Minimizing Ironman Triathlon Training

So how do you go about Minimizing Ironman triathlon training?

Having difficulty finding time to fit Ironman training into one’s daily routine is a common theme in this hectic world we live in.

I feel for all those people I have met over the years who have an Ironman finish line dream but have never realized it because they believe the time commitment is more than they can devote to training.

I’ve heard it countless times over the years. “I’d love to do the Ironman but I just don’t have the time for all that training.”

I’m writing this post mainly for those of you who want to take on the Ironman challenge but have a misconception about how much training is really necessary.

The key to reaching your Ironman goal when time is in short supply is to find ways of minimizing your Ironman training while still doing enough to reach the Ironman finish line.

IRONMAN TRAINING MISCONCEPTIONS

I truly believe there is a serious lack of understanding about how much training you really have to do on a weekly basis in order to develop the proper level of fitness and confidence to take on the Ironman challenge.

It was a question I was asked so many times over the years by people who knew I was training for an Ironman.

“How many hours a week do you train?”

Realistically when I thought about it, the actual training time was about 12-14 hours a week.

Many people spend more time than that watching T.V. in a week.

Yet I have heard triathletes actually say…….”I train about 25 hours a week.”

That’s seems like a difficult challenge and pretty much unrealistic for the average age-grouper who is holding down a full-time job.

Pros might train that much or perhaps even more but for the most part that’s their job and the main focus of their lives.

Training that much while trying to hold down a job can very easily lead to burn-out and/or injury.

If you were to train for 25 hours a week and never took a rest day you would have to average over 3 hours of training a day.

ironStruck.com-  making the most of Ironman training time

Becoming an Ironman is a very real possibility even if training time is at a premium.


How many days can you possibly go for a one hour swim and a two hour run…..or bike? How many times would you have to run over two hours or bike for three or four hours over the course of a week to fill in 25 hours? When I hear people say they train over 20 hours a week I can’t help but think they have inflated the actual time they spend training.

Besides, some of those training days would have to be easy days and much less than three hours in order to allow your body time to recover or it will simply break down.

If you are new to Ironman training and are giving yourself plenty of time(say for example a year)to get ready for your first Ironman there is no need(nor is it wise) to train anywhere near 25 hours a week. For that matter 18-20 hours is most likely way too much.

A REALISTIC APPROACH TO IRONMAN TRAINING

Say for example you are going to devote one year to prepare for your Ironman race.

Many new triathletes have to learn how to swim or at least learn how to swim for a longer period of time in the open water if they already know how to swim.

If you are already a confident swimmer you do have an advantage and this will save you a lot of training time.

If you are new to swimming you will have to spend more time in the water until you have refined your stroke enough to enable you to have the confidence to swim 2.4-miles in the open water.

This could most likely be accomplished by swimming 3-4 times a week. Most sessions wouldn’t be much more than an hour. But let’s say 90 minutes to allow for getting to the pool and back home again.

At most that would be six hours a week devoted to swimming but keep in mind, once you get the stroke figured out and your swimming endurance gets better you won’t need to swim as much.

Don’t forget we are adding drive time into that six hours and the actual time in the pool is closer to 3-4 hours a week.

Using a 12-month time frame there is no need to be biking or running long distances for at least the first seven months of your training. By that I mean there is no point or value in pounding out three hour runs and 100 mile bike rides every weekend when you are months away from your race.

You should also start out with at least two full rest days each week so that leaves you five training days to organize.

Break up the five days with the two rest days. In other words don’t train four or five days straight if at all possible. Train three…rest one….train two…rest again. This will help with your recovery and will also help prevent training burn-out and/or injury.

You should do just fine to start by swimming three or four times a week, biking three times a week, and running three times a week.(Keep in mind that not everyone will need to swim that much–a well-skilled, confident swimmer would probably get by just fine on 2-3 days per week.)

So lets say for example 10 training sessions over five days.

That means you will be doing two training sessions on most days… a swim-bike, swim-run, or run-bike. If it works better for you there is nothing wrong with doing just one session on any given day and perhaps on a day off from your real job you can do a swim, bike, and run session.

It doesn’t have to be daunting. It can be a 45-minute swim, a one hour bike and a 45 minute run.

