My Top 5 Tips for Ironman

No, there isn’t an ironman in the cards for 2015 (ironman is certainly not going to be an annual occurrence for this body!), but in reflecting on 2014 and seeing so many of you start ironman training (yay!), I started to think about my ironman journey and what went well and areas I would improve if there is a next time.  If there is one overall theme, I think it’s:

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You’ve heard this before and it might be cliche, but really, it will go by so fast.  You will miss the post-workout exhausted, endorhpin-high feeling and the excitement of reviewing a new week of your training plan before you know it!

Okay, on to the training-related tips.  First, I don’t consider myself fast or an extraordinary triathlete, but I did feel successful [for me] in my journey to ironman. I set out to accomplish an ironman feeling strong and racing smart, and I exceeded my own expectations.  It took a lot of work for this girl that was scared of a 300m OWS and ran at an 11-minute pace (back in 2009/2010) to build up to an ironman. With that here are a few thoughts you can take or leave; keep in mind these are just what worked for me and may not be right for everyone:

1)  Consider getting a coach.  I know it’s not in the cards for everyone and it is expensive, but the guidance of the right coach is probably the single most effective thing to improve your performance.  It will cost you money, but it will save you TIME.  (for me, time>$)  He or she may have options for you other than customized training (I used a pre-built plan for my 2013 half ironman training prior to ironman).  A smart coach (like mine!) can help you get the most efficient workouts in the least amount of time, and make sure you are taking time for recovery and not overworking yourself.  This is very valuable if you like to have any sort of life, career, or relationships outside of ironman.  Plus,  where did I learned the below philosophies/tips from?  An experienced coach, of course. 

2)  Get faster and stronger before going longer, i.e. INTERVALS.  Yep, shorter, harder efforts.  Being a lover of endurance cycling and 100 mile rides, this was hard for me to get used to.  And BOY, did those short, harder workouts kick my butt.  In the end, I only did two long runs of 15 and 17 miles during my ironman training and only two rides of 100 miles or greater.  No junk miles.  By the time I got through all the harder, shorter workouts, going long at an easier effort was a piece of cake.  Intervals also help to split things up mentally.  Check out how I used mind tricks during intervals for a big training weekend here.

3) Dial in your nutrition and fuel BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER all workouts.  Find what works for your gut.  I noticed my performance and recovery was much improved after I found out what worked for me, which was: pre-workout snack of wasa crackers or rice cake with nut butter & toppings, infinit liquid nutrition during workouts (with the occasional bites of solid food as needed), and a small protein-rich snack after the workout followed by a larger carb/protein meal in the next hour.

Examples of pre-workout snacks (go lighter or heavier depending on the workout):

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Sport Nutrition for a typical training weekend (Infinit custom drink mix + a Bonk Breaker or gel for the bike, Infinit napalm for the run and Hammer endurance aminos/tissue rejuvenator)

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Post-workout was usually a quick Horizons milk carton for shorter workouts or for longer ones maybe a coconut water mixed with choc protein powder and bites of a bar – eaten immediately after

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The I had a “real meal” within an hour.  If at work, overnight oats + whey + toppings was standard.  If I had time at home, protein pancakes, stir fry, or veg omelets were delicious, easy to make choices!

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4) Don’t be afraid to use walk breaks during your runs.  Walking is NOT failure, it is fighting fatigue.  I am a big time convert.  I never used to walk for fear of not being able to start running again.  With a plan and an interval lap on your watch you will look forward to walk breaks and find them to be refreshing.  I can’t tell you how many fit-looking individuals I passed as they were walking during the last lap of IMTX, while I stuck to my run and walk at the aid stations strategy.  To see a run-walk strategy I used during a shorter 10-mile race, check out my Ten for Texas post.

5) Don’t forget recovery!  I grew to love Mondays (unlike the rest of the world) because they were my rest day – I would go to bed early and sleep in as long as could be permitted before work – i.e. no morning workouts.  Sleep is probably the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to recovery; I usually calculated backwards to check I’d get 7-8 hours each night.  I also tried to keep up with my foam rolling, stretching, Epsom salt baths, but these were often harder to make time for; you can always put your yoga mat in front of the TV for stretching though!   I also didn’t sign up for a bunch of races during my peak ironman training; I knew the recovery from a race takes time, and I don’t believe in the philosophy of using a race as “training”.  Plus, races are expensive!  Back to tip #1, a good coach can help you plan your season.

