Training

Triathlon Training Plan: Your First Ironman

Facing the challenge of your first iron-distance race and finishing strong is an incredible personal accomplishment.

Facing the challenge of your first iron-distance race and finishing strong is an incredible personal accomplishment. Arriving at the start line feeling prepared gives you an important confidence boost for race day, and this training plan will arm first-timers with the mental and physical tools needed for a successful finish.

Prerequisites: You are healthy and injury-free. You have done a minimum of three 2-plus-hour runs; three 4-plus-hour rides, and several 3,000-plus-yard swims. Preferably you are “race fit,” meaning you have recently completed one or two half-Ironmans. To maximize the efficacy of this plan, take the time to test and create your personal heart rate zones before starting.

About the Plan

The structure:
This is the final nine weeks of training for an athlete preparing for his or her first Ironman.

The first six weeks follows a pattern alternating two weeks build, one week recovery. Week 7 is a peaking week, followed by weeks 8 and 9, the taper weeks.

There are three workouts of each sport per week during key training weeks. There are many chances to practice your nutrition in longer sessions, and lots of practice running off the bike.

Types of workouts:
• Threshold: Keeps you very cardiovascularly fit—if your threshold pace is faster, your resulting endurance “base” pace will also be faster.

• Endurance: The meat and potatoes of an Ironman training plan.

• Strength: Regular swimming with paddles, running hills and cycling with low cadence work builds strength and durability of your muscles.

• Recovery: Get fresh to go hard again.

• Aerobic power: Strong aerobic sessions performed at a sustained pace, or gradually building pace, at a moderate level of intensity, which build endurance while maintaining good form.

• Brick: Running immediately after a ride to get used to the sensation.

• Run/Walk: To get into the rhythm of walking through aid stations, practicing refueling, and staying on your run legs for longer periods of time in training.

Regular swimming with paddles, running hills and cycling with low cadence work builds strength and durability of your muscles. Intermittent threshold work keeps you very cardiovascularly fit—if your threshold pace is faster, your resulting endurance “base” pace will also be faster.

The plan includes three longer run/walk sessions. This is to get into the rhythm of walking through aid stations, practicing refueling, and staying on your run legs for longer periods of time in training. It is important to not try to run the entire distance, or go faster or longer than indicated portions, as the resulting body breakdown and recovery required will derail upcoming training sessions. Week 7 ends with a two-hour run/walk off of a 3.5-hour ride—a perfect chance to practice your pacing and nutrition strategies.

During recovery weeks, plan to rest. Recovery is when the body heals up and gets stronger. Avoid the temptation to go long on the weekend and save your energy for the next two-week build. During taper, stay focused on the goals of each session, but also create time to recover like a pro.

Fuel

Nutrition is critical to a successful Ironman. Generally athletes will strive for 250–400 calories per hour of carbohydrates on the bike, and 200–350 calories per hour on the run. This is accompanied by 750ml–1.5L of fluid per hour, and 500–1,000mg of sodium per liter of fluid consumed. The specific recipe that works best for each athlete is highly individual. Log your nutrition in training, record how your body reacts and adjust the protocol accordingly to find your own successful combination. There are many experts who can advise you on what will work for your body type and digestion. Be specific on what you will do on race day. Don’t wing it.

Ironman Training Plan key:

’ = minutes
” = seconds
hr = hour
alt = alternate
GRP = goal race pace
HR = heart rate
(X’) = recovery interval
Zn = heart rate zone

Week 1

Monday
Day Off

Tuesday
Run: 80’, hills.
• Include 6×3’ hill (3’ jog), Zn 3 rise to Zn 4, on road or treadmill at 4–6% incline.

Wednesday
Swim: 2500, threshold.
• Include 10×50 (20”) as 25 fast, 25 easy.
• 20×50 (20”) performed at your best average pace for the set. all swims should include 600–1000 warm-up and 200–400 cool-down.