If every training session averaged one hour that would only be 10 hours of training per week.

If you want to add on some distance you still have up to 4 hours to play with.

That’s tons.

With that amount of time you could do a three hour run on the weekend, or go on a five hour bike ride….But why would you want to? You just don’t need it on a weekly basis in the first half of your training year.

FOCUS ON HOW—NOT HOW FAR OR HOW FAST

The most important thing you can devote your training time to in the early months is not distance, but rather technique.

Learn a swim technique that revolves around a looong, smoooooth, and relaxed stroke.

Pounding out long swims day after day with poor technique is not making the most of your pool time. Your muscles have memory and if you keep repeating a poor swim stroke over and over again, lap after lap, it becomes a very hard habit to break.

I know that because I did it for years before I finally figured out to slow down and relax in the open and it changed my attitude about the 2.4-mile swim. For years I dreaded it and would simply move my arms as fast as I could until the end of the swim.

I was exhausted by the time I reached the first transition. As soon as I slowed my stroke down and learned to relax not only did I feel great during and after the swim….I had the added bonus of having a faster overall swim time.

I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t working nearly as hard and here I was swimming faster as an added bonus.

So forget about the long, monotonous swim workouts and work on a swim technique that will keep you relaxed and in control during the Ironman swim and in the process conserve your energy for later in the day.

Start by counting how many strokes it’s taking you to reach the other side of the pool and work on using fewer and fewer strokes to get to the other side.

To do that you have to get more efficient and develop a stroke that helps you get to the other side of the pool just as fast or faster while using less energy.

This is actually the key to the Ironman 2.4-mile swim.

Swimming 2.4 miles as fast as you can on Ironman morning is a recipe for disaster. Develop a long, smooth, relaxed stroke for race day and you will save a ton of energy and will be in a far better place physically, mentally and emotionally as you set out on the 112-mile bike.

It just doesn’t make sense to push yourself to try and swim as fast as you can on race morning to save ten minutes and then end up walking most of the marathon because you depleted so much energy in the swim and then compounded the problem with poor biking technique.

It’s the poorly planned Ironman swim that often results in becoming part of the Ironman Death March in the marathon.

The energy you needlessly burn in the swim is gone for good and is unrecoverable for the rest of the day.

A 40-45 minute training swim focusing on technique is far more valuable than swimming mile after mile of mindless laps day after day.

Your fitness level and endurance will build slowly and surely just by working on proper technique.

If you need some guidance on learning the ideal swim stroke for your Ironman I highly recommend the Total Immersion swim technique by Terry Laughlin. If you can get your hands on a copy of his original book……”Total Immersion” it will get you started on the right track and will take away your fear of open water swimming.

There are probably many DVD’s available on his website as well. However when someone handed me his original book years ago, that’s all it took to turn the Ironman swim into something I looked forward to instead of dreading.

There is also a link on the right of this article that will get you a 10% Ironstruck discount from Total Immersion is you decide to give Terry’s swim strategy a try.

For me it virtually eliminated the cost of paying a coach for swim training and I was able to easily follow the Total Immersion program and made huge improvements in my Ironman open water swim.

Ironstruck.com- swimming with a relaxed swim stroke

Total Immersion will train you to swim with grace and be totally relaxed in the open water.


It also helped in minimizing Ironman triathlon training time because I wasn’t spending hour after hour swimming laps.

My swim sessions were more like 45 minutes, but it was mostly time spent on refining a longer, smoother, and more relaxing stroke. Much of it revolved doing drills that changed my muscle memory and re-built my stroke to one that was far more efficient.

When I did begin to add distance later in the training year after perfecting my total immersion swim stroke it was something I looked forward to because it was so smooth and effortless.

Once you feel confident you can swim 2.4 miles it’s not necessary to swim that distance time after time.

Spend 45-60 minutes swimming effortlessly a few times a week and maybe pick a day every 5 to 6 weeks during the course of your training months and swim the Ironman 2.4 mile distance just to re-affirm in your mind you can handle the distance.

Just remember that when it comes to race day don’t change anything in your relaxed swim stroke. Do your best to control your emotions as it’s very easy to get caught up in the moment and swim as fast as you can when the gun sounds.

