Team CLA is headed to IMCA in August 2020! 6 months! Race day is in 6 months! OH MY! Now before you start panicking we do still have some time but it is time to get serious about that little race in August. Ok, it might be time to panic just a little! Now is the time to evaluate your training.
What training? Okay that might be a problem. It’s time to evaluate the type of training you are doing as well as how well you are handling the load. Is it doable now? What about in a few months? Will you be able to handle the volume for peak training? What can we do now to help make sure you are ready and able to keep as much balance in your life as peaking for an Ironman can allow?
We don’t want to overwhelm you but want do want you to realize that undertaking the journey of an Ironman is just that. A journey. It requires commitment, drive, some sacrifice and help from everyone around you. It does take a village. It also requires realizing that even with solid preparation, race day will be challenging (which is partly why we do it, right?!).
Can you do an Ironman with only half-hearted resolve and half-hearted training? Probably. But what do you want on race day? How bad do you want it?
This is it. Any way you look at it an Ironman is a LONG endurance event. Ha! You knew that right?!
To build up your capacity to handle the distance required on race day requires a steady diet of training that builds, recovers and builds again. Without a doubt there will be some days where the idea of getting up early to get to a pool or missing one more happy hour to get in a run just seems like too much. On these days it is a good idea to look back at the training and be amazed at how far you have come since you started. Look how the training is building the capacity to go farther in all three sports safely and more comfortably. Remember when swimming 10 lengths was a long swim and now that is just a little longer than the warm up? Or when 3 miles was your usual run and now 6-8 feels more like an average day?
Don’t get us wrong, this doesn’t mean that the full Ironman distance might still feel daunting and a long way off but seeing the progression you’ve made so far can be reassuring.
You are training right?
Maybe we should ask that question before we keep going.
Some of you may be struggling with more than the occasional swim or run. Are you struggling to stick to your plan and feeling like you have bitten off more than you can chew? Are you panicking and thinking that you are behind because life got in the way with your resolve and you must put it all in now?! Have you done an Ironman distance event before and are feeling a bit complacent? Or do you have some time goals so are pushing the pace in workouts thinking that more work and faster work will surely make you faster overall?
If you can answer yes to any of those questions it might be time to consider hiring a coach. Maybe, for whatever reason, you’ve already been contemplating hiring a coach? Do it now!
A coach can look at what you’ve done so far and help you assess what your priority should be and how to tackle the next few months. Ironman is not simply about piling on more and more distance and volume. A coach can hold you back appropriately when needed, can push you and hold you accountable. A coach can create workouts that tax the appropriate energy system (the science of coaching) and can create workouts that are specific to what you need and that fit in with your life (the art of coaching).
What to Expect with Peak Ironman Training
At this point, six months out, you are still building endurance and strength specific to all three sports. Drills and skill development are important here as it is critical to be efficient in the movements of the sport to help avoid injury and use less energy. Strength development in the gym or on the trails (trail running and hiking) are important now. These things will all work together to get you to a place where you will be able to handle peak training.
Peak training will be 6 - 8 weeks out from race day (for Ironman Canada - July) and you can expect a lot of training!
How many hours can you expect to be training per week during peak training? There is a huge range but 16 - 18 hours of training per week is typical especially for those looking for particular time or age-group goals. For time-crunched athletes, total weekly training time is typically 12-14 hours. And that is just training as in how long it takes you to swim, bike, run, and strength train. Recovery weeks (i.e. those weeks where you deliberately take a cut back in training volume to let your body adapt and get stronger) are usually 8 - 10 hours total.
Yes, that is a lot of time but you can do it! Don’t forget you need time to shower, sleep, eat, grocery shop, prepare food, see your family and friends on occasion and oh yeah, for most, there is that work thing too. This is why we are practicing now. By the time we get to peak training the goal is that you have gotten creative and are good at fitting in the training while still managing to handle the other parts of your life too.
And sometimes, there will be a few weeks where it is simply not all possible. This is normal and okay. You are not failing if this is the case and it’s never ok to mentally beat yourself up. This is where the village comes in (see more below).
Another funny thing about training? Some days are easier and some days are harder. Fatigue does become an issue and that’s ok! As the volume gets higher it is important to recognize and listen to that fatigue. It is training with increasing load and then having proper recovery that will make you fitter. Rest days and easy days are important and are often overlooked.
The goal is not to be at race pace now so why are you pushing the pace in an attempt to “get fit” quicker? (Side note: It does not work like that.) If you’ve been a little behind with training and haven’t been able to get to the pool as much as you’d like or are cutting bike workouts short (ahem, for instance), we get it! We all only have so much time and energy. That being said, it is important to build training from where you are now and not where you wish you were.
An Ironman is a dream goal for anyone. When you are in peak training for Ironman (remember 6-8 weeks out from race day) it’s important to set realistic expectations with your family and friends so that you can get in the training you need. Hopefully they are excited about your dreams too and can help you work towards them.
Take the time now to prep family and friends about what they can do to help when the time comes and ask what you can give back now to help them. You have time now so be present with your friends and family and stay on top of the other things in your life that need attention.
Be real about how you are feeling. There should not be panicky thoughts of Ironman dominating your thoughts right now. Ironman is more than swim, bike and run. Now is the time to do the work in other areas too. Address any pains or niggles quickly (taking days off if needed), do those PT exercises, the foam rolling or the other things we all put off because they are not fun or we can “do them tomorrow.”
