Training needed for Ironman

Joe FrielI was listening to a Webinar by Joe Friel (long-time triathlon coaching guru), where he was walking through setting up an Annual Training Plan (ATP) for a 32-year-old, age-group athlete that was hoping to use Ironman Coeur d’Alene 2011 to qualify for Ironman Hawaii, which he estimated would take about a 9:45:00 Ironman…so a pretty high-end goal.

This athlete was training last year around 11 hours a week on average, so about 550 hours for the year…and has a baby on the way in 2011.  The fellow said that his goal for 2011 was 12-15 hours a week.

Joe said that for Ironman, he’s found that an annual average of 12 hours a week is about a minimum if you just really want to finish the race…pro’s are 25-35 hours a week.  Joe therefore set up the ATP at an average of 14 hours a week, or 700 hours a year….which ended up with about a half-dozen peak weeks at around 20 hours of training.

So when Joe puts together his ATP over a year, it includes Prep, Base, Build and Peak periods before a Race…and obviously if you race more than once a year, these are adjusted around your A, B and C priority races…and with a rather slick technology twist, the Training Peaks software (both Daughter and I use the program for logging our training) will set this all up automatically by answering a few questions…pretty cool, to give you an idea of what a training year will look like.

Link to the entire one hour Joe Friel Webinar and others in the Training Peaks archives

Gale Bernhardt, also long-time triathlon coaching guru, created quite a stir over 10 years ago when she published her  ’13 Weeks to a 13-Hour Ironman’ in 1999…highlighted with approximately 13 hours being the peak training week…of course, this wasn’t ‘Couch Potato to Ironman’ in 13 weeks…you needed to come into the program with a reasonable level of fitness already…this is the article that first got me thinking that maybe, just maybe one day I could do an Ironman…I had just finished my first marathon the year before, so feeling quite good about myself, although I couldn’t possibly imagine doing the same thing at the end of an Ironman…just too unbelievable to fathom.

What kind of shape do you need to be in?  Coach Gale says:

Athlete Profile. You are an experienced triathlete. You have completed spring and Olympic-distance races. Life, however, has your clock in a stranglehold and training time is at a premium. Before beginning this plan, you are capable of swimming three times per week, about an hour each time. You estimate you could hold a 1 minute 45-second to 2-minute pace per 100 yards, for the 2.4-mile swim (total swim time of 1:12 to 1:25). Cycling currently includes being able to comfortably go an hour and a half or so. You’re thinking you could average somewhere between 15 and 16 mph for 112 miles (total bike time between 6:15 and 7:30). Your long run is in the 1:15 to 1:30 range. You think you could manage a marathon pace of 10- to 11-minute miles (total run time between 4:15 and 5:00). up to this point, you’ve been training around eight to 10 hours each week, which is very comfortable. (editor note: bold is mine)

Your typical training week is fairly light during the week, due to a long list of commitments. However, weekends are open for longer training hours. You need at least one day completely free from training each week because it keeps you healthy and in good spirits.

If this athlete profile fits you, your estimated completion time for an Ironman-distance race is between 12 and 14 hours. If necessary, you are willing to walk to comfortably complete the race. What this means is that even if you’re on the top end, estimating your finish time at 14 hours, you still have a three-hour buffer to complete the race under the time limit of 17 hours for many Ironman-distance races.

When I first read that, I couldn’t swim at all…like thrash back to the boat if I just fell out of it, but that was it…in reading this, thought that the bike and run were doable however…so if someday I wanted to commit to figure out that swimming thing, and get my base training up to 8-10 hours a week, I too could be an Ironman.

…of course, because of my swimming ‘limiter’ I am a ‘special needs’ triathlete.  A 2 minute pace swimming for only _one_ 100 yard lap even today, is about top speed for me…no matter 2.4 miles…and still my fastest Ironman to date is under 13 hours, because of a good bike, and reasonable run…so lots of ways of getting there.

So what’s the summary?

First of all, everyone highly recommends that Ironman is not your first triathlon…at least a few Olympic distance races, and a least one or two Half-Ironman distance races preferred.

For the minimalists, Joe Friel says an annual 12 hours a week minimum average…maybe a hair less if pressed…Gale Berhardt says 8-10 hours a week average, then bump up the focus 13 weeks out to the 10-13 hour a week range…both would stress ‘minimum’.  When we say average, it means that a typical pattern as the volume is increasing, may be 2 weeks in the 12-15 hours range, and then a recovery week of 7-8 hours, and then repeat.

So having said that, about 12-14 hours a week of training should get you an Ironman medal, and still be smiling at the finish line…more than that if want to have a faster and/or more comfortable race…or working to improve a particularly weak area…or wanted to recover a little more easily after.

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