10 Tips To Prepare For An Ironman.

Ironman South Africa may seem a long way away but solid foundations laid now wil pave the road to a successful race. So, if you are planning to complete Ironman next year, here are some questions and guidelines to assist you.

Ironman South Africa may seem a long way away but solid foundations laid now wil pave the road to a successful race.

So, if you are planning to complete Ironman next year, here are some questions and guidelines to assist you.

Tip #1: Establish A Routine

It is possible that you took an extended break during the winter months.

I recently had a conversation with two highly respected minds on the subject of Ironman training, namely Mark Allen and Gordo Byrn.

Both had positive feelings on what they called "unstructured training". This is a period where you train what you want to and how you feel like. In other words, ride as long/short as you like. Run as you feel. The bottom line is there is no need to follow a set program. Now is the time to follow such a training routine.

Essentially, you get the muscles "firing" again. Mentally, it is not a burden on you because you determine the time, pace and distance. Thus, there is no self- imposed "pressure".

You can certainly spend a few weeks following this approach. After a while, you begin to feel a difference in your legs. You can sense your muscles' ability to absorb greater capacity and volume. Your runs will get faster and feel easier.

Tip #2: Assess Your Fitness

After this period of unstructured training, it becomes necessary to assess your fitness.

Most of us do not look forward to these sorts of assessments! Somehow, we feel our fitness levels will be exposed. Our little "bubble" will burst!

Things like running time trials can be a little intimidating to start with!

I have come to realize that assessing your fitness is only a gauge and a guide. It's a snapshot in time. Of course you cannot expect to be in peak shape right now. And if you are, then it's time to cut back because "you ain't gonna be in peak shape come March 2005!"

Tip #3: How Do You Measure Your Fitness?

Many runners use a time trial as an indicator. For me, time trials are dependent on a number of factors like the weather, the course. More than likely at this stage you won't have developed the anaerobic capacity yet and will probably misjudge the distance.

I see plenty athletes going out to have a hard 5 or 8km time trial only to fade between kilometers 3-5. The time they record on this run is not at all indicative of their fitness or speed but merely a reflection of the aerobic condition of their legs. Typically after this sort of time trial, athletes feel they are in "bad shape". I have learned over time that this is far from the truth.

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Cyclists, swimmers, rowers, cross-country skiers, orienteers, triathletes and runners all engage in interval training in order to increase the amount of time they spend exercising at high intensities ...
For me, it is better to run shorter intervals that allow for short recovery. If for example you want to measure your 5km pace, do a session like this: 3 x 800m and 1 x 400m. Take only 40 seconds rest between each repeat.

This gives you a better guide where your running is vulnerable. It also gives a hint at what your current running speed is. It tells you what your Max Hr is currently. Remember that your HR can go higher as your fitness increases. Secondly, another measure of fitness is how your speed improves relative to your HR.

In other words, over time, you will cover more distance at the same HR. This is a good indication that your form is improving.

It is advisable to repeat these measures every 6 weeks.

Find Your Maximum And Target Heart Rates!

Your Age:
Maximum Heart Rate:
Target Heart Rate per minute
(75% - 85% of Max):
Target Heart Rate
(15 sec count):

Tip #4: Gradually Increase Training Volume

Ensure you build your miles over time. It is not advisable to make sudden and dramatic changes to your training. As a suggestion, increase your miles over a 2-week period and then cut back your training volume in the 3rd week.

As an example, if you run 30km in Week 1, run 35-40km the 2nd week, and 25km the 3rd week. The 4th week you go back up to 35-40km again and increase miles again the following week. This allows your body time to adjust to the increased workload.

Tip #5: Rest Days

Many athletes have one day off a week. I have found that anything from 7-14 days is an effective training workload. So, take a rest day anytime in that time frame. Be disciplined about your rest days.

You go through patches when you feel so good that you want to maintain your training. Remember, your rest only takes your training to a higher level.