Bike: 90’, recovery and technique.
• Include 5-8 x 1’ (1’) at 100–110 RPM, Zn 2. Flat terrain.

Thursday
Bike: 2 hr, strength.
• Include 3×10’ (5’) at 50–60 RPM, Zn 2. Best performed on a gradual steady hill or on a trainer pushing a large gear.
*Performance pointer* Big gear riding: Concentrate on smooth circles and keep the heel low at the bottom of the pedal stroke. Keep your upper body relaxed.

Friday
Swim: 3500, endurance.
• Include 1000 (1’), 500 (30”), 5×200 (20”). Gradually build pace through the set.

Saturday:
Run: 3 hr, run/walk.
• Alt 9’ at GrP, 1’ brisk walk and refuel. Terrain should simulate Ironman race course.

Swim: 2000, strength.
• Include 2×400 (1’), 2×300 (45”) pull with paddles. steady, even pace with a long stroke. Use small paddles if you are new to this.

Sunday
Bike: 4 hr, endurance.
• 15’ Zn 1, with the remaining time at Zn 2 at 85–90+ RPM. Stay in your aerobars as much as possible.

Run: 30’, pace work off the bike.
• Zn 2 (quick transition, <3’). Flat to rolling terrain.

Week 2

Monday
Day Off

Tuesday
Bike: 2 hr, threshold.
• Include 5×1’ (1’) build hr from Zn 3 to 4.
• 5×5’ (5’), Zn 4. Flat terrain. you should include a longer warm-up and cool-down for threshold rides.
*Performance pointer* Optimal cycling cadence should be 85–95 RPM for Ironman pace rides. Focus on smooth circles and keep your upper body relaxed.

Wednesday
Swim: 2500, threshold.
• Include 6×50 (20”) as 25 fast, 25 easy. • 15×100 (25”) performed at your best average pace for the set.

Bike: 90’, recovery and technique.
• Include 6–10 x 1’ (1’) at 100–110 RPM, Zn 2. Flat terrain.

Thursday
Run: 90’, aerobic power.
• Build every 30’, Zn 1 to 2 to 3. Flat to rolling terrain.

Friday
Swim: 3500, endurance.
• Include 4×800 (1’). Gradually build pace by 200 within each interval.

Saturday
Bike: 5.5 hr, endurance.
• Hilly terrain, Zn 1–3 (on uphills), mostly Zn 2.

Run: 30’, pace work off the bike.
• Zn 2 (quick transition, <3’). Flat to rolling terrain.
*Performance pointer* While you train your legs to run right after cycling, train your mind to also be relaxed and patient with the discomfort.

Sunday
Run: 2 hr, endurance.
• Hilly terrain, Zn 1–3 (on uphills), mostly Zn 2.

Swim: 2000, strength.
• Include 6×200 (30”) pull with paddles. Steady, even pace with a long stroke.

Week 3 – Recovery Week

Monday
Day off

Tuesday
Bike: 60’, recovery and technique.
• Include 6–10 x 30” (1’) at 100-110 RPM, Zn 2. Flat terrain.

Wednesday
Swim: 1500, recovery and technique.
• Include 10×100 alt 100 free, 100 drills. All smooth and easy.

Thursday
Run: 45’, recovery.
• Zn 1–2. Flat terrain.

Friday
Day Off

Saturday
Bike: 2.5 hr, endurance.
• Hilly terrain, Zn 1–3 (on uphills), mostly Zn 2.

Sunday
Run: 60’, endurance.
• Hilly terrain, Zn 1–3 (on uphills), mostly Zn 2.

Swim: 1500, strength.
• Include 10×100 (30”) pull with paddles. steady, even pace with a long stroke.

Week 4

Monday
Day Off

Tuesday
Run: 90’, hills.
• Include 10×2’ hill (2’ jogging recovery) Zn 3 rise to Zn 4, on road or treadmill at 4–6% incline.

