To complete an Ironman is to reach the summit of one of the highest mountains of athletic achievement. Your training, nutrition, equipment and planning all have to come together perfectly for things to go smoothly on event day. With your main event likely scheduled months down the road from the start of your serious training, don't be afraid to compete in shorter triathlons along the way. In fact, inserting competitive events into your training cycle can actually improve your odds of success.
Top athletes incorporate periodization into their training strategies. That means they plan variations in their training to avoid getting stale or over-training. The variations involve training volume, intensity and specificity. Successful periodization encourages continuous adaptations to progressively increasing training demands. In a typical periodization program, as described by Stone and O'Bryant in their book "Weight Training: A Scientific Approach," training volume decreases while intensity and specificity increase as the date of an important competition approaches. The ultimate goal of a well-designed periodization program is for you to reach your peak performance potential by your event date. Incorporating shorter triathlon events into your training schedule can help you reach mini-peaks in your periodized training while aiming for the Ironman summit.
During your training, you will probably experiment with a multitude of variables. These will include clothing, such as which shoes, wet suit or sports bra work best, equipment variables like preferred seat height on the bicycle, nutritional variables like water vs. sports drinks or gels vs. other sources of fuel while on the go. The last thing you want is to show up at the starting line of your Ironman without having worked out these variables. The experience you gain in triathlon competitions will help you refine what works and what doesn't work for you.
The Psychological Edge
The book "Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning" devotes a chapter to sports psychology. Contributing authors Bradley Hatfield and Evan Brody emphasize that the most important psychological skills for an athlete are quality practice and successful competitive exposure. If you spend all of your time training and no time competing, you have no opportunity to experience successful competitive exposure. By incorporating competitive triathlons into your training, you have the opportunity to get your jitters out of the way by experiencing success in smaller doses leading up to your Ironman.
Putting It All Together
Insert a sprint triathlon a couple of months into your training schedule. Plan on participating in an Olympic-distance triathlon a couple of months later. Complete at least one half-Ironman a couple of months prior to your planned Ironman event. By conquering these successive peaks in your periodized training schedule, you should be physically, emotionally and mentally prepared for your big Ironman summit.
- Weight Training: A Scientific Approach; M. H. Stone and H. S. O'Bryant
- Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning; Thomas R. Baechle and Roger W. Earle, editors
- Mike Powell/Lifesize/Getty Images