A 12-Month Overview of Long-Distance Training By Gale Bernhardt

Thinking about doing a full iron distance race in the coming year? Here is what to expect training-wise for the next 12 months.

Many of the popular Ironman or Ironman-distance eventssell out a year in advance of the race. For many athletes, once the confirmation note comes to inform you that you are officially entered into the event it is also the official beginning of anxiety. 

It is the anxious feeling that you should be training right now. You should train every day of the week and you should be training around 20 hours per week. And you should be worried because 140.6 miles is a long way to propel yourself.

Don’t let anxiety take hold. Prepare yourself before the letter arrives. The real question you should ask yourself is when should you ramp up training for a long-distance triathlon?

Nine to 12 Months Out

If you have never completed a long-distance triathlon, and are currently not training at all, your training nine to 12 months out from the race needs to be dedicated to building foundation fitness. This is the preparation phase of training. Most of this training is at an aerobic level. (For a description of intensities and a cross-reference table for terms used by other coaches, see this free download file.)

What you’re aiming to do is condition tendons, ligaments, muscles, the metabolic system and your mind—among other things—for future training. In all cases, you want to minimize the risk of injury and improve the probability that you’ll have a good race.

If you are an intermediate athlete carrying some level of fitness, say currently training some six to 10 hours per week, this time is most likely dedicated to maintaining fitness. In addition to aerobic training, you might be doing some tempo training.

If you are an advanced athlete, you’ve been training for years, and you’ve successfully completed some long-distance triathlon events. At this point you might be recovering from a season of racing and primarily focusing on aerobic training. If you are doing a split year, the first half of the year is dedicated to shorter distance, fast racing or racing another sport such as winter triathlon.

Four to Eight Months Out

If you’re a beginning racer and life got busy, completely distracting you from training the last few months, don’t panic. You still have time to get ready to race.

Your goal in the next few weeks is to be consistent with your training. Try to get two workouts completed in each sport, each week. You can even include some strength training if it suits your fancy.

Your main goals are to be easily capable of completing the following workouts within a single week:

  • Two 30-minute swims
  • One 30-minute run and a second run of 60 minutes
  • One bike ride 30 to 40 minutes in length and a second ride 90 to 120 minutes in length

Intermediate athletes and the advanced athletes that have been doing general training can move to more sport-specific training and reduce or completely eliminate cross-training activities.

Advanced athletes that are racing shorter distances want to have that racing completed in these months and allow enough time for recovery. I give these athletes a week of recovery between the two racing blocks.

Three to Four Months Out

This is the pre-competitive and competitive phase of training. For long distance racers, this is the time to build overall race endurance and work at race pace intensities while leaving enough time to taper training volume in the three or so weeks prior to race day.

The biggest training week for beginning racers will be somewhere around the 13-hour mark. Intermediate racers will include more tempo training in your race plans and your biggest training week will be some 13 to 18 hours. Advanced racers that are not elite athletes will have their biggest training week at 15 to 20 hours, or slightly more.

Ramp Up and Down

For long-distance racers, peak volume of training for race day occurs within the last month before the race. Once volume has peaked, there are several different strategies for tapering training volume, such as tapering all sport volumes at the same time or beginning by tapering run volume, then bike volume and finally swim volume.

In all cases, be sure you head into race week well rested and eager to toe the line.

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