Training for an Ironman Triathlon: Are you doing too much?

If you are Training for an Ironman Triathlon: Are you doing too much? There is a very good chance that most age-group athletes go into an Ironman over-trained and tired.

It often seems that when people are bitten by the Ironman bug and have their sights set on reaching the finish line they develop a “more is better” mentality when it comes to preparing for the big day.

Often it is because they simply don’t know better or have perhaps received some advice along the way that leads them in the wrong direction. It could also be because the Ironman Triathlon distance seems so daunting that the only way it appears it can be conquered is by doing mega-distance training work-outs over and over again.

In actuality there is a very good chance you would have the very same result by doing far less. What does this mean to the average “Ironstruck” novice Ironman?(or even five-time or ten-time Ironman for that matter).

It means that you can spend more time working on proper technique instead of putting in all those endless laps in the pool or 100-mile bike ride after 100-mile bike ride or “junk running miles” as we used to call them in my marathon days.

It means that there is much less chance of getting injured.

It means that Ironman training does not have to monopolize your life and take so much time away from the family and other social aspects of your life.



It is vain to do with more what can be done with less.
–William of Occam(c 1288-1348), “Occam’s Razor”

It took many years of training myself into the ground before I accepted that more was not necessarily better–that training for 22 hours a week would not make me a more successful Ironman than training for 12.

It might be fine for pro triathletes who do it for a living, have great coaching, and are genetically gifted with special abilities, but for the average age-grouper, more is not usually better. More often leads to injury, over-training, and race-day disappointment. You finish, but you can’t figure out why it was such a struggle after all the training you did.

If your finish time is 13-hours for example and you trained yourself into the ground all year to get there, wouldn’t it make more sense to train half as much for the same finish-time result?

One year I decided I would take a weeks holiday in mid-July to ride longer and more often than I ever had in my Ironman bike training.

Every morning for six mornings in a row I was on my bike at 6 a.m. and rode the same 100-mile hilly, windy course. So I biked six centuries in a row. The week before I swam 5k every day and the week after the six centuries on the bike I ran a total of 110-miles.

Then I went to Ironman Canada in late August full of optimism and had a race that was no better than the previous ones I had been in. For all that work, I was about three minutes faster than my best time. I felt lethargic and tired on the bike and perhaps that was the biggest disappointment of all.

When I looked at the bike split I realized that I had left my best bike result out on that training course somewhere.


Sometimes in the world of Ironman we tend to forget that rest is our friend and timely resting is most likely one of the most ignored aspects of training.

We simply do way too many “empty” miles in all three disciplines when training less, training smarter, and resting more is really often the key to Ironman success.

Many people think that if they do not keep pounding out the long miles, they will somehow begin to lose all their hard-earned endurance when really all they are doing is preventing their body from recovering properly because there simply is not enough down-time from one workout to the next.

Training long, slow, and often might not be quite as beneficial as training shorter, smarter, and less often.

Here are a few suggestions on how to do less but yet get more out of your Ironman Training.


If you are quite confident that you can handle the 2.4-mile swim distance then there is little to be gained by swimming four or five days a week in order to try and do the distance a few minutes faster. The “effort/reward” is simply not worth it.

It would make more sense to swim two or three times a week and work on improving your technique without worrying about how far you swim. The distance will take care of yourself, but if you concentrate on developing a smoother more effortless swim stroke you will conserve much more energy that will most likely compute to a better Ironman Marathon time.

If conserving energy in the swim can keep you running instead of walking most of the marathon you stand to save a lot more time than putting in thousands of laps in the pool over the training season in order to be a few minutes faster in the Ironman swim. You could well save forty-five minutes or an hour by swimming less in training and concentrating on “how” you are swimming as opposed to “how far” you are swimming.


I had a talk with a competitive cyclist one day and was telling him about my six-century bike training experiment that failed to get me the desired results. His comment was, “I can get more out of a 90-minute or two-hour training ride than most people get out of doing a century.”

He went on to explain that one of his favorite bike work-outs was about 40k in length. He would do 6-8 five minute repeats at a pace faster than he would normally race and take a three-minute rest in between. He also said he could get the same results if he did the work-out on a wind-trainer.

He said the key was to push your heart-rate into a higher anaerobic zone and then rest and let it come back down and then repeat. He found that this was far more beneficial than long, slow bike rides where your heart-rate hardly ever fluctuates.

It made perfect sense when he explained it because most triathletes new to the Ironman go all-out from the moment they get on their bike. However, this is not the way they trained. All that long, slow distance did not prepare them for what would happen about half-way through the bike.

I did it all the time.

I would over-extend my biking fitness level and hit the wall year after year. Basically I was not trained for what was going to happen on Ironman day. All the long rides simply made me over-trained and tired by the time the race came around. Then I would get caught up in the emotion of the day and was in trouble right from the start–I just didn’t know it.


One day I read something that six-time Ironman World Champion Dave Scott said. “If you can do half the distance of an Ironman discipline you are probably there. There is no need to do the full Ironman distance in training time after time.”

So for example what he meant was that if an age-group triathlete can go out for a two-hour training run and feel like they could easily run further, there is no need to run further.

You are most likely where you want to be for race-day and running three or four hours every few weeks can do more harm than good as you open yourself up to possible injury or the effects of over-training.

Once you are fit and feel confident that you can handle the Ironman distance in the swim, bike, and run it’s really just a matter of maintaining that level though-out the training year and working on your technique.

You would most likely post an Ironman finish time the same or perhaps even better by doing three swim, bike, and run training sessions per week using the above guide-lines as opposed to doing mega-distances time after time. That means that 10-12 hours per week could well do just as much for you as 20-22 hours per week.

It is vain to do with more what can be done with less.
–William of Occam(c 1288-1348), “Occam’s Razor”

It makes perfect sense when you think about it and the year after my long-distance training experiment I adopted the theory of train less and train smarter to heart and my Ironman time was over an hour faster than I had ever done. The swim, bike, and run splits(3:34 marathon)were all personal bests and I qualified for Hawaii that year.

I did one 100-mile bike ride all season just to get used to being on the bike for that long. Every six weeks or so I would swim two miles just to re-assure myself that I still could and I ran for as long as three hours just once all season.

I also decided I would never train tired again and did not schedule specific rest days. I just rested when my body said it needed it.

Best of all, my entire life did not have to revolve around Ironman training and I had much more time to do other things in life and enjoyed a much better life-style balance through-out the training year.

If you are considering doing (or perhaps are already training for) your first Ironman or have done a couple of Ironman races where things did not go as well as you hoped you might really benefit from my book “IronStruck…The Ironman Triathlon Journey.”

Ironstruck will motivate and inspire you and most of all, it will spell out exactly what it takes to succeed in the Ironman and how you can make the seemingly impossible, possible. You won’t find complicated workouts in my books. What you will find is relevant information from an age-group athlete just like you who has made plenty of mistakes on the Ironman Highway and can help you avoid them.

My books have helped many people around the world reach the Ironman Triathlon finish line and in the process become more than they ever thought possible.

Downloading the e-book is the most cost-effective method. Plus you have it right away and there is no shipping involved. It might just be the best investment you make on your journey to the Ironman finish line.

You can find Ironstruck Journey and all my other books in hard copy or e-book format in the Ironstruck® Book Store

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