nervous system firing correctly so it is prepared to amp up your heart rate and get your blood pumping the second the gun goes off. “Short sprints, dynamic stretches, and other activation exercises allow you to wake up the connections between the brain and the key muscle groups you will use in the race,” says Vance.

Muscular System Warm-Up: Vance recommends doing some foam rolling the second you wake up in the morning, and then allowing your mental warm-up and your nervous system warm-up to continue to prime your muscles for the race. For your muscular warm-up, Vance recommends only doing the movements that feel the most comfortable for you on race morning. “If you have a strong swim background, you might not want to run at all and instead extend your swim warm-up. If you are a strong runner you might want to run only and put on your wetsuit and do a few pull sets with bands on the shore.”

What to Expect: The IRONMAN Swim

Before you head down to the water, take a note of all your transition area entries and exits (and your bike location relative to them) so you don’t waste any time running around looking for them during the race.

If you can, take some time to get in a short swim so your body is acclimated to the water temperature. Take note of the buoys and pay attention to any pre-race swim course briefings, as last-minute course changes do happen.

If your race is a mass start, make sure to seed yourself accordingly. If you’re not a strong swimmer, don’t hesitate positioning yourself in the back so you can avoid a lot of the early race congestion.

If your race has a wave start, pay attention to the announcer and make sure you are moving toward the water with the correct group. Even with a wave start, you should anticipate some heavy congestion for the first several minutes of the swim. Stay calm and just focus on your own swim.

Be prepared for your heart rate to spike during the first several minutes of the swim. This is perfectly normal, but you can control it by breathing regularly and focusing on a smooth, even stroke. Don’t go out hard thinking you can get past the swarm of swimmers—unless you are a former professional swimmer, you will just tire yourself out and end up swimming far slower than if you just focused on an even pace.

Make sure you are sighting every few strokes, even if you are drafting off of another swimmer. There will likely be another traffic jam around the first buoy turn, so if this really concerns you plan a wide turn around the buoy to give the other swimmers room. And, above all else, just stay relaxed and keep moving forward.

Many IRONMAN swims are two-loop courses with a short run section in between across a timing mat. There will be water available, so take the time to grab some, especially if the conditions are warm or are forecasted to be later in the day. Even in the water, you are sweating and losing fluids.

Drafting off of other swimmers can be a great way to save energy and even gain some time, however be careful not to rely on others completely. Just because they are going at a good speed doesn’t mean they have any idea how to sight, so make sure you are keeping your wits about you out there as far as finding the shortest line possible.

If at any time you feel like you sincerely need to rest or you feel scared, you can stop and hold onto one of the kayakers or lifeguards on paddle boards, however you are not allowed to get any assistance in moving forward whatsoever. Take a short rest while holding onto the edge of the boat or board, take some relaxing breaths and then continue on with your swim as quickly as possible.

What to Expect: T1

It is perfectly normal to feel a little dizzy and/or discombobulated after swimming 2.4 miles. As you run out of the water and into T1, you might need a moment to compose yourself. Take off the front half of your wetsuit and your cap and goggles, get a drink, run underneath the freshwater showers (if your race has them), and then quickly head toward transition.

Plan ahead of time to take advantage of the volunteer wetsuit removal service offered at most IRONMAN races. A volunteer will come up to you and ask if you want help removing your wetsuit. You simply lie down on the ground and they will quickly rip off the wetsuit and then hand it back to you. It does involve some momentary awkwardness as a stranger rips off your pants, however it saves you valuable time and energy. Volunteers will be on hand to retrieve your T1 bag, so grab it and quickly head into the changing tent.

Once you’ve entered the T1 changing tent, either change into your bike clothes, or if you have on a race suit, simply sit down and put on your cycling shoes and socks. There are rows of folding chairs and tables containing fuel options, water, and sunscreen, so please take advantage of them. Make sure to apply sunscreen and eat a little something before you head out onto that six-plus hour ride!

Volunteers are on hand to help you put on your clothes (this is extremely helpful if the water was very cold and you can’t feel your fingers!), so don’t be shy. IRONMAN volunteers are some of the best friends you’ll have out there on race day, and they work their hearts out to make sure you have a successful race.

