I’m often asked how I manage to train for triathlon, alongside everything else our family gets up to, (3 very active children, an ultra-running wife, my day job and coaching!). Even more so this year, when I decided to give Ironman another go, this time Wales!
The simple answer is – learn to love early mornings, and be creative!
Perhaps the most difficult of the three disciplines to fit in given the reliance on facilities and convenient lane times. For Ironman, the swim is actually the least important in terms of percentage of race time, but you clearly can’t give too much time away in this first discipline, and crucially you need to be swim-fit enough to exit the water after 2.4 miles feeling fresh! I opted for a 2 session a week strategy, ensuring I maintained technique focus, but also getting in some long reps in the pool, and open water practice in the summer. My job involves travelling several times a week, with some international travel. With this in mind flexibility was often required, and I got used to searching for lane swimming nearby my destination, getting up extra early, eating my breakfast from Tupperware post-swim and cleaning my teeth in car parks! I think I should start a pool review sometime. Here’s a few highlights:
Yate – effectively my home pool given its half way to my Bristol office. Super friendly, and I’ve made some good friends and training partners here. In fact at times it’s a little too social and recovery times can be extended due to chatting!
Newbury – cheapest and most laid back I’ve swum in. The lane is about twice the width of most lane sessions which is actually quite good for open water practice!
Hatfield – slight curveball to my planned session as it took me a while to realise it’s actually 33m! Nice pool though!
Basingstoke – large swimming pool complex. Again in my early morning fuzz I realised the pool was only 20m after about 10 minutes (didn’t think I was swimming that fast). And then when I’d finished the session I realised I was actually swimming in the training pool, and there was a super 25m pool next door!
Newark, Notts – Another very friendly pool, where an informal training squad invited me to join them within 10 minutes of being in the pool.
Seattle, WA, USA – 25 yards of course. Took me 10mins to get my garmin set-up properly!
Cotswold Lake 32 – the early morning slot has its challenges getting through the gate, and putting one’s wetsuit on without anyone nearby to help. I found a laying down and wriggling technique worked – but I’m not sure what someone would have thought was going on if they did see me!
This year in Ironman Wales, my swim training routine seemed to work, popping out of the surprisingly calm Tenby bay water in sub-60mins. The salt water, currents and jelly fish must have helped me!
Cycling is the most important discipline for Ironman in terms of percentage time, and it’s key to be strong enough to put in a decent time, while not taking too much out of the legs for the run. This was the aspect I was most concerned about with the step-up from Ironman – in terms of finding the time to train. With my Olympic Tri training I typically trained no more than 2-3 hours on the bike. Now I needed to get some 5-6 hour bikes in! So again creativity is required: cycling to and from work (the early morning leg is very good for fasted rides), very early morning starts (for example getting in 60 miles before the family even wake on a Sunday) and cycling to/from strange places (such as being dropped off at the Bridgend M4 services on the way back from the Gower!).
As with all my training, I’m always mindful of the objective of the session, ensuring I hit key aspects during a week/month period. There’s no room for ‘junk’/’filling’ sessions. The key sessions for me were specific long rides (hilly in preparation for Wales), and long bricks (bike-run).
For Ironman Wales this year, the training certainly paid off. Given only 10 weeks of Ironman specific training after my standard distance season, and the Welsh hills, I felt pretty strong coming into T2.
Strength & Conditioning (Physical Preparation)
Physical prep is so important to keep injuries at bay, and develop specific discipline strength. Fitting this crucial element of training into your routine is manageable with some imagination and adaptation. I used my own body weight and progressed to use of home based equipment such as medicine balls, dumb bells, elastic bands and the stairs. I have been known to cook dinner in recovery intervals between exercises, and plank while my daughter is reading to me or in the bath!
My heritage discipline, and the sadly highest injury risk. With a shortness of time, running training has to have specific objectives such as key long runs/bricks (no room for filling!). Running is so much easier to fit in around other commitments, such as children’s sport events and travel. I have even been known to train around a graveyard in St Louis, USA (it was dark when I started and didn’t realise until dawn broke)!
For Ironman Wales this year, after exiting T2 I had the daunting thought of 26.2 miles ahead of me! With the long brick sessions in training, my mind and body quickly adjusted and I hit pace through half way. But then the Tenby hills started to take their toll on my legs and I gradually slowed. In the end my finishing time of 10hrs37 was pretty much on target, but I felt the run could have been better.
So with a longer period of specific preparation I know what to focus on for the next one…..