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Ironman - 20 Week Plan, Sunday Race, Starts Any Time by Craig Zelent


Craig Zelent

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20 Weeks

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Plan Description

This is a training plan that will provide you with a solid foundation for a great racing experience. This is a very specific training plan for the 20 weeks leading up to and including your race.

This plan is perfect for the 1st time Ironman competitor. This is also ideal for those who want to train by feel as heart rate and power tools are not utilized. This is very practical for those who have real lives - 1 day per week is always scheduled as an off day from training.

I used the Ironman Lake Placid plan written by Craig. It worked so well for me as it gave me visibility of the long term plan and required progression yet also walked me through the volume and intensity steps needed to have the strength, endurance and mental toughness to compete so strongly on race day. I actually found it to be of significantly more value than some prior 1:1 coaching I had had as it focused on progressive development and highly targeted training for my specific race. Most importantly for me was the value of the plan; my development as a function of the money spent, and given the expertise I received was undeniable. Here Craig not only developed a highly effective training plan but also made himself available to me by email and even phone ahead of the race. I can't recommend Craig's training plans enough. If you are serious about triathlon and want to achieve your goals at Iron distance racing then look no further. - Darren H.

I will always be grateful to Craig Zelent for his wonderful IM Lake Tahoe training plan. Craig not only provides a great program (swim, bike, run), but includes strength, recovery workouts and nutrition plans which makes the Ironman training more feasible, diverse, successful and fun. The 20 week program leading up to the race is great for people like me who work full time. His extra week of recovery workouts for the week after the race is very helpful, as well. I highly recommend his programs to other triathletes.

His program is oriented to have a great racing experience and show results. Craig encourages athletes to approach him (by phone or e-mail) to answer any specific questions or ways to modify the program. He is always eager to help identify and execute the routine on a weekly basis to guarantee becoming an Ironman. He wants other people to succeed and meet their racing goals. I got a PR thanks to his program and knowledgeable advice. - Claudia F.

I've used Craig's Oceanside 70.3 plan more than once and it is my 70.3 PR race. I love the flexibility in Training Peaks and seeing the entire race plan in one place so I can shift schedules around my other events. It is a great baseline plan that one can easily add or subtract or shift workouts around to fit a worker's schedule. I highly recommend this easily downloadable plan for anyone. LS


Average Weekly Breakdown

Workouts Weekly Average Longest Workout
4:43 hrs 3:04 hrs
10:01 hrs 8:00 hrs
3:18 hrs 1:30 hrs
1:13 hrs 1:05 hrs
0:09 hrs 0:10 hrs
Workouts Per Week Weekly Average Longest Workout
4:43 hrs 3:04 hrs
10:01 hrs 8:00 hrs
3:18 hrs 1:30 hrs
1:13 hrs 1:05 hrs
0:09 hrs 0:10 hrs

Training Load By Week

This plan works best with the following fitness devices:

  • GPS

All supported devices

Sample Day 1

WEEK #1 - Recovery Day

Actively focus on recovery today: Watch nutrition closely (healthy carbs, lean protein, and good fats), stretch for 5-10 minutes.

Nearly every week in this plan uses Monday as a rest day. Not every athlete likes taking a rest day. If you are one of those that likes to do some exercise every day, then I'd suggest moving the Tuesday swim to Monday. It would also be ok to move the core and upper body portions of your strength workout to Monday. But, it is critical that you allow for 1 day per week where your legs get a break.

I am one of those athletes who likes to exercise every day. My body feels better because of the daily movement and it is easier to spread all the workouts across 7 days while still successfully juggling work, family, and life commitments.

With 2 weeks prior to your Ironman, everyone should take 1 day off. In the final week before your Ironman, everyone should take 2 days off. No exceptions. Not even for me!

Goals for the week:
1)Get into the habit of doing 3 bike rides per week - I'm listing that 1st as half the training time and half the racing time for an Ironman occurs on the bike.
2)Get into the habit of doing 3 runs per week.
3)Get into the habit of doing 3 swims per week.

Sample Day 2

Swim 3,000 yards

Ideally you can do a masters swim workout, but if that is not convenient, then feel free to try the workout below. That applies to all swim workouts in this training plan.

200 yards – freestyle warm up.

