So You Want to Train for a Full 140.6 Ironman

In April of 2015 it was time to begin serious training for the Ironman Vineman that was to take place on July 25th of that same year. I had done two triathlons leading up to this event, one Olympic distance in 2013 and one Half-Iron in 2014 but nothing could prepare me for the massive amount of training that would take place over the next sixteen weeks.

For the first two triathlons I created my own training plan based off of a little research and some assumptions on how far I would need to be able to go in each sport to survive the race distance. I had also incorporated weight training and insanity workouts into the mix just for good measure. For the Olympic race, this worked out well but it became readily apparent that I was not up to par for the half-iron distance. That race was the hardest thing I had ever done and I honestly thought I wouldn’t finish. When you are on the side of the road trying to fix a flat tire with hands shaking from the onset of heat exhaustion, you come to the realization that you do not know what you are doing and need some expert help.

For the Ironman I knew I should find a training plan that could help me finish and hit my goal time of approximately fourteen hours. Luckily the Vineman had a training plan designed specifically for the race by someone who had completed the race for many years. Upon opening up the first four weeks of training, I realized immediately how bad my self-designed plans really were. Here is a sampling of the revelations in training I discovered from this plan:

  1. Train by heart rate with a heart rate monitor. This was a game changer
  2. Swim way less and with a purpose. I was swimming a ridiculous amount.
  3. Shorter distances with intervals during the week then long and slow on weekends.
  4. Short runs after most weekend bikes just to get used to transition.
  5. Full on triathlons at the end of each four-week block. This was intense but worth it.
  6. Don’t lift weights after week two. This made me so happy.
  7. Proper nutrition and supplements are super helpful. Enter Hammer Nutrition

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 10.40.17 AM

As a final note before I get into what it was like to train for this race it is important to say that proper gear is a must. I got a carbon fiber Cannondale, new racing gear, new shoes, a Garmin, and so much more. It was really costly (Though probably a tenth of what others spend) but all worth it to make the transition to Ironman.

IMG_2461

Ok, here we go!

Training for an Ironman, no matter how you cut it, is totally ridiculous. If I was single and worked a 9-5 maybe, but I was married, with one child, another on the way (Born now, hi Brianna!), in a job with long hours, and starting a PhD program. Not the best grouping of responsibilities to which to add fifteen or so hours of training. Luckily, it was quickly approaching summer, which meant slightly less intensity at work and warmth in the early morning hours.

The first four weeks were really the ramping up process so it was not too intense, only 4-5 hours of training on each Saturday and 1.5 on each Sunday, no biggie. Average of 13 hours of training each week. Even the 1.5 mile swim, 2.5 hour ride, and 1 hour run was manageable. Then I received the second block of the training plan. I had wondered in the beginning why the coach sent out the training plan staggered in blocks of four. Now I realize that it was a way to stop me from panicking and quitting had I seen the whole plan up front.

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 9.55.15 PM

During the second four-week block of training things started to get a bit interesting. This was the time when I started to read for my first full week of PhD class and when the doctor told Virginia that she could no longer pick up our daughter. This meant that I had to be home as much as possible and had to substitute training during naptime for reading for class. All in all this materialized as waking up earlier, like 3:30am earlier for training. Weekends also started to get tough. Over five hours of training on Saturdays followed by two hours of training on Sundays start to take a toll on family life. It was not uncommon for me to need to shift things around in order to get Sammy to gym class or to meet a job commitment.

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 9.53.47 PM

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 10.36.24 AM

The worst was the five-hour full triathlon on the last day of the training block. Since I had to swim at the gym and then drive home to bike (Lest my bike get stolen) things were complicated by the fact that the gym opened at 6am on weekends. Why does it open that late on weekends? Good question. Couple that with closing at 8pm and weekend training is really hindered. This issue resulted in me biking an hour, swimming, biking, and then running. This really sucked but it was the best I could do. It was also around this time that I started burning through books on tape at a nice and expensive clip. Block two, fourteen hours of training each week.

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 10.35.56 AM

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 10.35.16 AM

Week nine of training began what we call the “Triathlon Widow and Orphan” phase of the Ironman experience. Average training time per week increased to sixteen hours and there were only so many hours before Sammy awoke and when I had to go to work each day. This also began the very apparent sense of solitude. I also had to randomly travel to a Risk Summit in Oakland so, my gear came with me. Walking through a hotel lobby with a bike over your arm surrounded by suited up professionals is interesting.

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 10.34.51 AM

Once you pass over 4.5 hours of riding each Saturday you have to become very comfortable with yourself, especially when you are training for an Ironman all alone. The most ridiculous part of this stage of training was that I began to need to stop at home to replenish water bottles on every Saturday ride. You can only have so much water on the bike and 5 hours was my limit. There is also an alpaca farm at around mile 35, we have become friends.

