Every year a plethora of articles are published in various forums on how to best prepare for an Ironman. This two-part blog is not about the quickest way to your fastest Ironman, or the secret base workouts of our greatest champions. It is about the fundamentals that you should consider and address to set you up for success.
It all starts here. This is the anchor of your resolve, the guiding beacon on your journey and the fuel that keeps the drive alive when the going gets tough, in training or on race day. You need to be both strong physically and tenacious mentally to put yourself through the Ironman ordeal, whether that’s an Age Group finisher or a podium/Kona-qualifier contender. Your reason needs to come from within, deep. It must be intrinsically generated not extrinsically fostered. Your purpose matters. Find it. Lock onto it.
The 4 D’s
To support and sustain your motivation you need:
- Discipline – Specifically, self-discipline. This attribute enables you to stay the course, to do the homework when the body and mind are yearning for the easy way out, and to maintain control and order in adverse conditions.
- Dedication – Which is your unrelenting commitment to achieve your goal, whatever and how ever long it takes. It is only your devotion that will enable you to reach your objective. Make lifestyle choices rather than sacrifices. Choose to change, to abstain, to do, to avoid, to act, to support your project (positive), rather than looking at it from the perspective of giving up something (negative). This will make the experience a lot more rewarding in the end.
- Determination – That is the expression of your conviction that you can succeed, that you will succeed. It represents the mindset that never gives up.
- Detail – In your plan. See your ironman as a project with multiple supporting tasks, not just swim, bike, run training. Assess and prioritize enablers (i.e. scheduling, family, nutrition, massage etc.) that will optimize your preparation. And when it comes to training, leave no stone unturned. Prepare and rehearse for the specific race course demands as best you can.
I am always taken aback when I hear people tell me they “hope” to achieve this at IM, or “hope” that this will happen. Hope is not a viable course of action. Only one thing will lead you to success – hard work. And I’m afraid there is no App for that.
To make good on this hard work you need a plan to guide you. Know this – if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Period. So, on your own, or with your coach, invest the time to chart a course to your objective. It need not be elaborate or complex. A penciled sketch will do. Just have something that you can refer to.
Always plan backwards and execute forwards. Work back from your IM to where you are now on the calendar to highlight the time you have. Then determine what needs to be done and how and where it will fit. This said, accept that no plan survives first contact so you must be flexible and ready to change as life intervenes (i.e. illness, work, family etc.). As long as you have a plan you know where you are headed and you are in better position to adjust and adapt should things go sideways.
This is simply the methodical and thoughtful manipulation of volume/intensity/frequency of training in a manner best suited to (you) the athlete to achieve optimal performance on race day. Without tagging periodization with a name, or selecting a particular model off the shelf, develop a plan around your circumstances, rather than trying to squeeze yourself into a set construct. What is important is that you consider and respect the fundamental principles of progressive overload, specificity, frequency and recovery. Underlying these are of course volume and intensity.
Volume and Intensity
First off I will acknowledge my unorthodox position with respect to “quality” as it refers to intensity. It has become the most misleading term the world over. Sorry but it has. Intensity does not equal quality! Every workout, every session, short or long, high or low intensity is quality if it is appropriately placed in an athlete’s training plan and makes sense in their context. Volume, especially in the context of IM, has a quality of its own. Quality is what you do and how you do it within the volume. Intensity is the effort level applied to your training.
The fundamental problem with interchanging quality for intensity is that it infers volume is of lesser importance, and worse seduces people into believing that intensity is a (shortcut) substitute for volume. It is not. When one assesses the durability requirement for IM, physical and mental, duration has an important role to play.
While IM is an endurance event it is still a contest of speed (Finish Time=Distance/Speed). If it were an endurance contest alone then everyone crossing the finish line by cut-off time should stand on the first place podium. Sustainable race pace is key to success. Therefore, volume must be used to develop the endurance and stamina to sustain your race pace intensity over the three distances, while race pace can be developed from the get go, gradually extending the duration that it can be maintained. This means first working the race pace in short duration’s with lots of rest, then increasing the total time spent at race pace followed by cutting the recovery time to increase sustainability under fatigue.
Ed Rechnitzer has over 28 years experience in triathlon and has completed multiple Ironman events, including Kona. He is a Trisutto Coach based in Calgary.
Join Ed at one of his three Mont Tremblant Camps in July.
Trisutto.com online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.