Make sure you have your helmet, race number, and gloves before you head out to your bike. A volunteer will help you find your bike if you need them to.

What to Expect: The IRONMAN Bike

Use the first 10 miles or so of the bike to just relax, take in some nutrition, and get your bearings after the swim. Depending on when you exited the water, you might have to deal with some early congestion with other riders, so be patient and keep your wits about you. Remember always to pass on the left and announce yourself to the rider(s) in front of you before you make a pass.

You should be well aware of drafting rules in a non-drafting event such as an IRONMAN, as a drafting penalty (or any other type of competition penalty) can quickly derail your day. Here are the basics:

  • Your bike’s front wheel should remain at least 12 meters in length away from another bike’s back wheel (except during the act of passing). This area is known as the “draft zone” and roughly translates to six bike lengths.
  • One you begin to pass another competitor, you must do so within 20 seconds, or else you need to fall back to a space outside of the draft zone.

Violations are given as either yellow, blue, or red cards. A yellow card means you must stop, place both feet on the ground and then continue back on course (known as a stop-and-go penalty). A blue card means you have been given a five-minute time penalty.

There are penalty boxes at specific points on the bike course so you can ride ahead to the next available one to serve your time. A red card means immediate disqualification and you will be escorted off of the course. Any accumulation of three cards (yellow or blue) is grounds for disqualification.

Because you have familiarized yourself with the course ahead of time, you are aware of where the aid stations are and can be prepared for them. Make sure you’ve practiced your bottle hand up so you can grab what you need on the fly. However, you should ride past all aid stations with caution as sometimes bottle drops can happen or volunteers might need to rush out in the road to pick up debris quickly.

Don’t forget about your nutrition plan — in fact, use it as a way to pass the time. Consider setting your watch to beep every so often to remind you to drink or take in some calories (depending on your plan). If you feel thirsty—drink. Don’t ever deprive yourself of fluid because you are concerned it might be slowing you down or you don’t want to have to stop and refill a bottle. Depriving yourself of fluids and calories now will come back and bite you big time during your marathon.

About two-thirds through the bike you will come across the special needs bag area. You can call out your number and a volunteer will help you locate your bag quickly. Try and use this time to rejuvenate, refuel, and reset your focus as you will need adequate time to let your fuel digest before you start that marathon!

What to Expect: T2

In an IRONMAN race you will dismount (at the dismount line) and then hand your bike to a volunteer who will rerack it for you. You might feel a bit stiff and wobbly after that much time in the saddle, so expect it and don’t despair—your muscles will recoup once you start the run.

You will head back into a changing tent to put on your running shoes, hat, and change your clothes if needed. Remember the volunteers are there to help, so don’t hesitate to ask! Don’t forget to put on lots of sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses (even if it appears cloudy outside), because you won’t get much of an opportunity to apply once you start the run. If you are carrying a hydration pack, make sure the bottles are all filled and you have all your personal nutrition with you before you head out.

What to Expect: The IRONMAN Run/Finish line

The first six miles of an IRONMAN marathon will feel very different than the first six miles of a regular marathon. You will likely feel very stiff and you might need to start off very slowly. This is where all those brick workouts you did during your training will pay off big time.

Settle into a nice easy pace and try to just enjoy the spectators and the scenery. After the first 10K take an assessment of how you feel before you up the pace. You don’t need to go faster if it doesn’t feel right, just try and stay relaxed and the miles will begin to tick by.

Run aid stations are great opportunities to get high-fives from volunteers and spectators and just revel in how far you’ve come. If you’re starting to feel sluggish or cranky, walk through an aid station, grab a drink and some food, and give yourself some time to regroup before picking it back up again.

At about mile 13 you’ll have another opportunity to access your special needs bag. This is a great time to eat something that you’ve packed for yourself, reapply sunscreen if it’s still hot and sunny, or put on some chapstick to feel refreshed.

In any marathon, there comes a point where things just start to hurt. For most runners, that point is somewhere between miles 17 and 22. If it’s starting to get dark, you might be handed some glow sticks to hold for safety, and if the weather starts to dip in temperature, they will bring out some warm broth. The mixture of warmth and sodium can really, really rejuvenate a tired IRONMAN athlete, so take a cup and enjoy it for a little while.

