The long road to Ironman

The beginning

I’ve being doing various endurance activities for several years, but I’m relatively new to triathlon, having completed my first Olympic distance races in July & August 2010. How I got into triathlon in the first place is a whole other story . Anyway, in August 2010 I signed up for Ironman Switzerland, which gave me about a year to prep. The plan was to focus on building a solid endurance base doing a lot of running and biking, and for swimming just focusing on improving technique.

At that point I was working in London with a 1:15 commute each way, so I mainly had to do my long rides/runs on weekends. I did, however, figure out a good way to combine training and commute time by riding to and from work a few days a week (90km round trip), which was significantly more pleasant than traveling in on the train!  Once or twice I also ran into work which enabled me to get my long run in during the week, the only down side being the 4am departure… and my work colleagues who thought I was nuts running 52km in to the office before work


Running focus

Between September and November I was doing 8-12 hours a week, but with a fair amount of running since I was training for the Florence marathon. I completed a very cold, rainy, but flat Florence marathon in 3:23 which I was satisfied with. After Florence,  I had a very lazy December, not doing much in snow-bound England except a few 2-3 hour runs and some mountain biking, interspersed with some swimming just to keep form.

The plan goes wrong

January to the end of March was pretty much a write-off since I was in the process of relocating to California, and work pressure was at an all time high. Most days I was doing 12-14 hours of work, but I just pressed through it knowing it was temporary. I managed to do some maintenance exercise but it was usually less than 4 hours a week and by no means quality training, so I lost a fair amount of fitness.

The plan goes right again

Every cloud has a silver lining, and the move to California was the best thing to get me back on track quickly. Silicon Valley is about 45 mins south of San Francisco, with a warm mediterranean climate. My commute is about 10% of what it was in London, there are more pools than you can imagine, and the valley has a vibrant tri community. The Google office in Mountain View also has an amazing setup: plenty of healthy food, several gyms, two endless pools and subsidised massage therapy. All of this combined enabled me to up my training hours to 12-17 hours per week, increase my work hours, and still be left with more personal time than I had before.

I needed to get back on track super-fast by really shocking my body into submission, since Ironman Switzerland was now only 3 months away. The hilly off-road horseshoe lake trail marathon, which takes place in the skyline ridge open space preserve, seemed just the right thing. This worked well and I was soon back on track with some long bike rides (150k+) and regular swimming. For running I focused mainly on tempo runs and intervals (4 x 8 mins @ 5K pace with 2 mins rest), but I didn’t really run much more than 2-3 times per week.

With a month to go before Ironman CH, I did my last really big week, which was a full week training, followed by the silicon valley long course triathlon on the Saturday (zero taper) and a long hilly 185km ride on the Sunday. The weekend alone was 12.5 hours of training and I felt it was as big as I could go at that stage. The next week (4 weeks to go) was normal training, followed by a 3 week taper.

Training with Power

At this stage, I also decided to buy a power meter. Many experienced ironman triathletes swear by them since you can ride your entire IM bike leg to a pre-determined plan, ensuring you don’t push too hard or too little. I chose the Powertap Pro+ which is only 80g heavier than the top of the range powertap but half the price. Based on a few weeks of use, I can definitely say that this is probably one of the most useful pieces of equipment that I have bought.  The most important thing was to do a power threshold test, which would enable me to work out my power zones. The easiest way to do this on your own is to find a flat road, warm up for 10 mins and then ride as hard as you can constantly for 30 mins. Your average power output is your estimated “threshold power” upon which you can base you power zones. The idea is that in an Ironman race you aim to stick to around 70% of your threshold power during the bike leg.

My first test I did on June 18th, and got a reading of 262 watts for the 30 mins. I was, however, not fully rested, so I did another test one week before Ironman after 2 weeks of tapering. This time around I got a reading of 272 watts, which meant that if I worked on 70% of threshold, I should aim for an average power output of around 190 watts during the race.

The Taper

I never taper enough, so this time I decided on a full 3 week taper, based on coach Kevin Coady’s advice on the triforce blog. The main difference in this approach is that you first  fully recover from your last big effort, then you keep yourself sharp by incorporating some short, high intensity efforts into easy training sessions. I’ve got to say, this worked pretty well for me. I did a lot of swimming during the taper which helped to maintain fitness with little recovery overhead, running was kept to a minimum (not more than 30 mins) and cycling was done at low efforts.

I also took the opportunity during the taper to lose some extra weight by focusing my diet on high protein, low fat and low carb. This will not work for everyone but it works well for me, and I managed to cut down by 3kg (6.6 lbs) in the final month. I only started eating a higher carb diet again 5 days before the race, and to be honest I could have started 3 days before and it would have been ok.

Final prep

By this stage I was fully recovered, feeling fitter than ever, and was leaner than I had been in a long time (73kg, 7% bodyfat). Ideally I should be at about 5% bodyfat and 71kg, but given that I had been 79kg in March, I was ok with the progress. The bike was ready. One final experiment for me was adding aero disc covers to my wheel – this enabled me to ride with my powertap training wheel, without sacrificing the aero capabilities of my normal race wheel, a Zipp 808. It also meant I didn’t need to buy a Zipp 808 with powertap for racing, so I spend $80 instead of $2000.

I didn’t try these at all in training, only once during my final power test the week before, but I figured it was low risk and if it all went wrong I could rip them off during the race.

I arrived in Zurich feeling fit, motivated, healthy and itching to race!

2 thoughts on “The long road to Ironman

  1. Pingback: » Ironman Switzerland Race Report

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