I am frequently asked, “How do you have time to train, eat, have any fun, and train for an Ironman while working 40 hours per week?”
About 10 years ago I started competing in short-distance triathlons for fun. It had always been my dream to finish an Ironman triathlon, but I thought to myself that it would be impossible and overwhelming. Even with the experience of being a four-year collegiate athlete and competing in numerous races for years, training for an Ironman seemed to be an unthinkable task.
Here I am now, a decade later, about to compete in my third Ironman. I am writing this article to inform you that it is possible to train for an Ironman while having a full-time career, and maintaining good friendships and a healthy marriage.
I am not a professional triathlete, yet I have managed to finish 140.6 miles feeling somewhat stable and strong. I think our goal as age-groupers should be to make the cutoff time, have fun, enjoy the surroundings and finish in an upright position with the ability to speak to the volunteers at the finish line.
I have learned during my experience as a USA Triathlon (USAT) coach and with my own personal triathlon training how to finish an Ironman while maintaining a happy and healthy lifestyle.
The three most important factors to consider when planning for an Ironman are:
- Have a specific training program designed for your needs.
- Create a sound nutrition plan for the typical work day and during racing.
- Make the experience fun and enjoyable for you and your family/friends.
Before you begin your Ironman journey, it’s important to understand that preparation and planning takes time. You can’t just jump in and start swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles and running 26.2 miles.
Have a coach design your training plan approximately eight months before the race. A USAT-certified coach has the experience in designing a specific program to tailor to the needs of the athlete and will help to decrease the chance of overtraining or sustaining an injury.
Make an appointment with a physical therapist to evaluate your overall flexibility and strength before you begin training. You should perform strengthening exercises and stretches to target specific weaknesses and inflexibility. This will help to prevent injuries in the future and improve performance.
To prepare your body for the lengths it will go on race day, compete in century rides, half marathons and at least one full marathon before the big competition. Sign up for races in fun places that your loved ones or spouse will also enjoy as a memorable weekend getaway.
Weekly Training Design
A typical week of training includes two days of swimming, two days of cycling and three days of running. One workout per week should be a long training day—typically done on the weekend—to get your body ready for the distance. The other training days should consist of high-quality, medium-distance tempo or interval training.
If you wake up early everyday, you can get your training in and then spend time with family after work. You will get used to the early morning alarm
Add a recovery week every fourth week to your training program. Decrease your mileage, sleep in and do cross-training such as hiking, skiing, or kayaking.
Make Them Count
Training doesn’t stop when you’ve finished that final mile or lap. Paying attention to your body throughout the day will ensure that your workouts have the desired impact.
- Make every workout a quality workout. If you are feeling fatigued, irritable or abnormally sore in your muscles, you might be overtraining. Listen to your body. Take the day off or go easy during your workout.
- Get some shut eye. Go to bed early every night so that you can get eight to 10 hours of sleep for proper recovery. Have your lunch prepared and your workout bag packed and sitting by your door before you go to sleep so that you are ready to go in the morning.
- Follow your heart. Take your heart rate when you wake up in the morning as you are lying in bed. Make sure your resting heart rate is normal (approx. 60 to 80 bpm). A high resting heart rate is a sign of overtraining.
- Take one rest day per week for mental and physical healing. Go to an easy yoga class or take a walk at the beach with a friend or loved one.
Don’t Neglect Nutrition
Fueling your body can be the most difficult part of Ironman training and racing. Input of healthy calories will result in an output of high-quality training. An increase of training time per week can result in increased hunger.
I make sure that I only buy healthy, nutritious food filled with enough calories to maintain energy for training. Good examples are peanut butter-filled pretzels, trail mix, mozzarella string cheese and fruit. If you pack your lunch filled with nutritious calorie-filled snacks, you will not have the urge to fill yourself with unhealthy food.
H20 — Drink half of your body weight in ounces per day. Have a large jug of water on your desk at work. Make sure you drink the water throughout the day.
Timing — Don’t eat a large lunch if you are expecting to train after work as you will feel sluggish.
Race-Day Food — Eat food with substance—such as sandwiches, pretzels and cookies—during training to prepare for race day. Eat approximately 200 calories per hour during your long training days to prepare for eating during the race with sufficient energy.
Pathway to Ironman
Many triathletes sign up for a full-distance race in a beautiful and interesting destination so that the race becomes a vacation.
During your training months prior to the race, get excited for race day by researching the destination. Design an itinerary for your trip that includes more than just the expo and the transition area. Include museum tours, a beautiful drive through a national park or research good restaurants to visit. Stay a few days after the race to recover and celebrate your hard work. Take a short hike or an easy walk after the race so that you can enjoy the surrounding environment without a high level of exertion.
When you return home, thank your family, friends and co-workers for supporting you during this amazing journey by hosting a dinner. Sit back, relax and enjoy the time with your support crew. It is well worth it in the end!
Source: Wendy Benwell, PT, MS, DPT Ability Rehabilitation Specialists