The short answer: a lifestyle change.
Change, adjustment, choice–call it what you will but half Ironman training is a significant commitment and one that requires dedication and focus. I’m starting week 9 of my 20 week training plan and somehow only just recently realized that my decision to train for 70.3 miles is truly no joke. This is serious stuff and one that really has been a lifestyle change. This realization came to me on a Friday night when I was happily getting ready for bed at 9:30 p.m.
The training plan I’ve been following is posted on TriFuel and is geared toward intermediate athletes. The author is a professional triathlete, Matt Lieto, and he includes important plan assumptions that I took seriously when I selected his plan but that recently started to hit home. For example, the plan is based on 12-15 hours of training per week. 12-15 hours is a lot of time to be swimming, biking, and running. By the halfway point in the schedule there are two days of double work-outs and one brick session as part of the plan. Monday is a rest day so the work-outs are done on the remaining six days of the week.
I prefer morning work-outs but on the double days I need mornings and evenings to get everything done. This means I am usually starting my day around 5 a.m. and ideally going to bed by 9:30 p.m. When I’m not working out, I’m working. And eating.
What I’ve discovered is that half Ironman training is much more than steadily increasing swims, bikes, and runs. It requires a support system (shout-out to my awesome husband, family, and friends for this!), healthy snacks, lots of protein, lots of water, and good sleep. It requires cutting out alcohol and sugar and making hard decisions like going for a run instead of to happy hour on a Friday night.
70.3 Triathlon Training Observations
Training plans will be different for every athlete and there are tons of plans, coaches, books, and resources out there to help you form a plan that will best suit your schedule as well as your selected event. (Please feel free to share what you use/do in the comments.) Regardless of the plan you choose, one important factor is having a base built before you start training. In my case, I signed up for the Amica Ironman 70.3 in November. I then researched training plans and settled on the 20 week schedule which had me starting at the end of February. From there I backed out the base building I would do. I’d just finished the Richmond Marathon and knowing that my running was in good shape I shifted focus to swimming, biking, and strength training and kept short runs in my work-outs as well. I maintained a light base building schedule for two months prior to starting ‘official’ training.
I’ve found that the plan I selected works for me most of the time. There are weeks where I have to shift work-outs to fit my schedule and in some cases I focus more on distance than on time. For example, the runs are scheduled according to time but I prefer to build distance and aim to reduce the time it takes to cover the mileage. My hope is that I can keep 9 minute miles during the run portion of the event but I’m training at an 8:30 pace so that mentally I know I can go faster. I also signed up for a half marathon a month before the 70.3 so that I will have a benchmark for my race pace.
With regard to swimming, the plan suggests lots of intervals and drills versus straight yardage which makes sense to me. At this point I’ve only done 1000 yards straight just to see how I felt. The rest of my swims are a variety of routines that I made up and that vary from 300-600 yards in intervals. I know I should be doing more stroke and kick drills but in honesty I only do about 100-200 yards of drills each time. However, I always focus on my stroke and on improving overall efficiency and I believe that is proving effective. Soon, open water swims will be a regular part of the routine and I look forward to seeing how my work in the pool translates to open water (and to swimming with a wetsuit).
I knew going into training that biking would be my weakest link. I’m just not a fast biker. For this reason I joined my local triathlon club so that I could take advantage of their group rides and the knowledge of more experienced bikers and triathletes. Many of the training plan rides are to include hills and race pace sessions. The hills are easier to accomplish when I ride with the group simply because they have routes already mapped out that are designed for these kind of work-outs. I’m still struggling to figure out my race pace on the bike. I seem to average 15-16mph a lot of the time but because I don’t have a Garmin watch or bike computer I never know my pace until I get home and log the work-out. As was expected, biking is my biggest learning curve and I’m glad I’ve got 20 weeks worth of practice to figure everything out. Things I’m learning about, working on, and trying to improve on include:
- Maintaining a faster cadence on straight stretches
- Powering through headwinds and crosswinds
- Understanding what gear combinations are most efficient
- Building strength to surge up hills and best way to do so (staying seated, putting weight back on bike, standing, etc)
- Learning to draft (not allowed in races but helpful to understand on group rides)
- Figuring out when to fuel up and how much water to drink (usually take a Gu 60 minutes into a ride but experimenting with this)
In addition to getting through the work-outs, I believe diet is my next big focus of triathlon training, and gear is probably next in line. The most I can say about theses two things right now is that I’m still trying to figure it out. I am hungry all of the time. It seems as though I eat all day long and while I am trying hard to make sure I’m eating protein, healthy fats, and lots of vegetables and fruits, I know that I could stand to brush up on nutrition and find a better balanced diet. And once I have more knowledge of all this, you can be sure I’ll post what I learn.
Triathlon gear is its own category as well. I spend a lot of time on bike rides thinking about race day gear and transitions. I have limited tri gear right now and my goal is to ask other triathletes lots of questions, read lots of information and reviews, and really think through what my best gear options will be. Then I’ll make the investment. So if you have any opinions on tri tops, tri shoes, aero bars, and fuel (Hammer, Gu, Clif, etc) do share!
Training for this 70.3 is indeed an experience. It is a personal challenge and I am soaking up as much of it as I can, learning as much as I can, training as hard as I can. Because on race day, it is all about what I did to prepare.