When the going gets tough, just remember you are only a few short miles from the greatest finish line of your life! Talk to other runners if you can, look for your friends and family, and keep your spirits up.

When you make that final turn toward the finish line, no matter how much you’ve been suffering, you will immediately feel like a million dollars. The IRONMAN finish line will be lit up as if only for you—so run to it! Make sure to listen to them call your name because there’s nothing quite like hearing the words you’ve been dreaming about for months, “You are an IRONMAN!”

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IRONMAN Recovery Plan: You are an IRONMAN! Now What?

CHAPTER SEVEN
2 Minute Read

Congratulations! You’ve crossed the finish line, basked in the glory, and eventually you were able to fall asleep. Chances are, when you wake up you’re going to feel many things (but mostly you’ll just feel sore).

The week following an IRONMAN are likely to be filled with a lot of sore muscles and nostalgia—but don’t just lie on the couch. According to six-time IRONMAN world champion and coach Dave Scott, being inactive during that first week post-race will actually prevent you from recovering efficiently.

Instead, he suggests doing some light swimming with fins and non-impact cardio every day before slowly starting to re-introduce running roughy five to seven days post-race.

It’s not uncommon for endurance athletes to feel a twinge of depression following the completion of a major event. You’ve dedicated a good chunk of your year to completing this goal, and now that it’s come and gone, you are either focusing on regrets or feeling the void of not having another big race on the horizon.

First, give yourself some time to recover fully, and then throw your hat into the ring again by setting another race or event goal.

If you need help with your recovery plan, check out Joe Friel’s free four-week recovery plan.

Finishing an IRONMAN taught me that I could finish anything in the world that I set my mind to. That is a life-changing revelation.

R. ROBINSON

2 X IRONMAN FINISHER

You Finished Your IRONMAN, So What’s Next?

After you’ve recovered from your IRONMAN (or maybe while you’re recovering), the final step in racing an IRONMAN is to take some time to unpack what went well and what didn’t on race day. If you had a great race, what would you repeat? And if you didn’t have the race of your dreams, what went wrong?

Nutrition, pacing strategy, logistics, and training are some basic areas to examine, but you can add any others that you think are relevant. Give yourself a letter grade, a rating from one to 10, or a gold star (whatever works for you!) in each one, and start thinking about how you can improve for next time. We suggest the following strategies if you’re interested in seeing some real gains before your next big race:

Track Your Metrics

A great place to start improving your IRONMAN PR is to track your metrics as you train. You can do this the old-fashioned way with a calendar and a pen (we won’t judge!), but it’s also worthwhile to check out the variety of apps and insights available to help.

The TrainingPeaks app syncs wirelessly with most leading fitness trackers to streamline the data-gathering process, and it gives you real-time insights into your performance. Simply swim, bike, and/or run and then sync your workouts to see metrics like lactic threshold, pace, and more improve over time. Start a free trial to see what we’re all about.

Find a Training Plan

If you’re already tracking your metrics but aren’t sure how they should be trending, or aren’t sure if you’re doing the right things to see improvement, a training plan should be your next step. A simple Google search for “IRONMAN training plans” will give you hundreds of plans of varying levels of commitment and detail.

Choose an IRONMAN training plan from the TrainingPeaks store and you’ll be able to apply it automatically to your TrainingPeaks in-app calendar. This lets you use your fitness metrics to track workout compliance and see whether your training is having its desired effect.

Hire a Coach

As they get more serious about their training and performance, most triathletes will eventually turn to a coach for perspective, wisdom, and accountability. TrainingPeaks offers our free Coach Match service (which includes a detailed questionnaire and direct contact with our team) to help you find a coach who will align with your training style and help you achieve your goals. If you’re looking for a more personalized training plan and adaptable approach, getting a coach is the perfect place to start.

Thanks for joining us for the Ultimate IRONMAN Training Guide, and congratulations becoming an IRONMAN!

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IRONMAN® Training Plans

If you enjoyed this guide and you’d like to get more training advice for other endurance events, follow our blog, or go to our website to learn more about how TrainingPeaks can help you reach your goals.

And for your next IRONMAN, check out these IRONMAN training plans created by expert coaches for athletes of all ability levels.