How To Train For Your First Iron Man
It’s that time of the year again when pro athletes, swimmers, racers and all active persons come out to show what they are made of. Yes, we are referring to Ironman; a heavy-duty, heavy sweating, seventeen hours long triathlon race organized by the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC). It’s by no means a ‘breeze’ of an event if you are training for your first Ironman, as you will certainly need an effective strategy to help you get through the ordeal.
Although you might think your body can handle it, a whole lot takes place within those seventeen hours including swimming a stretch of 2.4 miles, a bike ride of 112 miles to be topped off with a 6.22-mile marathon race. All taking place in just a day, back to back with no breaks. This is no mean feat. And participants who manage to complete the triathlon within the allotted time lay claim to the coveted title of ‘Ironman’. It definitely goes without saying that any activity this strenuous requires you to be in top shape. So to help you get through it, why not apply the following tips?
Taking home the coveted Ironman title can be quite motivating to an athlete. However, it is a rigorous, physically taxing event that requires large chunks of your time over a period. If you have been mostly hanging around the sofa area of your home, it’s time to relinquish the couch potato title and get moving. Experts suggest that in 12 weeks of training, your leg muscles would have been acclimatized in preparation for the race. Endurance can be built with that time, minimizing the chances of getting hurt as your body is already well loosened up. You can break down your training regimen to five days weekly in two and a half to four hours sessions.
You might want to speak with the boss about taking some time off work as Ironman training will require some lifestyle adjustments. About 30 to 45 minutes of weekday workouts will help build your stamina. Also, factor in a one and a half to two hours bike ride. As you have five workouts per week, add some spice to your routine and make two of them swim sessions. In triathlons, the possibility of injury is ever present, so throw in two run-to-bike workouts for strength training.
Visit The Doctor
Before you start exercising, it is always advisable to visit a doctor for a health check. Even though triathlon training certainly strengthens the heart, the risk of a heart attack during a competition is slightly increased. You will want to ensure that your body can handle the strenuous physical conditions you are about to put it through.
Prepare Your Body
As your body will be under great exertion during the triathlon, now is the time to start preparing it for hard times ahead. Take ‘baby’ steps so to speak…walk before you run.
You can start by using the 4 – 3 – 2 formula. That is four sets of a three-minute run and a two-minute walk for a total of twenty minutes. Once you’ve gotten the hang of that, you can up the ante by progressing to the 4 – 4 – 1 formula the week after, also for a total of twenty minutes. And to the 4 – 9 -1 formula for week three.
Once your body gains mastery of twenty minutes of straight running you can increase your run time by 10 to 15 minutes weekly. As body acclimatization progresses, gradually add on other types of runs such as interval, tempo and trail run to name a few. Don’t forget to take some energy bars with you. On the run is definitely not the time or place to pass out.
Improve Your Swimming Techniques
Mid-swim in any competition is certainly not the place to take a break. So learn beforehand to the right way to swim to preserve your strength for the entire course. Remember, swimming in open water is nothing like a swimming pool. You could get disoriented if you find yourself in the midst of flailing limbs, splashing water all over, gunning for the title. Take deliberate and long breaths while starting slowly. This helps you get a feel for your environment and gain control. While at it, make sure your head is aligned with your body.
Also, pace yourself so as not to start what you can’t finish. Pick a pace you know you can sustain and gently glide along. Focus on continuity rather than playing catch with the fast guys. You are much more likely to win that way. Better still, your heart rate remains under control. As you get the hang of it, you could overtake other swimmers. Slow and steady wins the race. You might even have the pleasure of seeing the ‘fast swimmers’ run out of steam mid – water as you glide by. Try not to gloat though.
Get On Your Bike
Remember the 112-mile bike ride that makes up part of the triathlon competition, which we talked about earlier? Yup, it goes without saying that some cycling warm-ups will come in handy when training. However, the beat-up old bike passed down the generations in your family is not the kind you need for a triathlon. Considering you will be doing 112 miles on that bike, it had best be super comfortable and sturdy too. The carbon fiber bike is excellent for persons with back problems. Its softness provides shock absorbance for the cyclist especially during high-performance races like the Ironman.
The downside is the flex that saves your body from wear does not work so well when you step down as it is a bit stiff though not as stiff as a titanium bike. Also, consider the seat angle when bike shopping. A triathlon bikes’ seat should be more upright and angle forward than that of the regular bike. The forward seating position is of aerodynamic advantage, reducing drag on the rider.
You have got to eat right to be in great shape for the big day, so skipping breakfast or any other meals is a no-no. However, this is not a license to splurge on that crispy bacon you’ve been eyeing. Rather, a healthy low fiber diet is perfect before a workout. Multiple time Ironman finisher, Jordan Cantwell, recommends some jelly or peanut butter on granary toast with some strong coffee to get started. You might also want to consider just plain ole oatmeal with fruit.
Protein shakes are also a must have as they repair damaged tissues as well as replenish depleted glycogen levels. Although carbs get a lot of bad rep, when engaging in any intense training, your body requires some extra carbs and natural glucose such as those found in fruit to help balance the higher fat proteins found in dairy foods. You might also want to keep some protein bars handy for a quick bite during a workout.
Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate!
Poor hydration has ruined the chances of many an athlete before they even got started. In very hot or humid conditions it’s likely you may need as much as one liter of water per hour, so make sure your hydration pack is always close.
Although dehydration often affects performance, being over-hydrated isn’t also a good one though less often discussed. Hyponatremia, as its called, is often caused by the body’s electrolytes are over diluted caused by too much fluid intake in a very short period. And if left unattended, this can be fatal. So, the best way to avoid hydration issues mid-race is by acclimatizing your body.
