When I began racing in triathlons about eight years ago, I made it a goal to finish an Ironman – the ultimate triathlon. 2.4 mile swim; 112 mile bike; 26.2 mile run. It sounded awesomely crazy. At the time, I was in law school and was studying for most of the day. Consequently, or so I thought, I couldn’t find the time to properly train for a full Ironman. In fact, the most training I could do was just enough to complete a half Ironman – not too shabby, but also not my goal. At the time, I didn’t realize the problem was in how I set up my training program, not how much time I had. The following four tips helped me on my way to becoming an Ironman:
1) Be Realistic
When I first started out in my triathlon training, I had this grand plan of training thirty hours per week, going on 100 mile bike rides every weekend, and training in each discipline (swim, bike, run) at least four times per week. With that plan in mind, I would need to double up on most days and go big on the weekends. I soon realized, however, that this type of schedule was simply unrealistic. It didn’t fit into my life schedule. I was never going to be a professional triathlete, so why would I need to train like one? This is a crucial realization for your triathlon training. Instead of trying to accomplish unrealistic goals of winning the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, figure out how many hours per week you can devote to training. Take into account your employment, family, and social lives. Then mold your triathlon training program around the amount of hours you have identified. Anything above fifteen to eighteen hours, in the heaviest weeks, is just too much for those of us who work full time. Train smarter, not harder, is the mantra.
2) Be Specific
Because you have limited time, the key is to map out your workouts, each and every week. Be specific with respect to what you want to accomplish. Start by identifying the goal of the workout (i.e. recovery, speed, tempo, endurance, etc.). Then determine the makeup of the workout (i.e. bike 45 slow miles; or run 2 mile warm-up, 4 x 800 at 10K pace, 1 mile cool-down). Finally, determine the logistics (i.e. where you are going to perform this workout). We are much more apt to make progress when we follow a detailed plan.
3) Be Consistent
Consistent triathlon training is the key to continuing down the path toward the goals you are trying to achieve. If you can’t consistently do the workouts that you have specifically scheduled, then revise your plan. Consistently get your long runs and long bikes in every week. Everyone misses a workout now and then, of course. But if you make it a habit, then you won’t reach your goals because you will always be stagnant in your physical ability or, worse, always be catching up to where you want to be. Inconsistency leads to overtraining, which leads to injury.
4) Don’t Forget What Really Matters
Your family, your job, your happiness. These are the things that really matter in the overall scheme of things. You are never going to look back one day in the future and say, “gosh, I wish I ran an extra three miles on that day ten years ago.” There is no doubt that training for an Ironman triathlon takes a lot of time away from the people and things that you love. It is a sacrifice. So take time for your family and loved ones. Remember, you aren’t competing against anyone except yourself. Instead of running that extra three miles that you don’t really need, do the best you can with the time that you have, and be happy.
These days I am an Ironman. I am also a practicing attorney and I own a law firm. I have significantly less time now than I did in law school. But I make my triathlon training work by following the four principles outlined above when I put together my training schedule. The next question is what should go into that training schedule. But that is the subject for another Ironman training article.