How do I Choose the Best Ironman Triathlon Training Schedule?

Matt Cunningham

An Ironman triathlon is a major athletic commitment. The 2.4-mile (3.8 km) swim, 112-mile (180 km) bike ride and 26.2-mile (42.2 km) run make for an endurance race that is more strenuous than almost any other one-day event. Most competitors who complete an Ironman dedicate a large part of their lives to training; this is necessary to prevent injury and make the experience an enjoyable one. Whether you've competed in intense athletic events before, or are preparing for your first Ironman triathlon, an Ironman triathlon training schedule is an important part of your pre-race planning. The best training schedule will usually start with an assessment of the trainee's fitness level, a physical program that gradually builds upon that, a nutritional plan, a rest plan and a plan to taper off the intense portion of the physical training.

People might bike before work when training for a triathlon.
People might bike before work when training for a triathlon.

Before you dive into intense training, you should assess your own fitness level. It stands to reason that a person who is in excellent physical shape will have an easier time completing the intense training workouts of an Ironman triathlon training schedule than a person who has not been active for years. If you have not been very active, it is important that you speak with a physician about your triathlon plans; he or she may suggest you try a shorter triathlon before committing to an Ironman. This appraoch should give your body a chance to adapt to the strain of a triathlon. A physical trainer can also provide suggestions for how to prepare your body for the training that is about to take place. This process can require weeks of adaptive training, but is critical to avoid injury from overexertion.

Once you've reached a level of conditioning where you can start your more intense training, a good triathlon training plan will gradually increase intensity in the months and weeks leading up to your chosen event. You will want to make sure your plan includes adequate training in all three disciplines, as well as time to focus on weak points. If swimming is a weakness, for example, you may want to incorporate additional swimming work in your weekly training plans.

Your Ironman triathlon training schedule should include a nutritional aspect. You need to ensure you consume the right nutrients, carbohydrates, protein and fat before, during and after your workouts. Nutrition during your workouts is especially important, since you will need to refuel during the Ironman’s three legs.

Along with nutrition, you should plan your workout schedules to include the proper amount of rest between harder workouts. Rest days can involve easy activity, such as a long, slow spin on the bike or an easy swim, but they should not stress your body like the more intense workouts that come before and after them.

As you near the date of your Ironman triathlon, your training plan should provide some sort of "taper:" a reduction in workout intensity that lets your body fully heal and peak for race day. Many new athletes train harder and harder right up to the day of the triathlon, and then perform worse than they could due to fatigue. A good taper is usually considered vital to a successful triathlon.

Several books and online resources provide specific Ironman triathlon training schedules. Many of these plans are very effective, but remember that one plan does not fit everyone. Your personal commitments, physical fitness and schedule may require you to adapt your chosen plan during your training period. A solid understanding of exercise physiology basics, gained from reading multiple books and studying different training plans, can help you make smart changes to ensure that your training plan helps you achieve your goal of competing in an Ironman triathlon.

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