First, where do I get off being an expert? I'm not an expert of science or physiology and in fact, I have had an Ironman DNF before and 2 run splits longer than my bike splits! I can say, walking for 6 hours and 20 minutes is still A LOT of work. And I can say I have learned a lot of what not to do. I suspect that is why my fast Ironman program is all about simplicity! This said, I have also done Hawaii twice, have two sub 10 hour Ironmans under my belt, two 3:15 marathons, a 1:23 half marathon, a bunch of bike racing podiums, and 10 years trying to get this Ironman stuff right. So here are my thoughts starting with defining 'do the work' then breaking down each part of that equation.
- Effective 'do the work' = exercise output + recovery + nutrition. This is to say that we as age groupers try to cram in the workload of swim, bike, run but eat like shit and don't sleep enough! This is because we lead busy lives with work and family and sport. But to be in the best shape you can be on race day requires attention to eating well and taking the time to recover as it does to doing the workouts.
- plan your workouts for each week on Sunday night. Look at your work schedule, kids soccer/hockey/dance schedule; date night with spouse THEN plan your workout schedule. When planning your workouts, have Friday as either completely off, or a light workout such as a 20-30 minute swim or 5K run. You want to be rested for the weekend.
- TIP: you own your morning before you get to work. Use that to your advantage! Swim with a masters club; get up, eat a banana, get out for a run or trainer ride. The morning is your time before the day goes to pot.
- TIP: 5 minutes easy; 5 minutes regular pace; 15 minutes of tempo or 1 to 2 minute pick ups; 5 minutes cool down.
- TIP: winter program in Canada is primarily on the trainer. January is about high cadence and building form and efficiency. There is only two ways to ride a bike faster; a bigger gear or the same gear quicker. January I really work on form and keep my HR at or below what I would on race day. February is about building strength. Long intervals of 10 to 30 minutes up and down the gears, lots of slow cadence high pressure on the pedals work. March is about upping the intensity a bit and hill repeats for strength NOT VO2 max though. By that, the hill repeats hurt the legs, not the lungs.
- TIP: once the spring comes and you are outside riding PLAN AHEAD. Don't just ride out the door to nowhere. Plan your route and DO NOT BONK! Bonking is the biggest limiting factor as it kills us for potentially days afterwards. Always take extra bars and gels.
- TIP: Mark 8 weeks out from your Ironman. It is from here that it is game on training wise. Broker deals with family that this is the gut check part of season and you will need some leniency on day to day operations!
- TIP: mark 4 weeks out from your Ironman and put an X on it. That is simulation weekend. Take a few days rest/easy workouts into this weekend. Saturday is your day to test 180K (I do 200K) with a 30 minute run afterwards and get your nutrition dialed in which includes breakfast. Schedule time to nap late afternoon. Sunday is your day to do a long swim and long run of up to 2:30
- TIP: plan your race week nutrition. Do not show up to race site and think right, sandwich and pasta deals all week. Guaranteed death. That is all salt, all preservative, lots of garlic in pastas etc. See nutrition planning below
- TIP: hill repeats are your friend. They build form and strength.
- TIP: Winter and spring plyometrics work helps if you can. In fact, I would argue drop two workouts from swim, bike, run to get these in. They can be done at home. Squats, jumps, lunges, bands, situps, pushups etc. Note: no weights required!
- TIP: I have learned after doing a few 6+hour Ironman marathons that the body just can't shove a bunch of stuff into it's belly and expect to run! Do math. 6-8% carbs:fluid ratio is the max the stomach can absorb on race day in my experience. Your blood is in your legs, not your stomach so anything more and the stomach cannot process it.
- TIP: day to day nutrition is an interesting paradigm. I read so much about protein diets; high carbo foods for athletes to store glycogen etc...I will get REALLY SIMPLE here. Each meal must consist of carb, protein, fat. Your high volume weeks there is more carb's on your plate, but it cannot be the only thing on your plate. The best way to get healthy protein and fats is to eat things like poultry, nuts, and color. Lots of veggies, lots of fruits. If you are eating fruit as a snack, eat with yogurt. The insulin spike of fruits by themselves (in my experience) causes a crash 30-45 minutes later. Yogurt (greek is the BEST!) buffers this.
- TIP: race week limit fiber. Eat white bread with nutella. Add salt on salads. Poultry, rice is your friend. Don't overeat race day breakfast and drink an electrolyte bottle the hour leading into start of race. Small sips over the hour.
So, what do my high volume weeks look like? Here is a shell, but I also don't plan it necessarily by a 7 day increment. Usually 10 days, few days easy, repeat. But, my training logs show that I consistently in big volume weeks do about 18 hours of work. That is what my life allows.
- Monday: easy swim of about 2K; 30 minute run
- Tuesday: masters swim 3K; 2 hour brick or lunch time run and evening bike hill repeats
- Wednesday: 2 to 2:30 evening bike with intervals
- Thursday: masters swim 3K; 1:30 run
- Friday: off
- Saturday: Lake swim 30 minutes; 5 to 6 hours on the bike; 20 minute run off the bike
- Sunday: long run 2 to 2:30
- TOTAL: 18 hours.
DO IT. LOG IT. REPEAT IT.