Keys to Ironman Success

Written By: Tony Hammett, Endurance Coach
What does it take to successfully complete an Iron-distance race? It can be a long but very rewarding experience and I find that each time I prepare for one I learn something new about myself or the training… Continue Reading


What does it take to successfully complete an Iron-distance race? It can be a long but very rewarding experience and I find that each time I prepare for one I learn something new about myself or the training. There is quite a bit involved in the journey, but here are some tips that should assist you along the way.

Consistency and Planning

Prior to starting the specific preparation phase for your big day, you should begin training your body and mind months in advance. Consistent training is key to your success and creating and executing a plan that fits your lifestyle will assist you in reaching your specific goals. When considering a race, some over-looked items to keep in mind might include:
Time of year: Does this race occur during a peak period in your life where the training will be difficult to complete due to family, school or work responsibilities? If you will be overwhelmed or too stressed to “hit the mark” each week, it might be best to find a race that allows you to train with some consistency, especially during the phase leading up to the race. What weather conditions will you encounter in the months leading up to the race? Training in extreme conditions does not always allow us to maximize our training when preparing for longer races but with a little creativity it can be done.
The actual race: Are you targeting a race where you “just finish”, or one where you want a specific challenge? If hilly bike courses do not suit you well, consider a race with flatter or rolling terrain. Would you rather swim with a wetsuit, and in a lake, river or ocean? Make sure your race typically allows for wetsuit legal swims and you know the body of water for the race. If you live in a terrain that is flat and the key race you are targeting is hilly, you might reconsider if that is the best choice for you!
Specific Training
During your build for the 140.6 distance, there are a few key targets I believe an athlete should hit in preparation. In addition to swim, bike and run sessions, athletes should also incorporate race simulation workouts as they get closer to the race.
Swim: At least one big swim per week in the pool. This is a “broken” Ironman swim that covers 4,000-4,500 yards or meters. Open water swim sessions of at least 4,000 yards should occur regularly, ideally in a safe, group environment.
Bike: Most triathletes need to build up to a 6-hour bike ride with a transition run directly afterwards. This ride should be on terrain that is very similar to your race and paced appropriately so a nice steady effort can be held for the duration. I find it helpful to minimize stops and even do some of these rides solo. This requires careful planning of your route, including the location of water stops.
Run: Although this depends on the athlete, the key runs should be between 2.5 – 3 hours in length. Much more than this requires extra recovery time, which can set you back a little during the week. If possible, a Tuesday or Wednesday long run is the perfect placement for this session as it allows for recovery between the long bike and long run and helps the body and mind better absorb the training each week.
A big part of iron-distance training is nutrition, and this covers what you eat before, during, and after training and races, and everything in between. Finding what works for you is key and needs to be solidified and practiced so there is no guessing come race day. Directly after my long sessions, I consume a recovery drink such as chocolate milk or Mix1. I find that it is nutritionally on target for what the body needs during this critical time period after a long day of training.
Last but not least, one needs to consider how they plan to recover on a daily basis, but this is especially important after the longer sessions. Commonly used methods are elevating your feet in order to get the blood moving back towards your heart and the use of compression socks or tights. Ensure you are scheduling down time and rest into your week as well. If you are constantly on the go and moving, it leaves little time to absorb the training and recharge the body and mind.
Hopefully these tips are helpful, and best of luck on your journey!