200 yards – 4 x 50 as 25 drill, 2 freestyle swim. The odds 25 yard drill should be done as kick on your left side with your right arm sticking straight out of the water like a shark fin. The evens 25 yard drill should should be done as kick on your right side with your left arm sticking straight out of the water like a shark. Do these on 5 seconds rest.

300 yards – 4 x 75 with fins. Do these as 25 kick on right side, 25 shooter (no breath for as far as you can go while dolphin kicking under water), 25 kick on left side. Do these on 5 seconds rest.

1,800 yards – 9 x 200 freestyle. The first 3 are “form”, the next 3 are “firm”, the next 3 are “fast.” The interval I used was 2:50 for the “form” – this gave me about 3 seconds rest max. The interval I used for the “firm” was 3:00 and “fast” was 3:20. That is a lot of rest for the “fast” ones so really bust it on those. I will be watching.

300 yards – put on pull buoy and paddles. 3,5,7 breathing pattern by 100’s so breathe every 3 strokes on the 1st 100, every 5 strokes on the second 100, etc.

200 yards – freestyle warm down.

"B" workout

Sample Day 2

Run 5 Miles

I'd suggest doing this run immediately after the swim workout or immediately after the bike workout so as to not have 3 separate workouts in 1 day. Thus, combining workouts may be the best use of your time. Run on soft but firm surface. Aim for 5 miles.

Post workout recovery priority: Drink a protein shake (24 grams protein) within 30 minutes of completing this workout. Consume some carbs asap, as well.

You will note that after every run and strength workout I suggest using protein to help you recover. This is particularly important for load bearing exercises like running and weight training to rebuild the cells that you just broke down. Getting the protein in your system promptly (whether in liquid or solid form) is critical.

"B" workout

Sample Day 2

Indoor Bike Workout

Ideally you will have access to a spin class. I like the idea of a spin class (with a good instructor) because it often will be the best quality hour you spend on the bike all week. You don't have stop signs or other interruptions and it is a chance to really clean up your pedal stroke and cadence. Always make certain to have enough tension on the fly wheel - especially when you ride out of the saddle. Try to get to class early so you can have 10 minutes of warmup and give yourself 5 minutes at the end of class to warm down while on the bike.

"A" workout

Sample Day 3

Swim 3,000 Yards

Masters swim.

300 yards – freestyle warm up.

400 yards – 8 x 50 (fins optional.) Do these as 25 yards kick, 25 yards swim. The first 2 are butterfly, the next 2 are backstroke, the next 2 are breast stroke (remove fins for breaststroke), the final 2 are freestyle. Do these on 5 seconds rest.

1,500 yards – Do each interval of this entire set on 5 seconds rest.

4 x 75 in IM order (yes, that means you do a 75 butterfly to open).

2 x 150 freestyle.

300 IM (this is continuous – no rest.)

2 x 150 freestyle.

4 x 75 in IM order (yep, another 75 butterfly to open.)

400 yards – put on pull buoy and paddles. Breathing pattern of 3,5,3,7 by 100’s.

400 yards – freestyle warm down.

"B" workout

Sample Day 3

Adaptation Phase

Warm up 5 minutes - easy running, spinning. or eliptical.

Try to spend 20 minutes each on core, upper body, legs.

For weights: ADAPTATION PHASE: 15 reps/2 sets. I suggest in this order: Bench Press or Push-ups, Squats, Lat Pull Down, Leg Extensions, Military or Shoulder Press, Hamstring or Leg Curl, Bicep Curl, Calf Raises, Tricep Curl, Wrist Curl. To save time I like to pair up the exercises - so for example I'll do Bench Press and Squat together.

2 sets of your ab/core exercises for 20 minutes - Ab Crunches, Back Extensions. I highly recommend using an Exercise Ball, Free Motion Cable Cross Machine, Bosu Ball.

Post workout recovery priority: Drink a protein shake (24 grams protein) within 30 minutes of completing this workout. Consume some carbs asap, as well.

"A" workout.

Sample Day 4

Bike 25 Miles

Ride on a flat to gently rolling course. Aim for 25 miles. Keep the effort steady and continuous for most of this ride. After a good warmup, find a 5k stretch of safe road where you can crank up your effort to the high end of heart rate level 3 (73-80% of MHR). Allow at least 10 minutes to warm down after this effort. I'd suggest getting this ride in 1st thing in the morning if the conditions are good. Otherwise save it for your 2nd workout of the day.

"B" workout

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