Wednesday
Swim: 2500, threshold.
• Include 12×50 (20”) as 25 fast, 25 easy.
• 10×100 (30”) performed at your best average pace for the set.

Bike: 90’, recovery and technique.
• Include 5–8 x 1:30’ (1’) at 100–110 RPM, Zn 2. Flat terrain.

Thursday
Bike: 2 hr, strength.
• Include 3×15’ (7.5’) at 50–60RPM, Zn 2. Best performed on a gradual steady hill, or on a trainer pushing a large gear.

Friday
Swim: 4000, endurance.
• Include 4×500 (30”), 4×250 (20”). Gradually build pace through the set.

Saturday
Run: 4 hr, run/walk.
• Alt 9’ at GrP, 1’ walk, brisk and refuel. Terrain should simulate Ironman race course.

Swim: 2000, strength.
• Include 800 (1’), 4×150 (35”) pull with paddles. Steady, even pace with a long stroke.

Sunday
Bike: 3 hr, endurance.
• 15’ Zn 1, with the remaining time Zn 2 at 85–90+ RPM. Stay in your aerobars as much as possible.

Run: 30’, pace work off the bike.
• Zn 2 (quick transition, <3’). Flat to rolling terrain.
*Performance Pointer* Be organized and quick when doing transition runs to simulate race day.

Week 5

Monday
Day Off

Tuesday
Bike: 2 hr, threshold.
• Include 5×1’ (1’) build hr from Zn 3 to 4. 6×3’ (3’) Zn 4. Flat terrain.

Wednesday
Swim: 2500, threshold.
• Include 6×50 (20”) as 25 fast, 25 easy.
• 15×100 (15”) performed at your best average pace for the set.

Bike: 90’, recovery and technique.
• Include 6–10 x 1.5’ (1’) at 100–110 RPM, Zn 2. Flat terrain.

Thursday
Run: 75’, aerobic power.
• Build every 25’, Zn 1 to 2 to 3. Flat to rolling terrain.

Friday
Swim: 4000, endurance.
• Include 3000 non-stop. Gradually build pace by 1000 within the swim.
*Performance Pointer* Practice sighting during longer sets in the pool to help maintain a streamlined body position when swimming in open water.

Saturday
Bike: 6 hr, endurance.
• Hilly terrain, Zn 1–3 (on uphills), mostly Zn 2.

Run: 30’, pace work off the bike.
• Zn 2 (quick transition, <3’). Flat to rolling terrain.

Sunday
Run: 90’, endurance.
• Hilly terrain, Zn 1–3 (on uphills), mostly Zn 2.

Swim: 2000, strength.
• Include 12×100 (30”) pull with paddles. steady, even pace with a long stroke.

Week 6: Recovery Week

Monday
Day Off

Tuesday
Bike: 60’, recovery and technique.
• Include 6–10 x 30” (1’) at 105–115 RPM, Zn 2. Flat terrain.

Wednesday
Swim: 1500, recovery and technique.
• Include 20×50 alt 100 free, 100 drills. All smooth and easy.

Thursday
Run: 45’, recovery.
• Zn 1-2. Flat terrain.

Friday
Day Off

Saturday
Bike: 2.5 hr, endurance.
• Hilly terrain, Zn 1–3 (on uphills), mostly Zn 2.

Sunday
Run: 60’, endurance.
• Hilly terrain, HR Zn 1–3 (on uphills), mostly Zn 2.

Swim: 1500, strength.
• Include 10×100 (30”) pull with paddles. Steady, even pace with a long stroke.

Week 7 – Peak Week

Monday
Day Off

Tuesday
Run: 90’, hills.
• Include 12×1.5’ hill (1.5’ jogging recovery) Zn 3 rise to Zn 4, on road or treadmill at 4–6% incline.

Wednesday
Swim: 2500, threshold.
• Include 12×50 (20”) as 25 fast, 25 easy.
• 5×200 (30”) performed at your best average pace for the set.

