Throughout the 1980s a certain triathlete trained hard but with incredible monotony. He completed the same rides and runs on the same routes day after day after day. The only real variation in his training was that he tried to go faster and faster over those same routes as race day drew nearer. That triathlete was none other than Dave Scott, and the repetitiveness of his training did not stop him from winning the Hawaii Ironman six times.
Simplicity is a virtue in Ironman training (and in triathlon training generally) because it minimises the mental stress of the training process and makes it easy to chart and track progress. When you’re doing the same types of workouts over and over, it’s plain to see when your performance is improving.
Naturally, there must be some variation in your Ironman training, but not as much as many athletes might believe. First, the overall volume of training and the duration of the longest swims, rides and runs must increase as the plan unfolds. After all, an Ironman is an extreme endurance test and increasing training volume and workout duration is how you build endurance. Second, there should be some variation in the intensity of your training, with moderate-intensity, moderately high-intensity, and high-intensity workouts regularly performed in each discipline. This is because different training intensities build fitness in different and complementary ways, so that a multi-intensity programme builds greater fitness with a smaller time commitment than an all-moderate intensity training plan would. Finally, like your long, endurance-building workouts, your higher-intensity workouts should become increasingly race-specific as you go along, specifically by demanding that you sustain relatively high speeds for longer periods of time.
Here’s a 20-week Ironman training plan based on the principle of simplicity. It’s a relatively low-volume plan that is appropriate for less experienced and competitive athletes and for athletes of any level of experience and competitiveness who don’t have a lot of time to train. The plan prescribes three swims, three rides and three runs (plus one or two short transition runs in the latter part of the schedule) per week. Monday is always a rest day and every fourth week is a reduced-volume recovery week. There is only a handful of different types of workouts, each of which has a simple format and is simple to execute.