Six take-home messages from years of endurance training

The original version of this article was published on my first website, in 2006. It summarized my thoughts on ‘necessary elements of successful Ironman training.’ I thought the since a high percentage of us are training for a longer race this fall, it would be appropriate to resurrect this article. I modified some things through the lease of 12 more years of experience, but for the most part, the thoughts are just about the same as they were when I was ‘all in.’

There are a lot of folks planning on doing an Ironman this season.  I came up with a list of tips that some of you may find helpful.  I was surprised that I only came up with 6, but, at least from my experience, I cannot think of any more.    So here are my 6 tips for a successful Ironman experience (by the way, the race is only a small part of the experience). By the way, you don’t have to be training for an Ironman to find these tips useful. These tips can be applied to any distance or any ‘thing’ you are striving for.


1.    Have a goal. 

This is very important.  Know what you want to get out of the event before you begin training. Do you want to finish?  Do you want a Hawaii slot?  Do you want to set a PR?  Do you want to beat your buddy?  Identifying your goal helps motivate you and also gives a tangible marker for success.


2.    Get a coach. 

Endurance sport, and especially Ironman, is a very complicated event.  While there is no “right” way to train for your race, you don’t want to waste your time planning and performing workouts that may not be best.  Choose somebody who has specific experience and solid physiology knowledge, and choose somebody you trust.   A good coach will be able to use their experience to teach you about the challenges of your key event, but will also be able to prescribe workouts based on your needs.  A coach takes away all of the training decisions you need to make; all you need to do is have faith and execute the plan.


3.    Figure out how you are going to get to the finish line.

Some folks want to get to the finish line fast.  Others just want to get there before midnight.  Develop a plan that will ensure you get to the finish line.

Tip for folks who just want to finish: The bike cut-off is 5:30 pm.  Most people can walk a 6:30 marathon (15 minute miles).  Make sure you train in a way to get to T2 by 5:30 pm.  This may mean that you don’t do a lot of run training, ever.  Great!  Don’t run train in place of the swim/bike training if there is a chance that you may not make the T2 cutoff.  Rather, ensure you are fit enough to get to T2 by 5:30 pm, then execute your sub-6:30 marathon.
Tip for people trying to do IM fast:  training to swim 2.4 miles as fast as you can, bike 112 miles as fast as you can, and run 26.2 miles as fast as you can may not be the best way to get to the IM finish line as fast as you can.  IM is a 3-sport event, or better-yet, it is a 1-sport event: a combination of s/b/r incorporated into one effort.  Swim as fast as you can so you can still bike well; bike as fast as you can so you can still run well; learn to run well when you are tired.  I guarantee your open marathon pace is different from your IM-marathon pace, why do open marathon training for an IM?  Train accordingly.


4.    Stick to your plan.

If you are committed to IM, you have to make sacrifices.

Be wise when deciding if you should join group workouts.  Ask yourself it the workout fits into your plan.  Full commitment to IM training requires that you must do workouts that are in your plan.  Most of the time, these workouts are not in anyone else’s plan.  Ideally, you will find folks to join you in YOUR workout; they will ride at YOUR intensity and help YOU get the work done (yes, IM training is all about you).
Realize that you will not be in peak form most of the year.  Accept that you will under-achieve at many of the races you enter.  Have faith that you’ll be ready for you IM.

If you are fit all season, you are never truly fit.”  – Justin Daerr.

Have a race plan (pacing and nutrition) as well as a back-up plan.  Stick to your plan and don’t let any of your competitors deter you.  If you get passed on the bike, it probably means that guy has a different plan.  He may be a shitty runner.  You don’t know.  Stick to your plan.


5.    Have a strong support group.

This includes spouse, children, family, and friends.  You are going to experience many hardships throughout the IM journey, you want positive energy from the people closest to you.  This is critical to Ironman (and life) success.


6.    Have fun.

What are you doing this for?  If it isn’t fun, stop!