Tip #6: Ensure Your Nutrition Is Good

When you are in a training phase, your nutrition and supplementing is crucial to your preparation. Make sure you take a good multivitamin too. Your body is constantly being pushed so good food and vitamins are vital.

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Do not underestimate the value of a healthy diet. As far as vitamins go, I can stress the importance of taking multivitamins. Once your training workload increases, some serious questions get asked of your immune system. Insufficient Vitamin B and C over time can cause illness.

I know some tope elite athletes who feel they do not need to supplement with vitamins because they eat properly. Over time, they spend more time ill at or just prior to major races to show what they are capable of.

To me, you take a big risk by not supplementing with vitamins during intense - and by this, I include high volume training.

Tip #7: Be Patient

I find that many athletes are too hasty to change their training program. If they did not get the results they wanted in a previous year, they make wholesale changes. Be aware that it takes approximately 12 months before the effects of a new training routine can be experienced.

From a personal perspective, 2 years ago, I changed coaches. Both bike and run coaches identified aspects in my training and technique that hampered me. They both advised me that their changes would take time to see results. Well, the first year I seemed to "go backward" I felt I was riding slower and running slower.

Both coaches told me just to stick to the basics and the results would come. Indeed, they were both right because my one gauge of improvement was at Zofingen where I was 30 minutes faster overall, a good many places better and all this in much worse weather conditions.

Not only that but my training had seen improvements in both disciplines. I set more personal bests in my preparation that in any other year in my sporting career!

At the end of the first year, I was ready to try something new but I persisted with what I was advised. As long as your training is varied and interesting, stick to the game plan!

Tip #8: Changes In Training

On the subject of changing, I am certainly not saying you must never change. I am much in favour of making changes to training for better results.

I am saying you need time to see results. Where I notice this often is the way some athletes prepare for a race. During the course of the preparation they decide to change course after some seemingly enlightened discussions and comparisons with other athletes. So often, an athlete talks to a top pro who says he/she does X session. So, the athlete reasons, "if it works for So and So, it must work for me".

Too many changes also affect your performance, especially changes affected during the course of preparation.

Tip #9: Long Runs & Long Rides

What is the best distance to do for your long run and long ride?

Some athletes feel the best way to prepare for an IM run is to run a marathon or 2.

In the vast majority of cases, I feel this is not necessary and in many ways counter productive. I have support from Mark Allen on this issue. He says he never ran longer than 2hr20-2hr40 in his preparation.

If you are an age group athlete with time constraints, all the more reason to not include a marathon. Recovery time is much longer for a marathon than a 2hr30 run for example. During this time, you are not using enough of your ability because of muscle fatigue. Therefore the quality of your running decreases over time.

Now, let me state that some of the top pros do run marathons and continue to run well. Raynard Tissink is an excellent example of this. Mark Allen feels that elite athletes generally have much faster recovery times than age groupers.

Allen feels the miles can be "made up" on the bike.

How far is enough for the bike?

I suppose the real answer is 'depends on the time you have available'!

Some top US pros will do 250-270km long rides! I kid you not! I feel this is probably a waste of time. To me, the longest you need go is about 200km. However, if time challenges you, then 150-160km are okay.

Convert Kilometers To Miles!

Distance in Kilometers:
Distance In Miles:

Tip #10: 2 Long Ones Per Week

I am definitely in favour of including 2 long rides and 2 long runs in your training for an Ironman. I realize that for many of you this task may prove difficult from a time point of view. Certainly attempt to make at least one week ride longer than the others.

If this suggestion seems impossible, then remember the old rule of consistency in training. If your training is consistent and regular then you can still experience a great race.

I hope these tips provide you with some guidance when you prepare for Ironman competitions.

About The Author

Glenn Macnamara is an elite Duathlete in South Africa. He recently finished 15th in the elite field at World Long distance championships in Zofingen Switzerland. He is sponsored by Evox products.