5 Tips for Keeping Your Sanity While Training for Ironman

Training for the 140.6-mile adventure is daunting, and you may be wondering where you’ll find the time to master three sports while balancing life.

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So you signed up for your first full Ironman, and are now feeling quite daunted by the potential volume of training/commitment involved. It’s true that training for an Ironman is not an insignificant undertaking—after all, we all only have so much time in a day; and work, life, and family commitments need to be managed in that same time (not to mention sleep!)

As such, when talking to athletes pondering how to overcome this challenge, I tell them to think of their day as a 24-hour pie chart, in which the segments (training, family, sleep etc.) must be adjusted to fit your individual situation. Here we’ll discuss some simple strategies to help you get the most out of your chart.

Strategy 1: Involve your support crew in the planning process.

Even before looking at managing your time, the first key factor in setting yourself up for success is to involve the people around you in the planning process. This is not one of those times when it is better to ask for forgiveness than permission (unlike many of my bike purchases!). To survive and thrive in an Ironman year, the support from your nearest and dearest will be vital. So you should to sit everyone down and talk through what you are planning and what is involved.

Cover what the year might look like in terms of heavy training times (i.e. four weeks out from race date), and how your training will fit in with everyone’s plans. When are holidays, weddings and big family events happening? Are there clashes? How will you manage them? You will also need to agree what a typical training week might need to look like, i.e. does it work to do your long bike on a Sunday when kids need to be dropped to sports? Setting up the correct “skeleton” week, as I call it with my squad, really does help minimize unnecessary friction from the start.

Note well that part of this planning should include an agreed-upon date/movie night, family fun days etc. Remember, you are not the only person in this! The more you make your support crew part of your Ironman journey, rather than victims of it, the easier your time management task will be.

Strategy 2: Get a solid training plan

Do your research early in relation to this, as there are multiple training plan resources at your disposal. Free plans online, customizable training plans, and individual coaching are all good options, depending on your situation. There is no right answer for everyone, so it’s up to you to figure out your budget, the level of oversight you want, and your flexibility.

At the bare minimum, you need some sort of plan so that you can map out what you need to be doing and when. Once you have this in place, you have the ability to review each upcoming week in terms of your personal pie chart, and juggle sessions to accommodate your goals. Your plan should have some degree of flexibility/contingency—nobody completes 100% of their training sessions 100% of the time—but don’t stress, the odd session sacrificed here and there will not derail your Ironman challenge.

Strategy 3: Learn to prioritize

We know that our time is limited to 24 hours each day, so we have to be better at how we spend it. For the first few weeks of training, I like to have my Ironman newbies document their time for a typical day. Each review is unique but we invariably find ways they can claim back hours to put towards achieving their Ironman goal. Two hours a day on social media, for example, can easily translate into an hour swim session and an hour on social media. 2 hours watching TV can become 1 hour on the turbo (maybe even still watching TV!). If we are all a little critical of how we spend our time, we can find better ways to use it.

Strategy 4: Eliminate the faff

I am not 100% sure how global the verb “to faff” is. To provide clarity: “Faffing about” is when you spend time in an ineffective way, which can be lethal to maximizing what you can achieve from your 24-hour pie chart.

An example of this would be getting up for a 7 a.m. swim set, stumbling around in the dark trying to find your goggles, and annoying people by waking them when you put on the lights to search further. After realizing your goggles were in your bag all along, you take another 15-20 mins figuring out what to eat before you swim. By the time you’re ready to go, it could be too late to get to the swim session at all.

A better way to approach this is checking out what is in your plan the night before and laying out your swim kit, pre-session food, and everything else you might need for training. Then all you have to do is fall out of bed and stumble via autopilot to your workout. If you can strive to micro plan and prepare for your sessions better, you will be amazed at how much more effective you can be.

Strategy 5: Learn how to stealth train

I wish this was as cool as it sounds, but in reality, training for an Ironman does not involve donning a ninja outfit.

I use the term “stealth” training in relation to turning otherwise “dead” time in your day into productive training time. Could you turn your dreaded drive to work into a two-way bike commute? Can you slot in a 45-minute run at lunchtime and then eat at your desk afterward?

By stealth training, not only are you maximizing your own time management efficiency, but you’ll make your training load less obvious/impactful to your support crew. There’s nothing worse than coming home late after a hard day’s work, and then trying to squeeze in a tempo run on low energy/motivation while your family eats dinner without you.

So while not undermining the time commitment of what an Iron distance year involves, you can make your journey a little easier by following the five key strategies:

  • Get the team on board
  • Have a plan and stick to it (within reason)
  • Prioritize your personal time for the year, and ensure any free time is helping you towards your goal
  • Form good micro planning habits (Eliminate the faff!)
  • Turn dead time into training time

The good news is that some of the positive strategies you will get from your Ironman year are easily transferable to all other aspects of daily life!

This article originally appeared at Trainingpeaks.com.

Steven Moody has starred in the corporate rat race but found his greatest source of satisfaction came from his 15 years of endurance racing including numerous Ironman finishes and world championship qualifications. Realizing this fact, Steven abandoned his cubicle and moved into full-time coaching. Steven is now Ironman University, Triathlon Ireland, and Training Peaks level 2 certified and in 2017, was awarded Triathlon Ireland Coach of the Year.

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