An Ironman campaign

Here is an Ironman plan was built for aparticular athlete, Unless you are at the place this athlete was, with a similar skillset and fitness, and similar access to facilities, of course this program will not work well for you.

So, why are we presenting it? To give you an idea of what a program might look like, complete with the themes that attend each stage of a program.

This is a program to get an athlete ready for an Ironman. But to call it a program is imprecise. It's a campaign. It's a siege.

If you're General George Washington, and you're facing Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown—the ultimate battle of the American War of Revolution—you approach this problem not as a hasty battle, rather as a planned campaign. You place Cornwallis' troops, billeted in the city of Yorktown, under siege.

The siege of Yorktown lasted about 3 weeks. General Washington could and would have predicted it would take almost exactly this long. But Washington didn't engage with green troops, nor without siege tools, artillery, miners, bridge builders.

In a siege you build and establish parallels, and each parallel earned grants you closer access to your target.

Likewise, an Ironman campaign—like the one printed here—grants you access to your eventual goal through meeting intermediate goals, one step at a time. This siege will take 8 weeks. Why? Because for this athlete, 8 weeks was the right amount of time. An Ironman campaign might take as much as 12 weeks but, in my view, no longer.

Rather than rushing the walls of your Ironman headlong, the wiser combatant asks himself where his "parallel" needs to be in order to place his mortars within range of the city's defenses. In plainer terms, where do you want to be three weeks out, when your taper commences? What sorts of workouts would you like to be doing, to demonstrate your fitness, and put the finishing touches on a well-contested campaign?

I call these workouts "indicator" workouts and every top Ironman athlete I know has these. I remember calling Kenny Glah three weeks before Kona one year, and he'd just gotten in from a 130-mile ride followed by a 17-mile run. Now, to be sure, this is on the far end of the spectrum. This is a mega indicator workout and I can't imagine scheduling this workout for anyone. But that was Kenny's, and when you complete a workout like that, you know 90 miles into an Ironman bike ride that you've been in a far worse (or at least equivalent) place in training.

You'll want to be ready for an "indicator workout" three weeks out from a race. In the case of one top Ironman pro athlete I knew, a 13-mile run to the pool, a light masters workout, and a 13-mile run home, was the indicator workout. But for most of us mortals, it might just be a 90- or 100-mile bike ride, or a 17- or 20-mile run. Or each of these two workouts, done within the span of a few days. These workouts prove you're ready to race, and give you the confidence you'll need when you go through a bad patch during the race. And, they represent the finale of your training, to put you over the top, the cherry on the sundae, right before your taper.

In this program displayed here, what you see is a 120-mile ride. What?! You can't imagine a ride of that distance?! I don't blame you. Neither could the person this program was built for, at least not 8 weeks out. But this athlete didn't start with a 120-mile ride, rather with a 50-mile ride. That 50-miler was the "long ride" 8 weeks out, when this "siege" commenced.

But before that 8 weeks—in fact about 11 weeks before the Ironman—this athlete competed in a half-Ironman. You can't just commence an Ironman siege 8 weeks before the Ironman you want to do. A program like the one I'm outlining assumes a relatively high level of general multisport fitness. Unless you can fairly well enter and compete in a half-Ironman off general fitness, you're really not fit enough to commence an Ironman campaign.

With that as a preface, below are the final three weeks of the 8-week campaign. Note that each week contains a "theme" and a "message." These are the most important elements of the campaign. In practice this means any particular workout is subjugated to the theme. So, if the theme is rest, that's the single element to which to pay most attention, and if a scheduled workout is getting in the way of rest, then the workout is jettisoned in favor of honoring the theme. Below is the schedule displayed, word for word, as it was given to the athlete following the program.

