Coaching the Coach: How I’m Training for My First Ironman in 17 Years – 80/20 Endurance

Coaching the Coach: How I’m Training for My First Ironman in 17 Years

My 2010 book RUN: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel includes a chapter titled “Winging It” in which I advocate—for experienced athletes only—the practice of training without a formal plan. I don’t go as far as to recommend that athletes completely make up their training as they go along. Rather, I suggest they establish certain parameters based on accepted best practices and their individual training history and then fill in the details as they go along, based on where their body is at the moment.

This is exactly the approach I’m taking to preparing for Ironman Santa Rosa 2019. I have an implicit understanding of the path I intend to take over the next six months, but I do not have a single session scripted in advance on my Final Surge calendar. I am fully aware that this approach is not one a majority of athletes could pursue successfully, but I’m confident in it for myself because I’ve been doing it for years, albeit mostly in running.

A number of years ago—in fact, around the same time RUN was published—I profiled professional triathlete Meredith Kessler for Triathlete. I spent a day with her in San Francisco, and over dinner she told me something I’ve never forgotten: “I can drop in an Ironman at any time of the year if I want to. I’m even-keeled the whole year. I don’t have an off-season. I don’t really even taper. It never feels up or down. When [coach] Matt [Dixon] tells me, ‘You have a 10-day block,’ I look at it and say, ‘That looks like the same thing I just did.’”

It’s not the only way to train for Ironmans, but Kessler’s always-ready method really worked for her, and I’m adopting a version of it in my current preparations. Even though my race is more than half a year away, I’ve done three 100-mile bike rides in the past six weeks. The idea is to make the Ironman distances seem ho-hum, something I can do comfortably any day I please.

The one bit of structure that is absolutely vital if you’re going to make a good go of always-ready, winging-it Ironman training is a sensible weekly workout routine, or microcycle format. The one I’m using is actually two weeks in length, and it looks like this:

MonTueWedThuFriSatSun
Run

 

Easy

Bike

 

Easy

 

+ Transition Run

Run

 

Intervals or Tempo

Bike

 

Hills, Intervals, or Tempo

 

+ Transition Run

Run

 

Easy

Bike

 

Long Ride

 

+ Transition Run

Run

 

Long Run

Swim

 

Intervals or Tempo

StrengthSwim

 

Tempo or Intervals

StrengthSwim

 

Endurance

 

MonTueWedThuFriSatSun
Bike

 

Easy

 

+ Transition Run

Run

 

Intervals or Tempo

Bike

 

Hills, Intervals, or Tempo

 

+ Transition Run

Run

 

Medium Long

Bike

 

Easy

 

+ Transition Run

Brick

 

Medium-Long Bike + Medium-Long Run

Easy Ride, Easy Run, or Rest
Swim

 

Intervals or Tempo

StrengthSwim

 

Tempo or Intervals

StrengthSwim

 

Endurance

You’ll see that a two-week microcycle is necessary for me because I wish to bike every other day and run on alternate days, such that I bike four times and run three times and bike three times and four times in alternate weeks. A two-week microcycle is also required by my preference to do a long bike ride and a long run every other weekend and a long bike-run brick in place of separate long rides and runs on alternate weekends.

Another salient feature of this schedule is that I do a transition run after every single bike ride. I see this practice as a powerful and efficient way to boost triathlon-specific running fitness. I haven’t actually begun to put this practice into effect yet because I’ve been hobbled by a groin issue that affects my running and because it’s early, but I’ll start soon.

Of course, I won’t do exactly the same workouts in every microcycle. You can’t get fitter by doing the same thing over and over and I’m currently far from the fitness level I plan to be at next May. My cycling volume is already fairly high, but my swimming and running volume are not and will have to increase significantly in the months ahead. My moderate- and high-intensity sessions in all three disciplines will also get a lot harder. It probably goes without saying that approximately 20 percent of my swim, bike, and run training will be done at these intensities!

I’ll probably peak somewhere around 9,000 yards of swimming, 200 miles of cycling (in four-ride weeks), and 50 miles of running (in four-run weeks) per week. Not super-high volume, but as a highly experienced, older, injury-prone athlete, I neither need nor can tolerate super-high volume.

So, that’s the plan.