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Beginner 1/2 Ironman - 20 Weeks - RPE Training Plan

Plan description Plan workouts calendar volume graph
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author : sherrick
comments : 40
A half iron distance race is defined as:
  • 1.2mile Swim | 56mile Bike | 13.1mile Run
  • 1,930meter Swim | 90km Bike | 21k Run
  • Start this program if you can consistently swim 40min, run 60min and bike 90min.
  • By using this program, you accept the RESTRICTIONS AND TERMS OF USE

Since there's no such thing as an optimal plan which fits everyone's level of fitness and background, I'm going to have to make a few assumptions to create a plan that's not too generalized. As you look through the workouts each week, make any adjustments in length or intensity to fit your needs. Here's what I've based this plan on:This half Ironman plan covers many weeks of challenging, but attainable training for someone who has some endurance experience, and ideally some Olympic distance races within the past season. This plan is also ideal if you have completed a half Ironman last season on minimal training and wish to improve while keeping a reasonable number of training hours.

While it's definitely possible to finish a half Ironman with fewer hours per week or fewer days per week than what you see here, I wanted to show a plan which uses a somewhat sane number amount of training hours while maximizing the total race preparation.

While this article lists specific daily workouts, I realize that every athlete has specific strengths, weaknesses, available hours, and other restrictions. Hopefully, you can adjust this plan to fit you well enough. If not, you might want to find a local coach to fit a plan to match your specifics.

Some Assumptions

1. Limited endurance experience.You have 1-3 years of recent experience in endurance sports and your ability is relatively equal in swimming, cycling, and running. Limiters are swim efficiency, bike strength/endurance, and run endurance/efficiency.

2. Limited Training Time. You work full time, are a full time student, and/or (gasp!) wish to have a social life in addition to bringing home a paycheck or getting a diploma.

3. Maximized Potential. Even if you have a goal "just to finish" and you have limited hours available per week, you would still rather finish in 5.5 hours instead of 7 and you are willing to make some changes to transform from just training for an event to becoming "The Complete Athlete."

The Big Picture

1. This preparation plan covers 20 weeks. It probably won't fit your race calendar exactly, but it's long enough that you should be able to adjust. 

2. The concept of periodization is employed to first develop general endurance and "neuro speed" and then to progress into race-specific abilities. Most periods are 4 weeks long-3 weeks of increased training, then 1 week of recovery.

3. The plan includes 5-10 hours each week of training. Physical training comes from mostly short sessions but 5-6 days per week with 1-2 workouts per day. There are no secrets in these workouts, just consistent work and a few changeups to keep the training fresh and interesting.

4. I recommend doing shorter multisport and single sport races in preparation for a half Ironman. Best choices to schedule these at the end of week 2 or 3 in each period, taking full advantage of the coming recovery week. A race will be your hard workout of the week, so remove other long/tough sessions scheduled.

5. No gym strength sessions are planned. I love the gym, but for the number of hours available per week in this plan, I feel much better race results come from spending time in the water, roads, and trails than in the gym. Workouts will be planned to develop sport specific strength during normal training. If you plan to do gym strength work, it should only come by adding onto the existing schedule-not easy to fit in for most of us.

6. The Complete Athlete.Your race finish times depend on much more than just training. For each training period, I've included some initiatives in areas in addition to just the workouts:

Race Prep: course knowledge, race day strategy, fueling, equipment
Training: the workouts
Physical Health: nutrition, weight, body composition, fatigue, soreness, injuries
Mental Health: confidence, motivation, stress
Efficiency: flexibility, equipment setup, proper form

The Period Overview

The chart below shows each period and concepts for each. The PDF files show all the detailed workouts for each week.





"Complete Athlete" Preparation
Prep20-17Racing Prep: No racing planned for this period, but since you've probably identified your key half IM race, take a look at the course, predicted weather, swim conditions, articles on last year's race. Compare all these race components with your own strengths and weaknesses. Use online bulletin boards to get course tips from previous competitors. Know thy course.