To acclimatize is to put your body to the test under extreme conditions. Depending on which region of the world you are, you just might be racing under hot and humid conditions. Training in the heat pushes your body to adapt by increasing your sweating rate making you break a sweat earlier. Which means you may have to consider cutting back on caffeine and alcohol days before the race while you increase sodium intake. A bit more salt in your food should do the trick along with consuming electrolyte drinks.
Clothing is one those areas a professional triathlete or a budding one needs be selective about. Clothing choices can literally make or break you when racing. The last thing you need mid-race is your baggy clothes getting in the way of free movement. Tight clothes aren’t any better either as they increase the likelihood of chafing. So it seems like it’s a fine line getting the right balance in activewear that works for running, swimming and racing. Your best bet is to pick up a triathlon suit specially designed for all aspects of the competition.
A good triathlon suit helps you race faster and be as comfortable as possible. It is great in the water as it fits like a second skin and should be made with quick-drying fabric so that by the time you are on the bike, you are dry enough to avoid chafing. This also helps you save precious time in immediately moving to the next leg as you do not need to change clothes during a transition.
Also very important in triathlons is having the right shoes. Our list of the best workout gear for men is a good place to start. Nike, Adidas, Puma and Reebok to name a few, are go-to brands for high-performance footwear. You don’t want to hit the track in running shoes too small or too tight. Besides being uncomfortable, it’s even dangerous as you could injure your toes and skin. Even worse, you expose yourself to muscle imbalances in the feet and legs.
Running in shoes that are too big is equally risky as you can end up tripping or experiencing foot instability. Different kinds of running shoes offer different types of support. So Make it easier on yourself by purchasing the right fit which not only saves your body from pain, but also your wallet.
Be Geared Up
It’s all very well training, but doing so without enough preparation leaves you having to postpone an important training session. So be sure to prepare running backpack that is sturdy enough to carry your race staples yet compact enough not to constitute a weight that could slow you down. Only quality running backpacks should be considered for both comfort and durability.
Much as you need the right workout gear to keep you comfortable during a race, you do not want to overdo things and carry too much. So only the following few items must make it into your bag;
- Swimming gear – Pack some swim goggles to keep your eyes protected from the possible saltiness in the water, as well as a swim cap to help keep your head warm when in cold water (you might want to pack several caps for extra warmth). A pair of comfortable swimming trunks will also come in handy, so keep those barely-there swimming thongs safely packed away till you’ve won the race.
- Sunglasses – A pair of running sunglasses to protect your eyes from the harsh glare of the sun while biking.
- Helmet – Goes without saying a helmet is compulsory for biking.
- Windbreaker – Your body will definitely thank you for carrying a windbreaker to keep you warm on a cold/windy course.
- Socks – A pair of running socks comes in handy to protect your feet from chaffing during a race.
- Water and Food – Some protein powder, along with a protein shaker to guarantee you get that smooth, lump-free shake to keep you sustained throughout the race. Don’t forget to also carry along enough hydration packs so as not to run out.
Keep That Motor Running!
Your training is over, now it’s time to relax right? Wrong. The competition is not over until it’s over. Tempting as it might be to take a rest before the big day, that can actually be counterproductive. Continuous warm-ups are excellent to keep your body ready for what is ahead. Careful though..you might want to ease into it. Warm up time is not the same as going full throttle. As your muscles loosen up and stretch, more oxygen and glycogen is produced giving you more energy. A warm-up is a small price to pay for reducing the risk of having a muscle pull.
To speed up things up, you could add on weighted vests which put weight directly to your upper body. This is especially taxing for the respiratory muscles causing your heart rate to speed up way faster. Be careful not to wear it for too long though. When learning how to train for a triathlon, you might be tempted to push your body hard. Don’t forget that although the body is adaptable, it requires both some pressure and rest to perform its best. So ‘balance’ is the watchword. That being said as you plan your workout regimen, map out ‘slow’ days too to allow your body to adjust to the added demands and recover strength.
Much as you have your sights set on the title, endurance sports can be quite draining making it hard for you to remain motivated while training. Make it easier on yourself by being realistic and flexible while training. If you had a bike ride planned when it starts raining, switch things up by doing a run instead.
Also, try not to be too hard on yourself. If you are feeling really sluggish one morning, you could start your run slowly till you build momentum. It is amazing how time flies when you are in good company. Why not train with other triathlon enthusiasts where you get to hang with like minds? It’s an excellent way of sharing nutrition tips, workout gear choices and other cool stuff. That being said never lose sight of the title.
Acting on the above listed tips will see you well positioned to be an accomplished triathlete to be reckoned with. You very well could be the next Ironman. As with all endurance sports, discipline is key. Over time though, training can start to feel monotonous. Break the monotony by exploring a new running trail or even take a buddy along for a change.
Remember though; good things don’t come easy. Perseverance will pay off only if you stay the course. Quite a number of multiple time winners of the Ironman triathlon started just like you. They weren’t necessarily professional athletes yet went on to win time and again. Even more mind-boggling, some of them are seniors. Lew Hollander, at the ripe old age of 82, was the oldest man to have ever completed an Ironman World Championship. As you can see, age isn’t a barrier either. So no excuses!
While at it, don’t become so preoccupied with winning that you forget to have fun. It isn’t everyday one gets to compete in such a remarkable event. Makes for a great dinner time tale to share with the grandkids years down the line.