Structuring the Perfect Ironman Season

author : Rich Strauss
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A macro-view on preparing your season for an Ironman. Includes some tips on picking an Ironman race depending on where you live.

During a recent phone conversation, I laid out what I feel to be the “perfect” Half/Full Ironman season, constructed with a few things in mind:

  1. Addresses limiters at the right time, with regards to mental demands, personal schedule, weather, and daylight resources available.

  2. Keeps the athlete motivated with cool stuff across the season. In fact, I can’t stress enough how important it is to give yourself something else to think about other than your A race. Especially if that A race is an Ironman and late in the season.

So, if I were to design a season from start to finish, here is what I’d do:

“Off-Season,” Oct 15 through late February.
End point is a quality half marathon in your area followed closely by a cool century or other organized ride. This, of course, is highly dependent on the weather. Keys:

Swim: Attend 2-3 swim clinics, or at least find a quality coach and schedule a personal session every 3-5 weeks. Swimming during this period is then for recovery/skills development.

Bike: 1-2 weekly interval sessions, weekdays. Maybe organize a garage trainer session with your friends? Teach a spin class? HIGHLY recommend making these sessions a social experience, or at least building some accountability/competition with other athletes. Weekend ride of 2-3 hours, closer to 2 hours if on a trainer. High intensity, group riding recommended, or cool courses that you were too geeked out over your training to do during the season. Gather friends and organize a monthly time trial (indoors or out) to be held one Saturday or Sunday per month. Again, accountability, competition, social, and fun. Notice a pattern?

Run: Your goal race is that half marathon in Feb or early March. I have four clients in NYC and these folks are LUCKY. NYC has a series of quality and affordable road races all winter. 5k, 10k, almost every week I believe. That is perfect. What you’re looking for is a series of races and a half marathon at the end of it that encourages you to create a run schedule of 4-6 runs per week, such as:
1 x long of 1:30-2hrs
1-2 x Tempo/fartlek/hills
1-2 x Strides/Form run

So you roll through the winter with the above schedule. Your goal races are that half marathon at the end and final time trial or whatever you put together with your friends. Locally we will likely do the Solvang Century in March and/or the San Dimas Stage Race, mid-March.

Your next goal race is a half-Ironman in May, preferably mid-late month. So you transition from this schedule above to half Ironman training. However, likely the only mental shift you’ll need to make is towards more swimming. Conveniently, the local triathlons usually start in mid-April.

Switch to Ironman Training
So, roll with that through your half in mid-to-late May. Then onto Ironman training. Personally, I think IMLP (Ironman Lake Placid) is the perfect race with regards to timing for athletes in NA. IMCDA (Ironman Coeur d’Alene) is a little too early for northeastern athletes. In particular, I’ve seen SoCal athletes get hammered by the potentially hot race, as we typically don’t see hot weather here until early June. Not much time to acclimate. July and IMLP seems to give everyone time to train and acclimate to a hot day, if you have one. It’s also in the middle of the season so you can finish the race, recover and still do a couple fun races before the season ends.

IMCA (Ironman Canada) is another option but it begins to poke into “long season” territory for southern athletes (call this FL through Cali, south of KY). IMWI (Ironman Wisconsin) definitely makes for a long season for these folks but is usually about right for athletes in the northeast and upper midwest.

With regards to how to shift your training from these two periodized focuses above to Ironman training, I’m not sure there’s really much to talk about. You’ve been chipping away at a lot of training strengths and weakness since October in a manner that should leave you mentally engaged, with a fun attitude. I strongly believe this is  one of the most important and often overlooked facets of training.

Whatever route you take to get there, I think it’s important to put a date on the calendar where you will shift your head from addressing limiters, having fun, and training for shorter races to “It’s On,” I’m now training for an Ironman.


Mentally, those dates have historically been:

IMCDA: April 15
IMLP: May 15
IMCA: June 1
IMWI: July 4


With the actual 2007 race dates being:

IMCDA: June 24, 2007
IMLP: July 22, 2007
IMCA: Aug 26, 2007
IMWI: Sept 9, 2007

So you pop off an IM in June, July or August. Time to transition into the fun stuff you’ve had to put on hold since about mid-May. Race in August, September, and then turn your focus to the off-season stuff above.

A few more broad points:
1. Your local weather decides when your goal race will be (colder = later season goal race). That decision determines the length of your season and THAT variable determines what limiters you are addressing and when. The most important decision regarding HOW and in what order you will address those limiters is a function of your need to preserve your mental strength across the season and what resources you have available to you to reduce the mental cost of training. The classic athlete suicide method I see by trainer-bound athletes is Death by Bike Endurance Training in the winter.

2. Take this guidance and build a schedule that you can do next year…and the year after…and the year after. As an Ironman athlete you can get by on the whizzbang of IM training and racing for about 2 seasons…3 max, maybe. After that you REALLY need to find training events or structures that are themselves motivating. And, oh by the way, they’re also good training for your goal race. Bonus.

As I’ve said before, the path from JV to Varsity can take years of continuously chipping away at things, a little at time, season after season. If you don’t have a plan that yields 8-9 months of fun, 2-3 months of training, and 1 month of do what you feel like, just don’t get fat, then it’s only a matter of time before you lose your passion for the sport . The most often overlooked opportunity is the first 2-4 months of that 8-9 months above, the period we’re in now.

Why? Because people associate training with “training.” They don’t want to train so they don’t. Instead they get slow and maybe put on a few pounds. When they wake up it’s time to begin training again, which by now means starting over practically from scratch.

Instead of training, have fun! Create events that put your head in a place where it is not training in those first 2-4 months. Instead, you’re just doing cool stuff with your friends which, oh by the way, just happens to be good training.


Rich is a Joe Friel Ultrafit Associate, an Ironman World Championship Finisher, a USAT certified coach, and the founder of the Pasadena Triathlon Club in Pasadena, CA. Rich has personally trained over 250 Ironman finishers since 2001, and helped thousands more coach themselves more effectively through his training articles and active discussion forum. Since 2005 over 500 athletes have used a Crucible Fitness Half or Full Ironman Training Plan to prepare for successful seasons. Visit for a complete list of services, or use promo code mission07 to save $20 on an Off-Season Training Plan today.


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date: April 12, 2007

Rich Strauss