Look at your mindset. What are your background conversations? Do you really believe you can do this? Are you masking some doubt by being cocky or sabotaging yourself? Athletes often don’t talk about or look at the mental part of Ironman but let me tell you that from my experience, Ironman is 70% mental and 30% physical. Sure you have to put the time in on the swim, bike and run but just like we train those we need to train the mental part of this sport too. If you don’t know what mental training looks like make sure to tune into a future blog (“Three Months to Go'') where we will dive into more about how to mentally train for race day too.
Look at your sleep and recovery habits. Are you a good sleeper? Are you getting enough sleep? The number one thing affecting recovery and the gaining of fitness is sleep. This is an area many triathletes are notorious for skimping on as we all need that one extra hour (at least) in the day. Are you telling yourself that the only way to fit the training in is to get up earlier, stay up later? That it won’t matter? Practice now fitting in the training while keeping your sleep. Sleep will make a bigger difference than training in the long run.
And of course be real about your nutrition. This is a topic all on its own so keep reading and we have a lot more to say.
Ooh, yippie!! Are you excited about this one? Are there really shortcuts to training for Ironman?
We hate to burst that bubble, but there really are no shortcuts in the training itself as training for an Ironman is all about a steady build. But there are other places in life where you can look at developing some time efficiencies. Now is the time to figure out where these shortcuts might be.
Is it time to bring in a little help? Could you add in a cleaning service? Grocery delivery? Can you use a meal planning service where it all comes in a box for you to put together? What else can be farmed out as your time will be valuable and you won’t want to deal with it (but must!).
Or, if this type of thing is not an option how can you be more creative and efficient with your workouts? Can you:
Other things you can do...
Set out what workout gear you need ahead of time so that when you go to change for your workout you have everything you need. For instance, if you are working out first thing in the morning you can sleep an extra few minutes knowing you won’t be digging for that missing sock.
Prep food ahead of time. Take some time on the weekend or when you have it and make extra meals you can freeze to use for lunch or dinner. This way you will be fueling your training and most likely making better choices than grabbing fast food when you are beyond hungry.
Make sure you have training supplies around. Maybe make a trip to your local running or cycling shop and stock up on the gels, bars, salt tabs, powders and other things you will be using weekly to help you with your training. Grab extra tubes for your bike and some extra CO2 as well. Order an extra pair of running shoes to have ready to go and even a spare pair of goggles just in case a strap breaks.
Chat weekly with your partner or spouse about what the week looks like, who is cooking and what, who has child drop off or pick up, where each of you are fitting in your workouts. This helps to avoid miscommunication and missing out on a workout because suddenly you are in charge of dinner.
Plan workouts with friends. This will give you time with them and get a workout in for both of you. It is okay if sometimes it is their workout!
Be flexible. This may not seem like a shortcut but trust me in the long run it can save you time. If you only have 45 minutes instead of an hour be okay getting in what you can sometimes. Not all the time but sometimes it is just fine. Be okay if a recovery workout becomes a little easier than you would like because a friend or child or partner wants to join you.
Book things in your calendar ahead of time. It is so much easier and more likely to happen if you are putting your training in your calendar ahead of time vs waiting to “fit it in” at the end of the day.
The funny thing about these efficiencies is that they will apply for more than just Ironman. They can apply to anyone who is training for anything and putting in peak training for a goal.
With all that training, it can be rather surprising to realize how much you’ll need to eat and drink to sustain that training. We’ll be discussing nutrition more fully in next month’s blog but this is a great place to start thinking about overall nutrition.
All that training means you are hungry! Your body needs proper fuel to continue to do the work. This really is not the time to start dieting so please don't! What will you eat? If you can’t use grocery delivery or meal services, this is a great time to start finding recipes that you love, that are easy, that can be scaled up to have leftovers. Can you freeze portions so when you are really too tired to think about it, you can have an easy and healthy meal saved and available without much fuss?
While you aren’t doing big volume quite yet, this is the time to experiment and find those shortcuts that will help you get in enough calories.
It is also time to start practicing nutrition of what you’ll eat and drink during training. There are a lot of options out there and it can be overwhelming. Everybody’s body is different and you’ll need to start testing what works for you. Making sure you are eating enough and fueling training properly means you’ll continue to put the work in. Carbs are your friend and your hard working muscles and brain need those valuable carbs to continue to do that work.
We’d also like you to start thinking about that race day. With travel, what will you eat in the days before the race? If you notice you don’t do well with certain foods before a long run or ride, try something else. What will you eat before the race and when? What will you eat during? What is available on course? It’s time to start some research about your accommodations (is there a kitchen?), what’s available on course and what works for you?
If you go down the rabbit hole of thinking of all the what if’s, this all can get pretty nerve wracking. And sure it is, but it is also super exciting! If you are new to an Ironman or if you are a seasoned veteran, over the next six months you are still headed on an unforgettable journey.
And that includes new territory for your brain too. Anxious? Nervous? Worried that race day won’t go how you hope? Day-to-day training is a chance for you to physically and mentally build so you are ready to handle race day and all it will bring. Starting to problem solve for these issues we’ve discussed like handling peak training, starting to look at nutrition will set you up for being able to problem solve on race day as well.
Many of the little things we have talked about are not the fun and glamorous part of triathlon or Ironman. In fact, many of them are kind of a drag. It is not easy to be disciplined to do those clam shells or ice that knee or jump in a pool first thing on a cold winter morning. Taking the time now to set expectations, be real, find shortcuts, think about nutrition and do the work is what will make a difference and keep you going on this journey to Ironman.
Sure there is a lot more to learn and a lot more to talk about but each day you are building toward that goal and we will continue to share information with you to help you along the way.