Bike: 90’, recovery and technique.
• Include 5–8 x 2’ (1’) at 105–115 RPM, Zn 2. Flat terrain.

Thursday
Bike: 90’, threshold.
• Include 5×1’ (1’) build hr from Zn 3 to 4. 4×5’ (5’) Zn 4. Flat terrain.

Run: 30’, pace work off the bike.
• Zn 2 (quick transition, <3’). Flat to rolling terrain.

Friday
Swim: 2500, speed.
• Include 3x[3×50 as 25 fast/25 easy (20”), 50 easy (30”), 100 fast! (30”), 200 easy (1’)].

Saturday
Bike: 2 hr, endurance.
• 15’ Zn 1, with the remaining time Zn 2 at 85–90+ RPM. Stay in your aerobars as much as possible.

Swim: 2000, strength.
• Include 2×400 (1’), 4×150 (35”) pull with paddles. steady, even pace with a long stroke.

Sunday
Bike: 3.5 hr, endurance.
• Hilly terrain, Zn 1–3 (on uphills), mostly Zn 2.

Run: 2 hr, run/walk off the bike.
• (Quick transition, <3’). Alt 9’ at GrP, 1’ brisk walk and refuel.
*Performance Pointer* Your peak long workout is an excellent time to test out your race-day apparel. Test for chafing and efficacy of gel pockets, zippers and comfort. Wear the helmet you are going to race in, and practice your nutrition and hydration.

Week 8

*Performance Pointer* After your peak week of training, take your bike in and get it checked before traveling to a race. Use the taper weeks to organize your equipment for the race.

Monday
Day Off

Tuesday
Swim: 1500, recovery and technique.
• Include 10×100 alt 100 free, 100 drills. All smooth and easy.

Wednesday
Bike: 75’, threshold maintenance.
• Include 5×1’ (1’) build hr from Zn 3 to 4.
• 4×3’ (2’) Zn 3 maximum. Flat terrain.

Thursday
Run: 60’, hills.
• Include 5×2’ hill (2’ jogging recovery) Zn 3 maximum, on road or treadmill at 4–6% incline.

Friday
Day Off

Saturday
Bike: 2.5 hr, endurance.
• Hilly terrain, Zn 1–3 (on uphills), mostly Zn 2.

Sunday
Run: 60’, endurance.
• Flat terrain, Zn 1–3 (on uphills), mostly Zn 2.

Swim: 1500, strength.
• Include 5×200 (30”) pull with paddles. Steady, even pace with a long stroke.

Week 9

*Performance Pointer*
Taper weeks should be looked at as part of “training” and necessary for success. Don’t try to prove fitness in any session. Use the rest to bank up energy and prepare for the best.

Monday
Day Off

Tuesday
Swim: 1500, threshold maintenance.
• Include 4×50 (20”) as 25 fast, 25 easy.
• 6×100 (30”) performed at your best average pace for the set.

Wednesday
Bike: 60’, threshold maintenance.
• Include 5×1’ (1’) build hr from Zn 3 to 4.
• 15’ Zn 3 maximum. Flat terrain.

Thursday
Run: 30’, threshold maintenance.
• Include 4×30” (30”) build hr gradually to Zn 4.
• 6’ Zn 3 maximum. Flat terrain.

Friday
Day Off

Saturday
Swim: 15’ on the race course.
• Practice sighting and exit.

Bike: 20’ to test gears.
• Include 5×1’ (1’) at 100-110 RPM, Zn 2.

Sunday
The Race
• Do a 10’ jog warm-up and stretch 60’ before race start. Include 300–400 swim warm-up 10’ before race start.

You have worked hard—have a great race!

Lance Watson, LifeSport head coach, has trained a number of Ironman, Olympic and age-group Champions over the past 30 years. He enjoys coaching athletes of all levels. Contact Lance to tackle your first Ironman or to perform at a higher level. For more training tips, visit LifeSport Coaching on Facebook or on Twitter at @LifeSportCoach.