This period is "preparing to train"--building base endurance through work and recovery. We'll keep the same number of hours throughout the period and approximately the same schedule. The goal is consistency and getting the body warmed up for the longer periods ahead.

Physical Health: Starting a structured program is probably going to leave you needing a bit more sleep than you're used to getting. Water too. Don't skimp on either. Take full advantage of rest days.

Mental Health: Try to get in outdoor workouts in the best and worst weather possible. The more cold, wet, windy, and sweltering conditions you experience while training will carry over to much higher confidence come race day. You can't prepare much physically on race morning, so confidence and motivation reign supreme.

Efficiency: Form, form, form. If your swim stroke needs work (that's all of us), find ways to improve technique in these early weeks-hire a local coach to video and give feedback, take lessons, read, watch videos. Form, form, and form are the keys to swimming fast.
Base 116-13Racing Prep: Begin doing your some of your workouts on terrain which simulates race day.

Training: Here in Base 1, we'll be increasing hours a bit while keeping consistency. We will add 1 hard workout per week-1 workout, not 1 hard day. We will also begin sport-specific strength work by incorporating hills on the bike and run.

Physical Health:
Imagine showing up for a 10k race in peak fitness. Then imagine having to put on a 20lb backpack at the start line to carry to the finish. I want you to get the most on race day from all the training hours you put in. Running fast is helped greatly by having a high strength-to-weight ratio. You don't need to be in peak form at this point in the season, but begin to monitor weight and body fat % for later comparison and take a look at your diet for areas to improve-nothing drastic, just little changes at a time with continuous improvement over the entire training period.

Include with your training log a 1-10 scale for daily nutrition with 1 being a weekend in Vegas and a 10 being a nutritional angel. Rank yourself and monitor areas to improve. Most of us know what is good and bad eating so self seed yourself on this one.

Search out sports nutritional information to read during this period. There's a lot of good stuff out there. Email me if you need some good links.

Mental Health: Day after day it's tough to do all the workouts solo so try to find someone to join you for some of the sessions. A masters group once a week is good (this will be your 1 hard session!), but keep the rest easy. Talk to people in your area in person or via the net to find new routes and training partners.

Efficiency: Aero positioning and power output on the bike oppose each other. Ride lower and your power output will suffer. Begin working this month on flexibility of your back and legs. Come race day, your goal is to be as thin to the wind as possible, for as long as possible without suffering power output. Flexibility is free speed. 
Base 212-9Racing Prep: Begin visualizing race morning-how does the course appear, how hard will you work during different segments, where will you seed yourself in the swim start?

Training: Again more increases in hours per week. Here in Base 2, we'll have theme weeks with increased volume in a single sport with steep reductions in the other two sports. Week 12 is swim focus, Week 11 is run focus, Week 10 is bike focus. Week 9 stays as recovery as usual. We will now have 2 hard workouts per week, this time in the same sport.

Physical Health: keep an eye on injuries during this period as hours increase. Experiment nutritionally

Mental Health: Do a short run race, tri or duathlon during this period as a confidence builder. Practice calming pre-race nerves.

Efficiency: I'm not a big fan of swim drills even though form is paramount in swimming. I've found that with doing drills that I either get good at doing drills but don't improve as a swimmer or that I'm not doing the drills correctly because nobody is watching to tell me otherwise.
I prefer to have 'concentration' sets while swimming. For example, if I'm doing 100s, I'll spend 50 thinking about a particular part of the stroke then the next 50 swimming normally-no matter if I'm swimming fast or slow. These 'concentrations' are worked into every single set I swim, effectively drilling through swimming. There are many, many areas to focus on as part of the swim stroke-perhaps I'll do another article in the future for focus ideas... 
Base 38-5Racing Prep: If you live in an area with good hiking possibilities, schedule a 6-8 hour continuous hike in lieu of a long run during the month. This is great low impact endurance work which will leave you surprisingly sore if the terrain is hilly and it a great place to practice nutrition and hydrating with increasing exhaustion.

Training: We'll now approach a maximum number of training hours per week but now back to a balance in all 3 sports and still 2 hard workouts per week.

