First weeks of an IM campaign

My point in posting this particular eight weeks of training is not to recommend it as an off-the-shelf program; rather to express here the concept of "campaign." It's been my observation that too many athlete register for an Ironman and blithely train up to it, recognizing the need to perform longer workouts, but without much forethought given to the construction of a schedule containing all necessary elements.

What are those elements? Work; short term rest; and medium term viability. This particular schedule attempted to accomplish the following:

1. enable the athlete to complete a set of "indicator" workouts just prior to the taper that both confirmed fitness and added fitness;

2. prepare the athlete for these workouts through stepping up distance and duration, always giving ample rest to absorb the work, never exposing the athlete to work beyond that which he/she was prepared;

3. keeping the campaign short enough to guard against staleness.

The construction of the program contained herein had to take into consideration an intermediate race, a 70.3 that occurred 9 weeks prior to the Ironman. Mandatory, in my mind, was an easy week after the 70.3, prior to the commencement of the campaign; a 3-week taper; and a rest period sandwiched in during the remaining 5 weeks of build. Yes, that's on the short side of an Ironman build-up, but for this athlete, it was enough. A long and hilly 120-mile ride was accomplished by this athlete at the commencement of the taper, and subsequent long runs were accomplished, without any undo effects. So, "mission accomplished" as far as the workouts themselves.

Had the athlete not engaged in the 70.3 event, this might've easily been a 12-week campaign, with three moderate weeks followed by a rest week, leading into the remaining 8 weeks you see here.

That said, you'll note that week-1 of this campaign included "long" rides of 50 miles and 65 miles (on very hilly terrain). This athlete found these rides moderately hard. This is the same athlete that rode 120 miles, with 12,000 feet of climbing, just prior to the taper, at about the same average speed as the 65-mile ride in week-1. So, a lot of adaptation occurred.

Had this identical week-1 been week-1 of a 12-week program—assuming the athlete had good general multisport fitness—then more long rides and long runs would've been accomplished prior to the Ironman. But, could this athlete have handled a campaign of that duration? Had the goal of "medium-term viability" been maintained? Would the athlete have gotten stale prior to the Ironman? Maybe.

In general, progressing from an 8-week campaign to a 12-week campaign is the sort of thing that might occur from one year to the next (not from one Ironman to the next, if both are raced during the same season, rather from one year to the next). I spoke to Tim DeBoom after his first Ironman Kona win, and he told me it took him 5 years to build up to the Ironman training that finally got him his victory. The 8-week campaign here, for this athlete, might give way to a 12-week campaign the subsequent year.

But I don't like campaigns longer than 12 weeks, and that's because a proper Ironman campaign is not constructed of rides and runs that can be engaged in month in and month out. Golden era top German pro Wolfgang Dittrich was known to ride 600 miles in a week during which he also ran 80 miles, and of course—Wolfgang being Wolfgang—you must know there were a lot of swim going on during that same week. How many of these weeks could Wolfgang have completed during a run-up to an Ironman? Very few, without a cascading in health and vigor.

This is a campaign leading up to the season's first Ironman. Many or most pro triathletes race more than one Ironman a year. The second campaign in a season is quite different, and, typically, shorter than the first.

The comments above refer to weeks 1 and 2 of this campaign, but weeks 3 thru 8 are included below as well, to give the reader one place to view all 8 weeks of the campaign.

- 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 1
Point on the calendar: 55 days out to 49 days out
Theme: Back-to-back rides
Message: There are 8 full weeks until the race, and during that time you'll endure three sets of big rides. The first set simply gets you ready for the second set, which in turn gets you ready for the third set, which will take place 3 weeks out from the race. The goal this week is to produce two quality rides that take you a step up in your riding fitness.

Workouts =>
Monday: Swim + 4mi run
Tuesday: Swim + 12-20mi bike
Wednesday: Swim + 4mi run
Thursday: 65-70 miles on the bike, slow, fun, easy, well-sagged.
Friday: 50mi on the bike
Saturday: Swim only
Sunday: 7-10mi run


Week 2
Point on the calendar: 48 days out to 42 days out
Theme: Back-to-back runs
Message: As is the case with the back-to-back rides, you'll need run-focus weeks that get you ready to run 26 miles. You'll have three such run-focus weeks. This first week simply hardens your legs and gets you ready for a yet longer set of runs.

Workouts =>
Monday: Easy swim, or day off, athlete's choice.
Tuesday: Swim + 12-20mi ride
Wednesday: 12mi run
Thursday: 8-10mi run
Friday: Swim only
Saturday: Swim + 4mi run
Sunday: 50mi ride


Week 3
Point on the calendar: 41 days out to 35 days out
Theme: Make room for rest
Message: Your body does not make increases incrementally, rather like a set of stairs. You'll stay in a place, then make an increase all at once. Then, a plateau until your next increase. Rest helps pave the way for those increases, and one week out of four, roughly, ought to make a place for rest.

Workouts =>
Monday: Easy swim, or day off, athlete's choice.
Tuesday: Swim + 5-7mi run
Wednesday: 65-70 miles on the bike, slow, fun, easy, well-sagged
Thursday: Swim only or day off (athlete's choice)
Friday: Swim + 4mi run
Saturday: Swim only or day off (athlete's choice)
Sunday: 7mi run


Week 4
Point on the calendar: 34 days out to 26 days out
Theme: Back-to-back rides
Message: The two important workouts are the rides. You can miss anything else, and you can switch the days of the rides, but somewhere during the week these two rides are important, and it's best to do them back to back, or with no more than 1 day in between.

Workouts =>
Monday:Easy swim, or day off, athlete's choice.
Tuesday: Swim + 6mi run
Wednesday: 80-90mi ride
Thursday: 50-80mi ride
Friday: Swim only
Saturday: Swim optional +10mi run
Sunday: 55mi ride


Week 5
Point on the calendar: 27 days out to 21 days out
Theme: Big runs
Message: You can skip workouts, but the runs, these are the workouts you ought not to miss.

Workouts =>
Monday:Easy swim, or day off, athlete's choice.
Tuesday: 15-18mi run
Wednesday: swim + 8-12mi run
Thursday: Swim + 12-20mi bike
Friday: Swim only
Saturday: 55mi ride
Sunday: 40mi ride


Week 6
Point on the calendar: 20 days out to 15 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. 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, or “Big Loop” (rider's choice)
Wednesday: Swim only
Thursday: Swim + 10-15mi ride
Friday: Swim only
Saturday: Swim + 4mi run easy
Sunday: 15mi run


Week 7
Point on the calendar: 13 days out to 7 days out
Theme: Two 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, they'll be back-to-back, but not too arduous. And, not in overly hot weather.

Workouts =>
Monday: Easy swim, or day off, athlete's choice.
Tuesday: Swim + 12-13mi run, easy to moderate pace
Wednesday: 20-25mi ride, easy to moderate pace
Thursday: Swim only
Friday: Swim + 12-13mi run, easy to moderate pace
Saturday: Swim + 5mi run, easy
Sunday: 40mi 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: Hugs, kisses, tears, travel, no workout
Thursday: Travel, 4mi run
Friday: Travel, equipment check, 4mi run
Saturday: Check-in, equipment check, a ride of no more than 5mi, just to make sure everything works.
Sunday: Race!