A review of my Ironman preparation

What does training for an Ironman involve?

A whole lot of swimming, biking, and running of course! I didn’t need to tell you that! But I reckon a summary of what I did over the last year would be useful for those who are contemplating doing an Ironman. So here goes.

I began training for the 2013 Taupo Ironman the moment I paid the $825 entry fee, circa April 2012. Yes. It is common for people who have entered in an Ironman to train for the better part of a year. For me, shelling out the hefty entry fee had made it an official commitment, and in many ways, was a good thing.

An important component of an Ironman preparation is to keep a training ‘diary’. This can be as primitive as an Excel/OpenOffice spreadsheet, which is what I did. I recorded the distance and time I did with each workout. Each exercise type had its own column, making it easier to see how much swimming, biking, running, etc, I had been doing. I also noted down any issues such as sore legs, chaffing, lack of energy etc. If you were more onto it and had a heart rate and GPS recording watch, I would suggest using Training Peaks.

So, how much training did I actually do? In a nutshell I did:

  • Swim: 106 kilometres, 71.4 hours.
  • Bike: 3536 kilometres, 176.8 hours.
  • Run: 1457 kilometres, 130.6 hours.
  • Other (gym and football): 59.8 hours.

As you can see, that’s a fair amount of exercise! A total of 438.6 hours in fact. I suspect many people end up doing much more than that! Training for an Ironman is a big commitment, and in many respects is a part time job. It was challenging to fit in training around my full time job and my other interests beside exercise. But I managed to do so and usually did my weekday workouts before work. Most of my swimming was in a pool. I did quite a bit of running on a treadmill and biking on an exercycle. I have included the time spent on these, but not the distances reported by the exercise machines.

I’m unsure what of the breakdown for your typical Ironman triathlete is, but here’s what mine turned out to be:

As you can see, the largest portion of my workouts was spent on the bike. This makes sense, as the bike is the largest component of the Ironman and you want to be good at biking. I was surprised that spent a similar around of time running as well. I guess running is more convenient. Put on your shoes and off you go! Running requires minimal preparation and rain and/or howling winds are manageable. Whereas I was not enthusiastic cycling in the rain and/or wind. As for swimming, obviously it can be a hassle driving to the pool or to the beach.

Another interesting graph is my training breakdown on a week by week basis:

Yep. My training was all over the show! You can see there are several wind up and tapering down periods here. Expect this, as you too will probably have planned to enter in a marathon and also a long bike race. You will probably have a two week taper before the Ironman as well. The gap in exercise around July 2012 was due to my lung surgery. It took a little over two months after the operation before things got back to normal. Hopefully you won’t have to deal with this!

Out of the 335 days I had available for training, 37 of them were rest days, and 43 were for recovering from lung related issues. Excluding the days that I was recovering from lung, I averaged 1.5 hours a day, or 10.5 hours a week.

In the first few weeks of preparation I decided to do what I wanted and see what sort of hours I could commit to and handle without fatigue. I had plans on following a generally accepted Ironman preparation regime. But old habits die hard and I continued with my own plans of doing what I wanted. This didn’t turn out too bad and worked well enough to do the business, but next time round I’ll follow a recommended Ironman preparation plan and aim for a better time. Until then!