But first, a word on the taper. I ascribe to a 3-week taper. This, because bodies tend to go to sleep when given rest after significant work. Grand tour riders fret over how their bodies will react to rest days. Rest after arduous work tells the body it's okay to descend from its point of vigilance and readiness, and to take that time to recover and absorb the work. For a lot of athletes, two weeks is not enough time to come out the other side of that absorption period. That 120-mile bike ride is therefore scheduled just short of 3 weeks out from the race.

That established, a taper doesn't mean zero work (though it probably means close to zero high heart rate work). A moderately long, slow, run is not that much stress on a finely trained body used to long runs. The trick is to keep the pounding down, and the heart rate down. This athlete completed these long runs in forested, soft, off-road settings. Runs are easier to recover from than 7- or 8-hour bike rides. So, the long bike rides are placed further out in front of the race, the longer runs closer to the race.

One note about swimming. There is no swimming on this plan once the athlete arrives at the race site. This, because I don't want my athlete catching an infection (intestinal, inner ear) from an unreliable water source. Open water swimming immediately pre-race in water of unknown quality is high-risk, low-reward.

In a further installment I'll display the several weeks in front these final three weeks.

- Rules: mi = miles, not minutes, because the race takes place in miles, not minutes.
- Swim, I don't care how far you swim in a workout. That's up to you.
- You may skip workouts as you need, but if you skip, you can't double up later. You just take a day off where a workout used to be.
- You can swap workouts within a week, that is, you can switch a Tuesday with a Thursday.
- You ought to do the back-to-backs as such, however, so, move a Tue/Wed to a Fri/Sat if you'd like. If you're really trashed after day-1, you may place a day in between the two big ride days.
- What's most important during the week is the theme of the week. Sometimes it's riding, sometimes running, sometimes rest. Whatever the theme is, including rest, that's your focus for that week.
- You'll note everything is chronological starting from this week's workouts, ending with the race at the very bottom of the document.
- Everything below is subject to change, and no doubt will change. What's below is a guide. It's a map toward a successful Ironman, but there will be a detour from time to time.


Week 6
Point on the calendar: 20 days out to 14 days out
Theme: Indicator bike ride, then rest and absorption
Message: Many athletes complain that they're worn out, bored with workouts, and unmotivated just before their Ironman. That happens when there is not enough time allotted for rest, or when the campaign is too long. After doing a very long, arduous ride, time must be given to rest and absorb the work.

Workouts =>
Monday: Easy swim, or day off, athlete's choice.
Tuesday: 120mi ride
Wednesday: Swim only
Thursday: Swim + 10-15mi ride
Friday: Easy swim, or day off, athlete's choice.
Saturday: Swim + 4mi run easy
Sunday: 15mi run


Week 7
Point on the calendar: 13 days out to 7 days out
Theme: Two medium-long runs
Message: It takes time to recover from long bike rides, but less time to recover from long runs, as long as they aren't too long. So, we'll do our final long runs now, but not too arduous. And, not in hot weather. Shoot for 4 swims during the week.

Workouts =>
Monday: Easy swim, or day off, athlete's choice.
Tuesday: Optional easy swim + 10-13mi run, easy pace
Wednesday: 20-25mi ride, easy to moderate pace
Thursday: Easy swim, or day off, athlete's choice.
Friday: Optional easy swim + 8-10mi run, easy pace
Saturday: Easy swim
Sunday: 20-25mi ride, easy to moderate pace


Week 8
Point on the calendar: 6 days out to 1 day out
Theme: Travel, organization and rest
Message: There is no fitness to be gained, there is only sharpness to be lost. Keep workouts short, sleep is a priority, keep stress at a minimum, organize well and early, guard against last minute problems.

Workouts =>
Monday: Swim + 5mi run easy
Tuesday: Swim + 20mi bike easy
Wednesday: 4mi run
Thursday: Hugs, kisses, tears, travel, no workout
Friday: Equipment check, 4mi run
Saturday: Check-in, equipment check, a ride of no more than 5mi, just to make sure everything works.
Sunday: Race!