Leading up to and during Ironman Arizona (IMAZ) 2015, I kept telling myself to trust the training. IMAZ was my first full-distance triathlon and going that distance was a complete unknown to me. I didn’t know what to expect so I just had to trust that I had trained properly. I successfully finished IMAZ without any major struggles as I reported in my last post. The training plan was one of the keys to my success.
Since I started participating in multi-sport events a few years ago, I have mainly used free online training plans as guides when preparing for races. Going 140.6 would require a whole new level of training and I knew I would need a structured approach from a reputable source. I have usually been a “do it yourself” trainer so I chose not to look for a local coach. Instead I researched training plans that are available for purchase online. After looking at several sites, I settled on using one of the plans available from TrainingPeaks.
The TrainingPeaks website offers a large library of training plans including running, cycling, and triathlon. In addition, the website offers a free app (they do have a premium pay version as well) that provides a host of options for tracking your training. My first challenge was choosing the plan that would fit my needs. Each plan listing has a general description and you can also view sample workouts. The plans range in price depending on length of training, author, type of race, etc. I chose a 24 week plan called “Ironman First Time 10-15 hrs/wk” for $149.95. This planned seemed to fit my needs best, and the price would be a small investment if it helped me achieve my 140.6 goal.
The TrainingPeaks System
After establishing my TrainingPeaks (TP) account and purchasing my training plan, I was ready to set up the plan on the supplied calendar. By entering my race date, all workouts were automatically loaded onto the calendar. At that point my workouts were planned from 24 weeks out from my race day. This feature took all of the guesswork out of my weekly workout planning. I simply had to take a quick look at the calendar and follow the very descriptive workouts. All I had to focus on was planning my daily schedule to accommodate the workout.
There were several other features that I really liked about the TP system. Each day I received an email reminder that detailed the workout for that day and the following day. There is also a mobile app that made it very easy to look at my plan on my IPhone before or even during a workout. One very useful feature for me was the ability to sync my Garmin watch data (using the Garmin Connect app) so that my workout results would automatically populate in my TrainingPeaks system. This allows easy comparison of planned workouts versus actual workouts, as well as analysis of workout data. The system uses color coding (green, yellow, red) that allows for a quick glance at the TP calendar to determine how closely you followed your weekly plan. I found the whole system very easy to set up and use.
At one point during my training I had a question, which I emailed to TP. I was happy to get a very quick response that provided a detailed answer to my question. I very much appreciated the support behind the product.
The Training Plan
After downloading the plan and glancing through the workouts, I will say that I was a little skeptical. I was concerned that there was not enough volume to get me where I needed to be. But I figured that these people knew more about training for 140.6 than I did, so I would just follow the plan and trust the training. The bike and run workout durations were all defined in time and not distance, which was a divergence from all of my previous training. I have previously always trained by distance. I liked that workout efforts were defined by heart rate zones. I have been using a heart rate monitor for some time and I am a big believer in training by heart rate.
The first phase of the plan was all about strength and base building. The prescription was 11 activities per week over the seven days and included 3 swim, 3 bike, 3 run, and 2 weight training sessions. The weekly volume started pretty low and workouts were low intensity (i.e. all zone 1 and 2). In the past I knew I should be doing weight training but I never did. I had some soreness after the first few weight training sessions. The TP plan was very helpful by defining the specific exercises that are most beneficial to triathletes. This was much better than me walking aimlessly around the weight room guessing at which equipment I should be using.
Another aspect of the training plan that worked very well for me was that the weekly workouts were designed to have much of the volume (i.e. time) over the weekend. The weekday runs and rides were typically not more than an hour per workout. I did a lot of my weekday rides on an indoor trainer, which allowed me to do them in the evenings. This was well suited for my work schedule (which includes a fair amount of weekday travel).
I also liked that the types of workouts were very different than how I had previously trained. For example, several of the early bike workouts included one-legged pedaling drills, which I had never done before. The first time I tried it, I immediately identified a weakness in my pedaling form. Swimming sessions occasionally included things like skulling and one-arm stroke drills. Strides and “skips” were sometimes mixed into the run workouts. I’m sure many of these techniques are quite familiar to more seasoned athletes, but for me several of them were new and different. However, I believe they were extremely effective in building strength and improving technique.
The plan was structured where a recovery week was built in every third week. The interesting thing about the recovery weeks is that the volume was decreased but there were typically some higher intensity workouts included. For example, the early part of the week included some low intensity shorter run, bike, and swim sessions, but the latter part of the week would include a short bike time trial, an intense tempo run, and fairly difficult swim session that included a time trial.
As I worked through the middle part of the plan, the time and mileage did increase so that I was doing 3+km swims, 80+ mile rides, and 15+ mile runs over the weekends. Weekend bike rides would often include short brick runs after the ride. I began to gain some confidence in my ability to do the distances, but I still had some doubts about how I would put it all together on a single day. I just kept telling myself “trust the training.”
And it began working. I had decided to do a couple of warm-up events during the 24-week training period. I did an Olympic distance triathlon about 3 months before my full distance race. When I got to the run (6.2 miles), I thought to myself: “you have already done this in your training runs.” In fact, I had done some tempo runs at about that distance, so I just looked at the race as if it were that same workout, and I breezed right through it with a respectable time (for me).
The first couple of bike rides in the 70-80 mile range were a little rough. But as I later realized, I was still making adjustments to my nutrition and hydration, and that was likely the cause of my struggles. It was not my physical fitness level. Once I got hydration/nutrition figured out, I had some successful 90+ mile rides, which boosted my confidence level. The training plan seemed to be working.
The last part of the training plan was the taper phase. This mainly consisted of cutting down the weekend workouts to shorter time/distances. One concern I had was that I had done my longest run (~18 miles) a few weeks earlier and that I might not be prepared for the 26.2 mile marathon on race day. However, I had the most experience with running, having done previous marathons. I knew I had felt strong on my most recent training runs so I should be alright.
Toward the end of the taper, there was nothing more I could do. On one hand, I thought to myself: “If I just had a couple more months, I would be more prepared.” But on the other hand, I had trained steadily for 6 months, and I just wanted to get to race day. I was either going to make it or I was not. I would have confidence and trust the training.