Physical Health: These training hours will be long, so keep well fueled and get as much sleep as possible. Ice your knees after every long or hard run-whether you're injured or not.

Mental Health: With these long hours, don't worry if you have to skip workouts due to fatigue or schedule conflicts-in the greater scheme, you won't lose much at all by missing a workout here and there. Just continue on the next day and don't reschedule missed workouts.

Efficiency: How efficient is your run stride? Are you doing 80-90 footstrikes per minute per foot? Is your foot striking the ground mid-foot (just behind the ball) while already in movement back? Look up photos in books or on the web some illustrations/descriptions of good and back footstriking. 
Build4-3Racing Prep: We'll do transition practice during this build period. Also think about what you'll be wearing race day, what you'll be using for nutrition/fluids. We'll ractice these during training sessions, well before race day.

Training: Training hours level off while we work on specifics for the race including performing sessions back to back and transition practice.

Physical Health: Watch for overuse injuries. You've come a long way in terms of new stressors in the past 15 weeks. Stretch properly and often and take time off if necessary.

Mental Health: More short races in any sport will keep you feeling competitive and motivated. Also a good chance to try out race day clothing, pre-race meals, and the highly personalized morning toilet ritual.

Efficiency: Maximize the advantage you'll get on the bike by making sure everything is well-maintained and critical parts are replaced as necessary. Schedule a tune-up with your local shop at the end of Week 3. Make any last position adjustments here and not in the last 2 weeks.
Check the condition of your run shoes and upgrade now if needed to break them in. Don't wait until race to try anything new. If you've been using the same swim goggles the whole training period, upgrade now and get them adjusted. (I had a well-used pair break while treading water just before the start of the Muncie Half
Taper/Race2-1Racing Prep:
Swim--only concentrate on navigation and keeping a clean stroke. Decent swim times will come directly from fixating on these two things. Forget these and it won't matter how hard you're pulling.

Bike--think negative split on the second half of the bike, that is ride the 2nd half faster than the first. This means going easy the first half! Overall pace on the bike should not feel exhausting as the goal is to not have to walk any of the run due to exhaustion. A 5 minute faster bike split is killed if you have to walk 20 minutes during the run. Allow 15 minutes of riding before consuming fluids or fuel. After that, follow the hydration plan you've been doing for long rides, adjusting for temps and higher intensity of the race.

Run--constantly monitor calories and fluids and try to even split each half of the run as closely as possible.

Training: We're going to drastically reduce the volume, but keep the same number of sessions and intensity. The goal is to be well-rested and 'springy' on race day.

Physical Health: Go easy on the calories these last 2 weeks since you'll be working out considerably less. Work hard at sleeping well leading up to the race, but don't worry too much about the night before.

Otherwise, do nothing to jeopardize getting injured-no new workout types, no massage if you haven't done it previously, etc.

Mental Health: Confidence! You didn't train all these weeks just to be a wallflower competitor come race day. It is a race and you should feel competitive and ready to push yourself-otherwise you could have just covered the distance in a training day.
Almost certainly something will not go perfectly, but you've trained through all kinds of conditions and situations so use that strength to your advantage.Race day self image: Strong, Sleek, Fluid, Gliding, Endless reserves, Lean, and willing to Suffer...The Complete Athlete!

Efficiency: Your sessions in these last 2 weeks should all be focused on efficient movement without stressing the body. Our training will have more details on this.


Appendix: RPE Chart


This chart can help with gauging intensities of daily workouts. Combine with your heart monitor ranges if desired.


RPEDescriptionBike HRRun HR
0Complete RestResting HR=Resting HR=
1Very Weak:
light walking
strong walk, very slow run, easy conversation pace
easy run, begin to sweat, but can hold conversation throughout
4Somewhat Strong:
still easy, sweating a bit more
7Very Strong:
breathing very labored, but can still maintain pace for some minutes without slowing.
9Cannot hold effort for more than a minute or two  
10Extremely Strong
(almost maximal)
* Max. Bike HR=Max. Run HR=