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5 Common Ironman Training Mistakes

These iron-distance mistakes—or "iron errors"–could be undoing all your hard work.

Whether you are a novice or a pro, completing a Ironman or iron-distance triathlon means navigating so much more than just swim, bike, and run. There are plenty of places to make mistakes along the way, but you can avoid the most common Ironman training errors to ensure you’ll arrive at the finish line and hear those magic words: “You are an Ironman!

Ironman Mistake #1: Not Having a Plan

According to a Brazilian study, previous triathlon experience is one of the best indicators of future performance in amateur triathletes. But how do you confidently take on your first Ironman if you don’t have that experience? You can borrow from others. A training plan for your first Ironman triathlon is built from the experience of those who have done this before – they know the best ways to train for this distance. You can hire a triathlon coach to build a customized Ironman training plan for you, or you can follow a training plan on your own, without a coach.  The best training plan for Ironman is one that starts at your current fitness level and progresses appropriately, building each week to ensure that you are approaching the start line uninjured and ready to cover the distance. Veterans can benefit from following an Ironman training plan, too, to stay on track and avoid making common ironman training mistakes. When an athlete just makes up workouts each day, there’s a real risk of training too little too late, or too much too soon. It’s also easy to fall into the trap of spending too much time working at the same (often moderate) intensity and not allowing time for active recovery, which is a vital part of training for a long endurance event.

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Ironman Mistake #2: Skipping Recovery

Ironman training doesn’t have to consume your life, but it places a lot of demands on it. One common Ironman training mistake is not incorporating recovery into the overall plan. Knowing how to recover from workouts is critical to preventing overuse injuries and ensuring that you are able to carry out each day’s training plan. When you set out on your journey to Ironman, budget for the time and finances needed for recovery. Some are free: practice good sleep hygiene, follow your training plan (including truly going easy when indicated), be mindful of your life nutrition and recovery fuel, and learn about your specific physiological needs. Others require more financial resources: get a bike fit, schedule massages, and/or invest in the many amazing recovery tools on the market. There is no one best way to recover during Ironman training. Listen to your body and learn about potential nutrition or hydration needs for your age and gender.

Ironman Mistake #3: Neglecting In-Season Strength Training 

Strength training for Ironman triathletes is critical to success, yet athletes (and sometimes coaches) shrug off these workouts in favor of swim, bike, run volume. Among other things, the lack of functional strength can lead to breakdown in swim technique, less power on the bike, and poor form on the run. Triathletes highly benefit from a program that also encourages flexibility and mobility, which can help triathletes move faster and more efficiently while also decreasing stress and potential injury to the body. The need for strength training is especially evident for master’s women, as muscle is harder to make and maintain in peri- and post-menopause. Don’t skip those weight room sessions.

RELATED: Build Your Own Custom Strength Workout

Ironman Mistake #4: Not Practicing Race Nutrition

Gastrointestinal (GI) distress can knock even the most seasoned athletes off their racing game. The good news is that there are many sport nutrition products and creative homemade options to experiment with when figuring out what to eat during an Ironman triathlon. They don’t all work the same for everyone, and what works during a sprint, Olympic, or half-Iron distance triathlon may not work for an Ironman. That’s why it’s important to practice different hydration techniques and fueling strategies  early and often in training—and at various intensities. Don’t make assumptions or just settle with a nutrition plan that doesn’t sit well in your gut. Have it dialed in before race day and be ready to adapt when needed.

RELATED: How Soon Before a Race Should I “Train My Gut?”

RELATED: The Triathlete’s Guide to Race Fueling for Every Distance

Ironman Mistake #5: Surrounding Yourself with Too Much Noise

Social media is everywhere, for better and for worse. Although many of us are also aware of the potential negative impact of information overload, we still find ourselves scrolling, often when we are tired and vulnerable. This can lead us to look at what other triathletes are doing and second-guess our own preparation: Am I training enough ? Do I have the right gear for triathlon? Should I race a marathon before I do an Ironman? Social pressure can be intense, so be aware of the voices of influence on your experience. Try to ask questions when needing answers, not only validation. Seek our reputable and trusted sources, rather than polling the opinions of the masses, who can often give bad triathlon advice. Connect with and listen to your body (this is where knowing your why helps!). Practice living in the moment to gain trust with yourself. And trust your coach! Good coaches love when athletes ask questions, but if these questions are due to a lack of trust then it might be time to start the process of finding a new coach.

RELATED: Build Healthier Habits: Mental Skills

Ironman training and racing has the potential to teach you valuable lessons and to add value to your life. Stay connected to yourself and your goal throughout your experience. As athletes, we will keep making mistakes, but if we do so with positivity then we can we aim to learn from each error and bounce back stronger for it. Be smart and safe while training, and you will become an Ironman.

RELATED: Is an Ironman In Your Future? Do It For the Right Reasons

Miranda Bush is a USAT Level I coach and ACE certified Health Coach. She is the owner and head coach of MB Coaching and the Zone Racing Team. You can follow Coach Miranda on Facebook and @zonecoachm on Instagram.