Pick an outside line, find some open water and get into your long, smooth swim stroke rhythm. This will keep your heart-rate down and help preserve energy you will desperately need later in the day.

GET YOURSELF A WIND-TRAINER

A wind-trainer or “bicycle training stand” is crucial if training time is in short supply. It might well be the most important piece of Ironman equipment you could possibly buy.

It will allow you to fit in a training session at any time of day or night without having to drive or ride to your favorite highway for some training. I had to drive for 30 minutes each way in order to get out of the city and then there was no way of predicting what the weather was going to do.

I used to spend hours over the course of a training year just driving to and from someplace where I could find a suitable training highway.

With a wind-trainer you don’t have to worry about food, water, a bathroom, dogs, pot-holes, traffic, mechanical problems, or the weather.

You don’t have to load and unload your bike or drive anywhere.

It won’t matter if it’s dark or light outside.

Ironstruck.com- Wind-trainer training- Minimizing Ironman triathlon training

A wind-trainer is the best way of minimizing Ironman triathlon training time.


There was one year when I decided to try doing most of my bike training indoors on a wind-trainer just to see what effect it would have on race day.

I did about 95% of my bike training in my living room. My long ride was watching two movies that I taped. when the movies were over, the ride was over.

You don’t have to be restricted to hours of monotonous cycling staring at a wall.

You can simulate a hill by putting your bike in a tougher gear. You can do interval training. You can do distance training.

Most of all you can work on your biking technique. Just like swimming, learning a proper spin technique on the bike is just as important as learning a long, smooth, and relaxed swim stroke.

This does not mean you never ride outside. Doing the occasional ride outside when time permits will allow you to refresh your hill-climbing, cornering and over-all balance on the bike.

Wind-trainer indoor training is also ideal for transition training.

For instance, one of my favorite transition workouts was to bike 60 minutes on my wind-trainer, get off my bike, put on my runners and usually in about 60 seconds or less be out the door and starting out on a 45 minute run.

Even allowing time for a 15 minute shower the training session only took two hours.

If you would like to ramp up the distance than bike for two hours and perhaps do a one-hour run. This is ideal if it’s a day off and you have more time to allot to training.

It’s excellent transition training for race day when you get off your bike after a 112-mile bike and start running.

By the way, my Ironman bike time that year with most of my training done on a wind-trainer was only five minutes slower than the year before on the very same course(Ironman CDA)after training hundreds of miles outside on the highway.

So I have no doubt that a training on a bike wind-trainer is a key component if you are short of time and is a great way of minimizing Ironman triathlon training time and making the most of the time you do have.

As I said in the beginning of this post, I believe people have a misconception about how much and how far they really have to train in order to have the experience of crossing the Ironman Triathlon finish line.

Concentrate on how well you do your training and get the most out of the time you do have and the distance will take care of itself.

Even the great Dave Scott said that if you can manage half the distances required in the Ironman in your training and still like you have energy left to continue it’s most likely enough.

In other words when it comes time to add on some distance in the later months of your Ironman preparation if you can do a 66-mile bike and still feel fine you are most likely ready and biking 100 miles over and over again is basically a waste of time.

It’s the same with the run. It’s not necessary or even wise to run 3 or 4 hours time after time when a solid 90 minute or two hour run is all that’s really necessary for run training distance days as your race gets nearer.

Sure, much like swimming 2.4 miles on occasion will reinforce in your mind that you can do it, you can also pick a day when you find somebody to go out on a 100-mile bike just to get used to being on a bike that long.

However it’s not really necessary as far as being a key to finishing the 112-mile bike on race day. If you have developed a nice relaxed and efficient spin on the bike(always think circle) that you can handle for the bulk of the bike distance on race day you will finish the bike.

You can also pick a day as you get closer to your race when you might try a 3-hour run but it’s not necessary to run that kind of distance over and over again.

These suggestions for minimizing Ironman triathlon training are for those who are not worried about how fast they reach the finish line, but instead want to reach it any way they can.

Best of luck in your Ironman Journey and if you need an inspirational and motivational guide to help you realize your dream and make the Ironman doable you might want to get yourself a copy of my book IronStruck…the Ironman Triathlon Journey.

Be sure to visit my ironstruck book store for more information on this book and others I have written.

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