Triathlon Training Half Ironman

Triathlon Training Half Ironman

Half Ironman triathlon Training - Getting race ready

Variety is overrated in triathlon training. It’s certainly important, but coaches often make it out to be more important than repetition when the opposite is true. There are only a handful of workout types that you need to include in your training program. You can practice these basic types of workouts in all kinds of different ways, and doing so may make the training process more interesting for you, but there is no particular physiological advantage of complex training compared to basic training.


Keep your 70.3 training structured and simple

Keeping it simple is the best advice that the triathlonbox team can give you from their experiance of half the Half ironman or the 70.3 (relating to the distance and also branding from Ironman) Make your training as simple as you can and stick to the plan that you have made.  Yes you are allowed the odd missed few days of training, but we always factor that in to are plans.  The key to sucess is structure and planning to get to on the start line ready to race.

Jump into a half Ironman with Matt Fitzgerald's easy to follow training plan. Photo: Nils Nilsen

Finally, it’s easier to measure and monitor progress in a training plan when you are sticking to the plan. You can make apples-to-apples comparisons of your performance in difference instances of the same workout, whereas such comparisons are more difficult when you never do the same workout twice. This is important, because seeing progress inspires future progress.


Half Ironman Training plans

Of course, a training plan has to have some variation. the overall work load of your trining plan needs to grow by approximately 10% a week by volume. The key workouts must become more race-specific. The following is a super simple 16-week training plan for half-iron-distance racing. It could feature nine workouts per week—three swims, three rides, and three runs—and is appropriate for “intermediate” level athletes.


Successful performance in a long and challenging event like a half-Ironman requires many months of diligent preparation off a substantial fitness base.

Many triathletes make the serious mistake of hammering too many high-intensity workouts. These workouts are fun and provide instant gratification, but they come at a great cost to your ability to recover.  Half Ironman training recovery is a huge part of your ability to reach your next session ready to go. 


Triathlon recovery

One of the keys to getting race ready when you move from Olympic distance up to the 70.3 triathlon is the volumes.  these volumes can lead your body to push back a little so you need to take care of yourself, ensuring that you recover well.  One of the best ways to recover is sleep.  Sleep is almost one of the key components to stepping up your distance - if you rest and eat well then get some solid sleep your body will be ready to fight another day.

There are some key gadgets that the Triathlonbox team swear by to get us recovery moving along as quickly as possible.  Eat post training - plan this as you will be tired if your training is going right.  Have a good protein / carb mix snack ready for you within 20 to 30 minutes of finishing your training session.  The old RICE, Rest Ice Compression Elevation, the team here really do swear by this - we all try to have cold showers or ice baths when possible post ride or run, getting the lactic acid out of your legs and start eating your way to recovery. 

Preparing for Peak Performance

When it is time to introduce intense training to prepare for peak performance, careful guidelines must be followed. Intense anaerobic workouts can deliver excellent performance benefits when they are conducted in the right manner.

On the flip side of these outstanding benefits comes a high risk of burnout, fatigue and injury. Overdoing the hard workouts can easily result in you leaving your best race out on the training roads.

Following are my Four Rules of Intensity for anaerobic workouts. Observing these guidelines will enable you to properly absorb and benefit from your hard sessions:

Rule #1: Always build an aerobic base before introducing anaerobic workouts. The best way to determine that you have indeed built a strong base is steady improvement to your abilities  generally feeling strong and energized from your training. Slowly does it - Never increase by more than 10% a week.

Rule #2: Always be 100 percent physically energized and mentally refreshed when you conduct an anaerobic workout. Never force your body to do intense exercise when your spirit is not willing.

Rule #3: Never conduct anaerobic exercise for more than six weeks without a break. Benefits will dwindle the longer you exercise intensely without a break. This is true even if you are observing rule #4 and limiting frequency of anaerobic workouts in your schedule.

