IronMan Dreams: OMG, I just signed up to do an IM!

OMG, I just signed up to do an IM!

By Marc Saucier

VMPS Triathlon Coach – [email protected] - 978-314-7325

 So, you’ve signed up to do an Ironman.  Now what?   The good news is, you have 12 months to get ready for it.  The bad news is, you’ve got 12 months to get ready for it.   The popularity and demand to “do an Ironman” results in entries selling out faster than a U2 concert, often within only a few hours of registration opening up the day after this year’s race.  For some races, like IM USA, next year’s race fills up with on-site registrations.  It never even makes it to on-line registration!


As a result most Ironman registrants have to commit to the race knowing that a lot can happen in 12 months. Situations change, jobs change, relationships start and end, injuries happen, finances collapse, etc. etc.   A lot can happen that can derail your dream of finishing your first Ironman.   At the same time you now have 12 months to put everything in place you need to make the dream happen.  12 months to be perfectly prepared to finish the race and join that elite club of people whose members can call themselves an Ironman!  How you handle those 12 months will affect whether you can make your dream come true or if it becomes a nightmare of a train wreck.


A lot of people figure they’ve got plenty of time to get ready so why start now.  It’s already been a long season, time to kick back a bit and get all those chores around the house you’ve been putting off all summer.  “I’ll start after the first of the year to get ready” they say.  Well, January comes along and by then it’s way to cold to do any serious training. “I’ll start next month”, or the month after they say.  They keep putting it off and putting it off and before they know it, it’s 12 weeks out and they still haven’t put a plan together.  So they rush out and find a “12 week to becoming an Ironman” plan, ramp up the swimming, biking and running, get injured, do the race anyway, and finish by walking the “last” 22 miles of the marathon, dehydrated, exhausted and in the medical tent.  Yes, they finished, but was that really their dream? 


Conversely, some people take the opposite approach and get right into Ironman mode for 12 months, pounding out 15 - 20 mile runs every week, 80 – 100 mile bike rides and 6000 yd pool sessions.  They usually end up getting injured, fired or divorced by race day.  Yes, they may end up finishing, but again was that really the way their dream was supposed to unfold?


Whether your goal is to finish just under the 17 hr time limit or to get a Hawaii “IQ” spot, the key to making your dream happen the way you want it to happen is to use these next 12 months to put together and execute a plan that balances the demands of training for an Ironman with the demands of your everyday life.   This is more than just a “training plan” of how much and how hard to swim, bike and run each day.  You need to look at how much time you have to train over the course of the year.  Are there any significant upcoming events you need to work around such as business travel, vacations, weddings, etc.?  What equipment do you need/want, a new bike, wheels, wetsuit, HRM, power meter, etc.?   What impact will your plan have on your job, spouse/significant other, family life, budget?  What’s your current fitness/health status?  Should I lose/gain weight, change my diet/nutrition? Are there physical/medical issues, asthma, bum knee, back pain, that need to be addressed? These are just a few of the considerations you need to take into account when putting your plan together.


But where to start?  The first step in training for an Ironman is to work on your weaknesses and build on your strengths.   During the first 3-4 months of your “12 Month” plan should be spent working on your weaknesses.  Whether it’s developing a  more efficient swim stroke,  generating more power on the bike or learning to run stronger out of T2, these first few months  are a great time to go in maintenance mode on your strong events and concentrate on your weaker ones while keeping your whole training load and time fairly light.  There will be plenty of long training weeks later in the year.  Now, what’s your weakest event?  It may not be what you think.   Most race results give your overall place in each event.  Look at your race results history and see if there’s a trend.   Are you typically in the top 20% in the swim and bike, but only the top 50% in the run, or maybe it’s the swim or bike that lag behind.  Making all three more “even” will go a long way toward becoming a more “efficient” triathlete which is key to successfully completing an Ironman.  A comfortable swim leaves you with plenty of energy for the bike, an efficient bike leaves you strong for the run, and a strong run means crossing the finish line with a smile instead of a frown from doing the Ironman “shuffle” for the last 15 miles.


Once you’ve decided what areas to work on now is the time to become a “single sport” athlete.   That doesn’t mean completely giving up the other events, but you want to go into your “focus” training sessions well rested and ready to go.   One of the difficulties with working on your weakness is that it’s usually a weakness because of inexperience in that sport.  As a result getting “professional” help is usually the fastest and most efficient way to develop the expertise needed to make improvements.  You can get help through coached workouts with your triathlon club or local health club, or better yet by signing up with a personal triathlon coach.   The right coach can provide both the technical instruction and training plan needed to develop improvements quickly as well as help you put together the rest of your plan in getting ready for your Ironman dream.


In my next article I’ll cover time management and how to find/make more time to train while actually improving your relationships, family life and job performance.


In future articles we’ll cover the speed, endurance and race prep. phases of the Ironman training plan as well as equipment, crisis management, and race logistic