IM training

IM training

Published on:

Ironman training


A lot of people want to finish an Ironman triathlon race. The distances that need to be covered seem less intimidating today than they did twenty or even ten years ago. There are a lot of new races and more and more people are participating in this long-distance event. I’ve personally coached a lot of people for IM. Some wanted only to get through it, some wanted to qualify for the big show (Kona), and some wanted to win.

What is important for finishing this grueling event, for reaching your desired goal?

There are a lot of factors. Sometimes people are not able to reach their goals, because they are not well prepared. That doesn’t mean that you have to overdo it. I’ve had people training a moderate ten to twelve hours a week and they were one hundred percent prepared!

The first and most important thing is to be consistent. Consistency is paramount in training, especially in triathlon and crucial in IM training. Consistency in all of the three disciplines is vital, but if your situation in life doesn’t allow you to be consistent in all three disciplines, you can still be prepared if you train wisely. Consistency means that you need to fulfill your minimum of hours each week, and that the long bike ride and the long run need to be covered. Other sessions are also important, but these two are the ones not to be skipped. An hour-long swim session is good enough as preparation for swimming. So, if you need to skip a session once in a while, do not skip the long ride or the long run.

The second thing that is very important in IM training is eating enough. Yes, eating enough!!! Training and racing for and in an IM event need to be covered with calories.  On your long sessions you need to see what type of food is good for you and you need to be comfortable in taking enough calories. Less than one gram of carbohydrates on one kilogram of your body weight in an hour, and your performance is doomed.

I recommend the following regimes:

  1. A minimum of 1 g carbohydrates per 1 kg in an hour. For a person that weighs 75 kg that means 75 g per hour.
  2. Take your calories gently and in fixed time intervals. For example, take one gel (23 g of carbs) every 20 minutes. I love this homemade bottle and it is my personal favorite in consuming and controlling calories. On the picture is a bottle that contains around 16 gels and you see the marks for the amount of gel that needs to be swallowed every 30 minutes.
  3. If you need to eat something more solid than gel, I recommend a chocolate bar (it can be a Mars bar, or it can be a Powerbar Performance bar) and a gel. The remaining calories needed to cover an hour’s performance can be ingested via an isotonic beverage. Always pay attention to the number of calories needed for your weight.


The third thing is the training plan:   

Be consistent and stick to the plan. Do NOT change your training plan during the year. It is all about number 3. Three times swimming, cycling and running is a solid base for a solid plan. Strength workouts are incorporated into the workouts by doing specific strengths. You do NOT need to visit the gym for strength. (None of my university professors would agree on that, but they lack experience. They have never coached high performance athletes in an endurance sport). You can do gym training if you have time and if you really want to, but it is not necessary.

I would suggest the following weekly plan:

Monday – swimming: a hard, strength-based swim, 10 x 200 m hard, with pull buoy and paddles on 30sec rest.

Tuesday – cycling: strength workout, 20 x 1 min low cadence with 1 min rest

Wednesday – running: hard intervals, like 10 x 400 m fast on 2 min rest.

Thursday – swimming: long, easy, 4 x 800 m easy, on 1 min rest, + optional easy 30 min run

Friday – swimming: short, hard intervals, 21 x 50 m (2 x fast, 1 x easy) on 20 sec rest

Saturday – bike: a long ride, 3 to 5 h, + run after 30 min easy

Sunday – bike: turbo trainer, 30 min hard, + long run (90 min – 150 min)

This is just an example, very basic stuff, just for you to see what kind of program you would need to follow.

Training hours will depend on the desired goal and on circumstances. I know that an IM can be done with as low as 10 hours average training per week. Of course, PRO wannabes will have to do thirty hours on average. Sometimes my age group athletes are surprised when I give them the same workouts as my PRO wannabes. I do that especially in a race week. Then I need to explain to them that they can profit from the same workouts, while some of the program for PRO athletes is not suitable for them. The difference lies in the speed and in the fact that PRO athletes have done other workouts to cover the hours.

Also, very important for IM is to take care of your equipment. On such a long race you don’t want to have issues with your bike or other things. Invest time in preparing everything. How to prepare? There are two options if you are not sure what to do.

  1. Buy training plans, books etc. That’s cheaper, but requires an understanding of basic principles.
  2. Hire a coach, online or live. They will lead you and they know how to do it.

This is an intro into training. New and more detailed instructions will follow. There will be a lot of blog entries about triathlon and running. Soon there will be an option to buy my training plans and in the near future my e-book. For customized coaching plans just click here.

Special Thanks to my teacher and text lecturer Slavica Sikora. 

Stay tuned,

Coachzic a.k.a Vlad