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 10.34.34 AM

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 10.34.08 AM

Week ten I hit 88 miles on the bike, which was a very interesting distance. This meant that I needed to start a second loop since my longest loop was 68 miles. It also meant that even though I would begin my rides at 4am I would inevitably run into the other cyclists in town as some point. There is something very satisfying about the look on their faces when they ask you what mile you are on and you reply with “Eighty” at around 9am. I was also reading a ton and basically had given up on balancing everything. My only recourse was taking Sammy along on some of my runs; the Bob Ironman stroller was a godsend.

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 10.32.48 AM

The final practice triathlon in week twelve was the most intense of them all; in fact, it was a true Half-Ironman. This week was also the tail end of June and super hot. In order to make sure I was prepared for what was coming in four weeks, I did the workout in order, which meant I started at 6am and finished around 2pm. By 2pm it was 97 degrees out, which was both good and bad. Bad because I almost passed out from heat exhaustion, good because the predicted high for the race was 82 degrees. Let’s just say I had almost reached my breaking point.

2015-06-28 15.46.41

Week thirteen was the peak and by far the most intense week. Topping off at seventeen hours of training, the only blessing was knowing that the taper would begin the following Monday. This was also the week I would leave for Colorado for my first class yet somehow I still had to get all my training in before leaving (OK, that didn’t work out so well). That weekend was when I realized how nonsensical training for an Ironman really is. I had to ride six hours and run thirty minutes on Saturday, but it was going to be super hot. My solution, just get up at 2:45am. 2:45!!! How stupid is that?

IMG_2460

Anyway, I did it and then had to follow up with a 2:30am wake up the next day to go for 2 hours of the total 2:45 run. This is because I then had to catch a flight at 8am down in Fresno. And of course I picked up the last 45min that evening in Fort Collins in the pouring rain. Cause, why not?

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 10.27.05 AM

Thankfully things began to calm down and that next week in Colorado I was able to get some elevation training in which would give me a big boost on race day but since I had no bike, I had to ride in doors. That is no fun, no fun at all. I’m pretty sure my cohort thought I was very strange since I would go swim most days at lunch and then workout 1-2 more times each day. But that’s ok; they know I am strange now.

The final two weeks of Ironman training are kind of odd. They are a mixture of rest, reconnecting with that family who forgot me, planning for the race itself (That is a whole other post entirely), being confused as to why I’m not running seven hours, and reading articles that tell me I am going to die during the race. Really, I searched a lot of articles and had numerous panic attacks in the final weeks. Luckily, I also had a paper due for school so that distracted me…I guess.

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 10.26.32 AM

Before you know it, race day is upon you and you forget what you went through leading up to it but I still say that the training is what gets you, not the race itself. 240 hours, which is 10 days of my life, went to preparing for my first Ironman and I don’t regret it for a moment.

2015-07-24 12.18.42.jpg

 

Wildflower Long Course 2014: Triathlon Training Plan

Well here we go again. It’s time for training to start up again! This time it is for the Wildflower Long Course (An unbranded Half-Ironman), distances of a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike, and a 13.1 mile run. After Training for two Olympic distance triathlons and competing in one, I have revised this plan based on a few things I learned over the past year:

  1. I need to spread things out a bit instead so I do not get too exhausted. I also need to vary up some of the training so it doesn’t get stale. This time around I will be doing a 4/1 week cycle so I can build longer but more slowly between recovery weeks.
  2. I did not run enough. Aside from everything, the run being the final leg means that I need to put in more miles in my Brooks.
  3. I was not fast enough in the bike and the run. I was in the middle of the pack in my swim but bottom in the other two. While I can run more, biking much more is unlikely so I need to incorporate other things into training to strengthen my legs.
  4. I need to be stronger all around. This time, I plan to build in Insanity and P90X workouts into training to help with that issue. I am also spreading out my weight workouts over two weeks and five sessions. This way I can isolate body parts more over the course of the 20 weeks.
  5. I need to get much, MUCH better in the transitions. I was literally last in the bike to run transition and close to it from swim to bike. Mainly because I didn’t know what I was doing. It was also hard to transition my legs to the new activity in the bike to the run. To fix this I have built in brick workouts (Bike to Run) at the end of every 4 week cycle. This increases each time to almost 80% of the actual distance 2 weeks before the race.
  6. I definitely need to be lighter. Every pound lost is one I do not have to carry with me. I managed to gain back 15 of the 20 pounds from the last race so my work is cut out for me but my goal is to be under 170 by May 1st. That will be close to a pound a week and 5 pounds less than the Olympic but I know I can do it. The big thing will be figuring out how to keep the weight off this time around.

While this seems daunting, I am in a much better place than December 2012 when I started training for the first Wildflower. You can see the difference in the weeks in the following picture, a much better baseline from which to start.