Bonus Tip: Get yourself to a pool (for the non-swimmers like me).  Lots.  I really wondered why I had so many 3,000 to 4,000+ yard swims 3x per week, but it really set me up well for a good and relatively smooth IM swim.  My belief is that there is not much you can do to get better in the water except spend more time in the water and be very patient.  IT TAKES SO MUCH PATIENCE.  Plus, I could push hard in the pool and be at low risk for injury, unlike in running/biking, so I feel it greatly improved my cardiovascular fitness.

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What are your biggest tips for endurance events?  What did I forget?  Happy training!

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15 thoughts on “My Top 5 Tips for Ironman

  1. This is so helpful, Brittany. I have a coach, so that one is covered, and I definitely agree with you about intervals and getting faster/stronger. Right now my schedule is all about the base and getting stronger. I think nutrition is going to be the biggest struggle for me, because I never know how much I should be eating. How many calories did you eat during your harder/longer training days? Great meal recommendations here, btw. Mondays are my recovery days too and I LOVE them. ☺ Yes, the pool….

    1. You will do great! I never counted calories, but I could tell if I ate too little I’d wake up hungry (and have to grab a small cup of cereal/granola at 2 AM) and there was rarely a time in ironman training that I ate too much 🙂 A typical weekday was whatever breakfast I brought to work, a mid-morning snack of yogurt, fruit and sometimes a kind bar, lunch (grain, protein + salad or veggies), afternoon snack, then dinner. For dinner anything easy – stir fries (I made the rice or grain ahead of time) and pasta bakes (layer cooked pasta, meat or crumbled tofu + veggies, with marinara + cheese on top and bake) were all very easy to have on hand or make ahead. I would usually have a snack before bed too (bread + nut butter or similar). Is it bad I sort of miss the non-stop eating…

  2. Such valuable information, thank you for sharing! Although I have not completed an Ironman, I have done a half and can relate to all of the above.

    I have never hired a coach, since I have only been in the sport for 2 years, but I really want to hire one in the future as I do believe they are great resources.

    1. Glad it helped, Jessie. I really enjoyed having a coach and I loved having a training plan! It was so fun, and each week was different (by myself I can get into the same routine over and over).

  3. Those are great tips. Many athletes forget the nutrition part. All of that training takes nutrients out of your body, and you need to put them back. Good nutrition is the best way to keep up energy, and not get sick and injured. I say this now, but it took a couple of years for me to figure it out.

    I would add one tip. Listen to your body. If your are fatigued for more than a couple of days, and not getting good sleep, you may be over trained. If you have a coach, they will look out for you. If you are a self coached athlete, don’t just push through. take some rest.

    1. Great tip, I definitely agree! I can recall a training session that I really should have skipped since I was so fatigued, and it just would have been more beneficial to rest. I guess experience helps you figure this out like you said!

  4. These are really smart tips. I think getting faster is a really good idea before you elongate your racing distance. I’ve seen people who run 2:40 half marathons sign up for ironmans, and I just don’t think it’s a great idea.

  5. Great tips! I love having nutrition ready to go! We typically make protein rich smoothies after morning workouts, but occasionally have left over egg bake. I had a coach, but am not certain that she was the best fit for me, so right now I am self coaching and am going to see how 2015 goes before I reevaluate hiring a different coach. If I can meet my goals on my own, I may continue to self coach to save the money. We’ll see how my 2015 journey goes 😉

  6. YES to all of these! I couldn’t agree more on the coach… it’s the single best investment I’ve made in triathlon. There’s no way I’d push myself as hard as I do without him (the power meter’s been a close second! But, then again, I wouldn’t really know how to use it without my coach!). And, patience… it’s required in the pool for sure for us non-swimmers, but the whole sport requires it, too!

    1. I agree – and yes about the power meter! That is my #1 bike investment (love my wheels & Di2, but what makes me faster is knowing power!!). And yes, I def need a coach to interpret the numbers 🙂

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