Rule #4: Limit anaerobic exercise to 10 percent of total weekly exercise time. Even during anaerobic training periods, time spent at high heart rates is only a fraction of total weekly exercise time.

After six weeks of anaerobic exercise, you should introduce a micro-rest period of at least two weeks. During this period, you should cut back on workout time and frequency by at least 50 percent to ensure that you are totally rested when you resume training. This is the time when you get to EAT, REST and PLAY.  Take the time to spend it with your family - do some thing a little different with them that means you get a break but your still moving.

During your anaerobic phase, total volume of training should drop sharply (at least 33 percent), and your basic standard fitness maintenance workout should drop too. For example, if your standard swim workout is 3,500 meters, drop down to 2,500 to 3,000 during the anaerobic phase. If your standard run is one hour, cut it back to 40 minutes.

Types of Anaerobic Workouts

What are the best kinds of anaerobic workouts? I feel that it doesn't really matter whether you do intervals, hill repeats, time trials, group rides, etc. When you establish a strong aerobic base and conduct your anaerobic workouts sensibly when you are energized and motivated, you will benefit by going fast any way you want.

In the old days before heart rate monitors, coaches and books about triathlon training, athletes did pretty well just getting out onto the roads and going fast.  You can collect a file of magazine articles or dog ear book pages to conduct inspiring and effective anaerobic workouts. One sensible idea is to conduct workouts that approximate the challenge you will face in the race.

One of my favorite half-Ironman workouts is an all-out 56-mile time trial on a course similar to the race course.  With a workout like this, you teach your body to complete the exact competitive distance at a pace superior to your race pace (because you are not saving anything for the 13.1-mile run).  I'd suggest doing this a few months out from racing as it really will give your training a boost.  "YES I did it" I managed to complete the work out and I felt great a few hours after.

With this workout under your belt you will feel comfortable and confident when you settle into your race-day pace.  I'd suggest that as you build your strength and confidence that you plan to run off the back of your 50+ mile rides only needs to be 15 minutes just so you are prepared for what is to come on race day.  It's all about physically and mentally showing yourself you CAN do this.

A half-marathon road race at full effort is another excellent example, as are brick workouts that stack a bike and run together just like on race day. Some people favour bricks of a 10:1 bike to run. For half-Ironman preparation, brick with at least the bike race distance and consider going all the way up to 100-mile bike, 10-mile run.  If this is your first race you just want to know you can do it so my confidence builder would be to do a 20 mile bike ride then straight into a half marathon, this gives you the confidence that you can do a bike to run bike and achieve the run race distance - as hopefully you have proofed to yourself that you can do the bike distance at this point.

Coming off of the base period and into fast-paced efforts can be a shock to the body. You can prepare your body for speed by throwing in some prelude sessions where you get leg/arm turnover or cadence going quickly without overstressing your system.   This is accomplished by interval work of very short duration, followed by short rest. Because the work effort is so short, your heart always has a chance to recover before lactate accumulates seriously in the bloodstream.

These sessions should not be overly stressful; they should feel more like getting the kinks out before the serious stuff in the future.  These are a great time to work on form too - is my run cadence right?  Could I improve my cycling cadence?  Am I swimming efficiently?  As you transition out of the aerobic base period, here are some good workouts to prepare you for anaerobic sessions:

Swim: a series of 25m sprints followed by 25m of slow freestyle or alternate stroke. You will become accustomed to race pace and hard interval turnover rate. For Ironman training you really need to be training in your Triathlon Wetsuit 

Bike: a series of accelerations lasting one minute to 1:30 with an equal rest period. It's nice to do these in the hills where your hard efforts can match terrain. Punch it up a short, steep hill or rolling section and coast downhill. You can vary the accelerations to sync with the terrain. The drill is to acquaint the legs with a little pain before you go into long sustained hard efforts.

Run: a set of 40/20's lasting 10 minutes. This involves a brisk 40-second effort (at ~5K race pace), followed immediately by a slow jog for 20 seconds. This develops leg turnover without stressing the heart too much due to frequent rest.