Tri 12-13_Page_1With I year of training under my belt, I am positive that this plan will work well for me. Though I do need to remain flexible because an 8-12 month old will throw a wrench in the plan pretty regularly. Even when she sleeps well I mess myself up by leaving the car in the garage instead of the driveway. It will be little things like that plus some travel and a unpredictable work schedule that will make things interesting but one way or another a half-ironman will be run. The really fun part is that the race is on Samantha’s birthday and those of you who read this blog know that Sam was born 2 days before the race last year (You can read that post here). This means that regardless of USAT rules and regulations, Sam will be accompanying me across the finish line. They can disqualify me if they want.

Below is the plan. Set up in 4/1 cycles with two, 2 week intervals, followed by 2 weeks of peak and weeks of taper. In the mix are a Spartan Sprint, a Spartan Super, and the D.C Half Marathon. NASPA week will be a mess and this year it is not a recovery week so we will play that one by ear, good thing it starts with Half Marathon. I’ve also spread out all the different activities across the 2 week intervals but build faster with each week. Overall, the increases from last year to this year are: Swim 20% more, Bike 14% more, and Run 70% more. The big change is the increase and isolation in strength training plus a bunch of other workouts. These include weekly Insanity workouts plus P90X and abdominal workouts every other week. I’ve also added a spin class each Friday to help with speedwork though I have to increase the intensity far beyond what the instructor does. The age and fitness levels are kind of out of sync.

Well, that’s the story, we will see how it all pans out over the next few weeks. Take a look below at the plan and let me know what you think.

Wildflower 2014 Training Plan_Page_1 Wildflower 2014 Training Plan_Page_2 Wildflower 2014 Training Plan_Page_3 Wildflower 2014 Training Plan_Page_4 Wildflower 2014 Training Plan_Page_5

 

One Year On My Little Fuji

newest-10-usa2-main-photo-largeOne year ago today I rode my Fuji Newest 1.o for the first time. I had not ridden a bike since middle school and never a road bike. It was a different feeling to be on a road bike, lighter and more connected to the ride. When I first started riding on my Fuji, the 3.5 mile ride to work was difficult but over time my skill and endurance has increased. I’ve added better wheels and adjusted the fit to my size. I started training more seriously and have significantly increased my capacity to ride. While training for my first triathlon I maxed out at 160 miles in one week. My longest ride to date is 50 miles and my top speed is 35.50 mph. A huge difference from the first time on the bike. I have also had over a dozen flat tires (Most before I upgraded to GatorSkin tires) and two pretty stupid crashes, one leading to a new wheel entirely. Below is the recap of my first year, 261 rides, over 2000 miles and 100,000 calories down, many more to go. While I am saving for a real triathlon bike, my $800 Fuji will always be the bike that got me started as a cyclist. Here’s to hitting 3000 miles in 2013!

photo

Pacific Grove Triathlon Training Plan: July 2013

133_1Well this training plan is getting a bit beat up. With a newborn who doesn’t sleep more than four or five hours and trying to get multiple workouts in each morning I have been getting a bit run down. I’ve skipped a handful of workouts and adjusted more and my knee has been hurting. Additionally, I’ve begun practicing drills more when swimming. I picked up a set of Total Immersion swimming books and DVDs and have been trying to learn some swim technique. While I have not been swimming the laps on the plan, I have been spending an hour each swim day just drilling and it seems to be making a huge difference. When I do practice actual laps I am more balanced, swim smoother, and move further on each stroke. It feels a lot better, maybe I should try and learn some technique in running and cycling. I also recently did an Insanity workout and it kicked my butt so I’m thinking about how to work that and maybe some P90X back into training.

Anyway, in the official training plan I switch Tuesdays and Thursdays to try and space out my medium and long runs a bit. We will see how that goes. The whole month of July will probably be swimming drills so I won’t log those meters but the practice should pay off dividends. 2 months until the triathlon!

Tri Cal - July 2013
Click the link for a larger image

jj

Pacific Grove Triathlon Training Plan: June 2013

133_1

Well here we go again! I’ve written a training plan for my next attempt at a Olympic distance triathlon. This will be my make-up triathlon after the Wildflower, the Triathlon at Pacific Grove. While 2 weeks of the plan have already passed and the next 14 are laid out, this is a plan with an asterisk. That asterisk being a 5 week old Samantha who is not overly fond of sleep. I’ve tried to start mid week 11 of the last plan but I have yet to hit the weight room and I’ve skipped or shortened a lot of training sessions. I’ve also been eating poorly and late at night when Sam is up so I have put on some weight. Things have got to shift a bit so I can get going on this plan. It doesn’t help that it is over 70 degrees by 6am most days now so I have to get out ridiculously early if things are going to work.

I’m going to count the last 2 weeks as throwaway weeks but we shall see how this all works out. This plan is split between speed work and distances, let me know what you think.

Click on the picture for a larger version.
Click on the picture for a larger version.