How to Train for an Ironman

Your first Ironman isn’t going to be a walk in the park, but with the right mental preparation, physical training and grit, you’ll be able to dominate the course.

The hardcore triathlon consists of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride and 26.2-mile run, raced in that order without a break.

That is the formula for an Ironman event. We’ll be teaching you how to get into mental and physical shape for one of the most grueling sporting events ever concocted.

Here are 5 tips on how to train for an Ironman and survive:

The Long Haul

Ironman triathlon training is an event in itself. Be prepared to knuckle down for several years – yes, several years – because an epic race demands an epic training regime.

Unless you happen to be a Navy SEAL or are hyper-fit day in and day out, you’ll want to make training for an Ironman your mission until the event happens.

The fact that now ultra-marathons and Double Ironman races exist should not lull you into thinking that just finishing a regular Ironman is in any way easy. 

You will need to spend several years getting into optimal cardio shape.

Hiring a coach may seem like a cop-out to some hardcore athletes, but the truth is that on their own, minus a drill master to crack the whip, hardly anyone goes to the limit.

The body automatically looks for ways to take some sting out of training, which spells bad form and reduced speed. Consider investing in a personal trainer who can push you and ensure you hit your limits.

Because an Ironman race is so intense, it’s easy to overstep the mark and fall into the trap of thinking you have to go hard all the time. Get some rest in. Rest is extremely important and even strategic.

If you miss a workout, accept having missed it – if you reschedule and do a couple back-to-back you may overtrain yourself.

Consistency is vital but not sacred. Just make sure when you get back to your training you hit your workouts hard.

Know The Course, Know Your Body

planking exercise

Remember to get seriously familiar with every switchback and slope between you and the finish line. Check out the relevant stretch of seawater or freshwater, too. Feel the cold.

See how you feel after a couple of unintentional gulps of water. The warm-up removes a lot of the mental stress and means that your body should just lock into gear on the big day.

Many athletes overlook the importance of their core, which as the name implies, is vital. If your core – your front abs and obliques – aren’t strong, you will leak speed and be much more liable to injury.

To strengthen your core, try the plank and the side plank exercises – both being surprisingly tough and effective. 

Additionally, getting someone to stand on your stomach is a great core-strengthening exercise if you take it slowly and avoid using someone who weighs 500 kilos.

Traditional crunches and sit-ups are of doubtful worth in Ironman triathlon training.

Clock Up Some Climbing Time

mountain hiking

Many Ironman races contain a knee-crunching, lung-smashing, hilly stretch or two. To prepare, you better get some altitude – see how you cope with thin air and gravity. 

As a bonus, you get to train for the downhills too.

Downhills can be especially treacherous because of the scything pressure they put on your legs as you strive to keep your balance while you wend your way through weeds and scree. You don’t want to wind up with blown quads. 

Blown quads are an occupational hazard of the outwardly breezy downhill stretch. Mountain hiking will help prevent the dreaded bust. Throw in some weight training and cycling for good measure.

Swim Smooth

man swimming on a pool

Swimming is all about technique. Focus on your form – long, fluid strokes that make minimal splash.This will help you go far and fast. Over-the-top, manic thrashers pretty much travel in circles.

Control your breathing – aim for one breath every three strokes or more. The longer you wait the better because it is much more efficient swimming face down than constantly churning your neck.

You may be up against several thousand competitors: all carving through the water at the same time, making the sensation the opposite of the serenity you normally expect amid water.

Rack Up The Mileage

Because an Ironman is all about chewing through miles, there’s an awful lot to be said about ensuring that you complete a certain number in the water and on land every week.

British triathlete, Fraser Cartmell, told the Guardian that he swims up to 25km (16 miles) over six 75- to 90-minute swims. Additionally, he bikes up to 600km (373 miles), which is up to 20 hours, varying from two-hour recovery to six-hour hilly rides. 

Finally, he runs just over 50 miles at a jog and a canter. Set your own figures.

The bike stretch of an Ironman requires a touch of strategy and some restraint. The classic rookie mistake is to go full force out of the gate, then flag and fizzle out.

Few feelings in sports are more defeating than the realization that you have pedaled yourself to a standstill and have another 90 miles to go. 

If the weather is a problem, hop on a standing bike at the gym.

If you are struggling to boost your endurance, try carbo-loading. Just eat a lot of whole-grain pasta in any form you like. The fuel side of Ironman triathlon training need not be boring.

Have any other tips on how to train for an Ironman? Let us know in the comments below.

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