Remember that during the anaerobic period all of your other workouts are characterized as "fill in the blanks." The top priority is to be 100 percent rested and motivated for your intense workouts.

Volume should be a minimal consideration; accept that training volume should drop dramatically during the six-week anaerobic phase. You use your experience and life variables to determine what you can do while ensuring that you are rested and ready for the hard stuff.

Race-day Tips

Peaking strategy before a race: The best way to get ready for a big race is to totally rest early in the week of big race, then steadily build in the final three days before the race.   This is called Triathlon tapering and is a skill in its own right. 

For example, for an Half ironman race: Monday moderate, Tuesday hard workout (like 20K bike time trial), Wednesday easy, Thursday off, Friday moderate, Saturday moderate with 10 minutes of pickups at race pace in each event (like 10 x 50 in pool, 10-minute time trial on bike at race pace, 5 x 2 minutes at race pace running), Sunday race.  The triathlonbox team often like to slip in a race specific set into the tapering faze, can you get on to the race course and check that big hill that is worrying you?  Is there a pre race swim you can attend to pick out some good sighting points while your racing.

Nutrition: The old school approach of "carbo loading" for a big race has rightfully been discarded and updated with advice to always eat a healthy, nutritious diet. Especially in the final weeks before a big event, it is helpful to cut back or eliminate some of your vices like sweets, junk food and caffeine and make efforts to eat clean, healthy, naturally nutritious foods.

The day before the race, I counsel athletes to eat a huge breakfast, a big lunch and a very, very small dinner. It is critical to get your muscles and your liver completely fueled by race morning, but just as critical to have digestive system light and empty when the gun goes off.

The most important piece of race day nutrition that I have to give is, to know what you are going to eat on race day and practice, practice & practice again in your training.  A 70.3 race means that you should be able to carry everything you need which means get used to the gels you're going to race with in training.  Use them at similar interval in your training as you plan to do on race day.  Try out different product, as there is a huge array and some will not agree with you I guarantee it.  This can take months to find products that work so start early.

Take away point... practice, practice & practice your race day nutrition in training.

Here are some quick tips to help you improve your diet in the build up to racing

Decease the amount of junk food - it's a starter for ten.  Your pushing your body to the limit of speed and endurance like you have never done before eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and ensure that you are eating a good source of protein in your diet.

Eat consitantly throughout the day - this is one of my favourite tips as it means EATING ALL THE TIME.  plan what your going to eat, are you going to a meeting?  have some snacks prepared the night before to take - carrot stick, a piece of fruit some nuts.  Just nibble your way to recovery.

Eat smarter - There are 100's of nutrition articles for triathlon training, just be sensible.  Some items that you might consider doing removing refined carbs: replace with whole grain products if possible.  Brown rice, brown pasta - I personally have been swapped for so long I enjoy the brown varieties more now as they have some taste and texture to them.  Remove as fat as possible hydrogenated fat: TOTAL elimination (deep fried, frozen, boxed junk food).  I've trained on a poor diet in the early years as a triathlete.  Few beers on a Saturday night have playing rugby and then pie and peas, to then go training the next day... It's like having lead boots.  Cut these out I guarantee you will notice your performance and your recovery improving. 

Be sensible - you wouldn't put cheap fuel in your prized car engine - this is what your doing fuelling your ambissions to be an Ironman.

On race day, the most important thing of all is to have fun and remain in a positive frame of mind at all times. Extreme endurance events like a half-Ironman are a physical and mental challenge.  If you catch yourself harvesting negative thoughts, look around and enjoy the scenery—an instant cure. Remind yourself how lucky you are to be healthy and able to swim, pedal a bicycle and run.

Negative thoughts and verbalizations will make your tired and stressed and compromise your performance. Take the opportunity to reframe every negative thought or statement into a positive one. This is a great lesson for not only triathlon but all of life!