Ironman Ambitions: Ten Top Tips

Step up to an Ironman with our top ten tips, from planning your nutrition strategy early to joining a club



by Tobias Mews

ironman training Credit: Getty Images

I'm balancing on one leg. The other one is somewhere in front of me; I can't be sure where. I am attempting to perform a squat and it is not going well.Gordon Crawford is looking at me with pity.

As coach to three-time Ironman 70.3 UK champion Fraser Cartmell, Crawford is used to working with elite athletes who have a core as strong as Captain America's. My core, however, is as soft as a piece of badly bruised fruit. "Now close your eyes and remember to scoop and clench," says Crawford with a wry smile. My knee, bending as I deepen the squat, starts to wobble uncontrollably.

I'm at an Ironman bootcamp organised by K-Swiss, footwear and run course sponsor of Ironman UK. Gordon and I have a deal: he will tell me how a first-timer should prepare for an Ironman if I attempt some core exercises (a key part of the training) and then throw myself around an assault course several times, sometimes with a tyre on my shoulder. Given that training for an Ironman is very different from getting ready to do an Olympic-distance event, I reluctantly agree. The things I do for you, dear readers.

1 Time will tell

Time is precious and you need a lot of it when you're training for an Ironman. Work out how much time you can dedicate to training and plan your time accordingly.

Think about it: the swim leg accounts for roughly 10 per cent of your race, around 60 per cent of your time is spent on the bike and the remaining 30 per cent on the run. If you want to compete, rather than simply finish, you'll need to train for at least six months.

2 Focus on your weakest discipline

Look at the breakdown of your times from previous races and work out where there is room for improvement. A successful Ironman performance is heavily dependent on how you tackle the bike leg. If you cycle too hard, you won't have enough gas left for the run - no matter how strong a runner you normally are.

3 Join a triathlon club

Training for an Ironman can be lonely, so training with others can be a huge benefit on a five-hour ride. Moreover, you'll be with like-minded souls who will actually enjoy talking about aero helmets and carbon wheels.

You can search for clubs close to you using the British Triathlon Federation (BTF) website (britishtriathlon.org). Club membership fees range from £20 a year to £75 a month, depending on coaches, equipment and access to pools and gyms.

4 Get a coach or follow a training plan

Planning your training can be difficult, especially if you're new to racing. So it's a good idea to invest in a coach or a training programme that will help give you direction. Do whatever you can afford.

Many coaches will offer an online service, with a bespoke training programme and consultation by telephone once a week. This can range from £50 to £150 a month; the price depends on how much contact you choose to have with your coach.

If you can't afford a coach, have a look online or in specialist triathlon books for a programme that will give you a structure to follow in preparation for a race. Another option is to go through your local triathlon club; many have volunteer BTF-level coaches who will be happy to offer you informal advice.

5 Invest in your equipment

You don't want to be one of those triathletes who has all the gear and no idea, but decent kit will save you time and make the Ironman experience that bit more pleasurable. Buy the best you can afford:

  • a wetsuit that fits properly
  • goggles that don't leak
  • a road or TT bike - make sure you get a fitting before handing over your money
  • a decent two-piece tri-suit is essential for long-distance events to facilitate those necessary loo stops. If the race is in a hot country, choose a light colour to reflect the sun as this will keep you cooler
  • comfortable trainers
  • a visor to shield your face from the sun
  • sunglasses to protect your eyes from 
  • UV rays
  • a watch to monitor your heart rate (some also have a GPS to record your distance)

6 Have a nutrition plan

Becoming an endurance athlete requires a well thought-out nutrition plan. You'll be training for up to 18 hours a week, so you'll be burning a lot of calories which need to be replaced. On race day, your height and weight, and the weather, will have a bearing on the amount of food and fluids you'll need - especially for the bike.

7 Have a support structure in place

Your support structure needs to be part of your planning process. Support might come from your doctor, family, physio, osteopath, sports massage therapist, bike service mechanic, triathlon coach etc. Like you, they need to be committed to the plan.

Training for 18 hours a week is going to have an impact on your home life. You must make sure your family and friends are 100 per cent behind you, even if that certainty is guaranteed by a holiday-shaped bribe.

8 Rest and recover

Without rest and recovery, you'll burn out. There are lots of things you can do to prepare yourself for the next day's training. These include recovery shakes, nutritional supplements, compression tights, elevation, cold baths and sports massage - these all aid recovery. And remember, if you're a slightly older triathlete, recovery takes a bit longer. Just accept it.

 9 Plan your race

Ironman races require meticulous planning. Ensure you know what equipment you need, what time registration is, where the transition entry and exit points are and how many laps there are etc. Familiarise yourself with the rules; one silly mistake can lead to disqualification.

10 Have fun

If you've followed a plan and done the training, there's no reason why you can't smile while climbing that massive hill 70 miles into the bike course. And more importantly, make sure you smile when you cross the finishing line.; there'll be cameras, lots of cameras.

K-Swiss is the official footwear and run course sponsor of Ironman UK. For more information, visit kswiss.com.


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