How to Train for an Ironman - Part 5 - Maximizing Training Time and Nutrition

author : Tre_bor
comments : 3

In this article I will list some mistakes that I made along with how to ensure you don't make them, I'll go over a few details on how to maximize your training time and talk briefly about nutrition.

This is the final article in a series of five on "How to Train for Ironman". So far I have offered up some advice on the overall approach, swim specific training, cycling tips and run training for beginner Ironman athletes. In this article I will list some mistakes that I made along with how to ensure you don't make them and I'll go over a few details on how to maximize your training time and talk briefly about nutrition.

I'd first like to point out a few things that I did not get quite right and then I'll go over the details of how to get it right later on.

  1. I didn't do enough long (6-7 hour) rides. I thought that 2-3 hour rides a few times a week were going to get me through

  2. I worried too much about distance in the water instead of technique

  3. I should have done more hill running sessions

  4. I (almost) stopped doing any weight training

  5. I trained many weeks at a time without resting

Before I cover the points above, however, I'd like to offer up some thoughts about how to train more effectively and maximize your return from the training you do.

Maximizing Returns

Time Saver - If you look at a marathon training program they will advise something like four training sessions a week. One tempo, one long run, one intervals and one hill. Then imagine applying the same type of different sessions to cycling and swimming. That's 12 sessions a week, so two a day with one rest day. That's just not feasible for 99% of the population. You're going to have to cut back on some sessions, so first figure out what your weaknesses are and keep those sessions in. Perhaps you can combine different types of session into one to save time.

Planning- Be realistic in what you can do each week and try not to overstretch yourself in the planning of it. I did exactly that and thought I could do more hours than I actually could/wanted to. It meant that I felt guilty when I missed a session which was not good for my mental state. I had to go back and plan to do fewer hours per week so I didn't feel guilty about missing sessions.

Quality not quantity - There is little point in getting out to train 10 times a week if each session is not maximized. When I say maximized I mean that you achieve from the session what you planned to achieve. It's better to do seven sessions but do them properly and get what you want out of them instead of trying to do more but each one of those sessions being a little lackluster.

Race Craft - It's not possible to simulate race conditions in training very well so entering races before your main event gives you invaluable experience. Using different distance triathlon races also allows you to treat it like a hard training session. Using a half Ironman race to prepare you a few months out from your full Ironman race will help you feel prepared mentally and physically, plus practice your transitions, race fueling and equipment use.

Learn From My Mistakes

  1. Not doing enough long rides really hit home in the last month of training when I tried to do a few race distance rides. I was fine for the first few hours but then really dropped in performance. I would trade three shorter rides per week for one long, 6-7 hour ride at the weekend. This will help you massively if you are relatively inexperienced.

  2. Being a good swimmer is all about efficiency, you simply cannot fight your way through the water as I found out the hard way. Your cardiovascular endurance will come from cycling and running so concentrate on swimming technique and don't worry too much about distance until you have the technique perfected. Relaxing in the water is essential, so you need to feel comfortable.

  3. As I touched on in part three of this series, hill running is a great way to build leg strength and improve your cadence (foot speed). I didn't start doing this until much later on in my training regime but I wish I had incorporated it from the beginning.

  4. Strength is an important part of Ironman racing because you need your muscles to work for many hours at a time. A good core workout is particularly useful to keep doing at least once per week, even if it's just at home for 20 minutes. I stopped doing much of this and it affected my ability to maintain a good bike position for the full 180km. In addition, maintaining leg strength through weight training will help you, so keep the squats and lunges in there if you can.

  5. I was really keen to get as much training in as possible because I felt like I didn't have much time to spare. I trained without rest for up to 10 weeks at a time. As time went on I started to get disheartened with the training because I felt as though there was no end in sight. This resulted in my training efforts declining as time went on. Many people recommend training in blocks of 3-4 weeks, then having a week where you stay active but at a much lower intensity and duration. Then you start another 3-4 week block. Rinse and repeat. I'd highly recommend this approach as it seems much more manageable.


One final piece of advice that I would like to give is the need for proper nutrition. You cannot expect your body to function at its best if it doesn't have the fuel it needs. I could write a whole article on nutrition, but the key things to remember are:

  1. For any training session over 1.5-2 hours you are going to need a source of carbohydrates with you to carry on going at a decent intensity. Carb drinks, gels and high GI foods are all possible solutions to this. What you have is a very personal thing so try them out and see what works best for you.

  2. Post-workout nutrition is just as important, so make sure that you get a good combination of protein and carbohydrates. Something as easy as a tuna sandwich on whole meal bread is good, as is a protein shake and some fruit. You need the carbs to replenish depleted glucose levels and glycogen stores (glucose is available to use and glycogen is stored glucose in the muscles) and the protein to help rebuild and repair damaged muscle tissue.

  3. High quality meats offer a great way to get valuable sources of nutrients. Buying cheap, antibiotic and chemically enhanced meats like chicken is not good. Buy free range or organic when you can.

  4. Switch out white pasta, white bread and white rice for brown alternatives. Sweet potato, quinoa and dark leafy green vegetables are great source of high quality carbohydrates that your body needs for long distance endurance racing and training.

Further Reading

I cannot recommend enough a book by Joe Friel called "The Triathlete's Training Bible". It's really educational for any level of athlete and especially a beginner. You will learn about what types of training there are but also why you are doing them. I learned a lot from reading this book and it has practical examples of training plans to follow, too.

That's it for this final article in the series. Hopefully you have gained something from them and they have helped prevent a few mistakes which may have been made. If you have any questions I'd love to hear from you so drop me a message and I will do my best to answer you.

Author Bio: Robert Jackson this year became an Ironman! He believes a balanced, yet consistent, approach to training and diet will deliver results. Having started out with a fear of the water, he managed to complete the 3.8km Ironman swim in 1.5 hours just 11 months later, proving that "anything is possible...". Robert has recently started training clients in Canary Wharf, London. Click here to find out more.


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date: July 2, 2014


I have just started to train clients in Canary Wharf, London. See my website for more details.