Sonia Training For An Ironman Triathlon

Triathlon team member Sonia crosses the finish line with a personal best Ironman marathon run.

Congratulations you’ve taken the plunge and entered an Ironman triathlon.

Now you may be wondering how to train for it! If you want to get fit for this epic event then read on for five steps to make your Ironman race easier.

How To Train For An Ironman Triathlon

Are you worried about completing the Ironman distance triathlon? After all it can be a daunting prospect, especially if this is your first. Today I want to help you feel confident in your ability by showing you exactly how to train for an Ironman triathlon.

By following the five steps in this article I am confident you will be able accomplish your Ironman triathlon goals more easily and save time, effort and injury guessing your way to the finish line.

Planning Your Ironman Training

Planning your triathlon season or personal goals is often overlooked but can be an inspiring activity that will give you clarity and focus on your Ironman triathlon goal. This is especially true if you have set yourself an inspiring challenge.

A good first step is to define success so that you can give yourself a pat on the back once you have achieved this. This will be a real morale booster.

In more depth you can set SMART targets. Specific, Measurable, Achievable and Time Bound targets will keep you focused and you will be able to measure success along the way. Give yourself smaller targets not just one big goal.

When asking yourself ‘how to train for an Ironman triathlon’ you should consider process and outcome goals. Ensure your goals are meaningful and focus on quality over quantity. Don’t be dragged into the high-volume culture that endurance and triathletes are known for. Ironman triathlon training is tough enough, and you are wise to keep your goals about quality, consistency and effectiveness over quantity and mammoth triathlon training miles or weekly hours!

Break the overwhelming Ironman triathlon training task into smaller manageable chunks. Every journey begins with a first step, and if you build on your ability step-by-step, success after success, you will soon achieve great things. The beauty of triathlon is the personal challenge that you set, which nobody else can take away from you. You define your own success!

Take aways:

  • Keep goals relevant – answer the question how to train for an Ironman triathlon and keep the goal specific
  • Be SMART
  • Set yourself something inspirational – think process and outcome
  • Define success


How To Get Fit For An Ironman Triathlon

So you know where you are going, you’ve set your Ironman goal and you’re keen to tackle your challenges. But how far exactly do you have to go on your journey to your perfect race?

Are you able to run the marathon after riding 112miles? Or are you starting from scratch having never ever run a mile?

Time-trials are the best specific fitness tests to perform and in my opinion specific to your triathlon. By going against the clock you will get a true picture of your ability on a certain day.

You can repeat the same time-trial every 4 to 6 weeks and see progress, which will help keep you motivated and focused. Since you have entered an Ironman I recommend performing a range of 10, 25, 50 and 100mile cycling TT depending on your ability and success outcome. Just remember, when asking yourself how to train for an Ironman triathlon, keep the volume as low as possible for as long as possible and make it specific.

Keep your fitness tests specific to your discipline and ability, and adapt them as you improve. As well as speed and distance you can log your rating of perceived exertion (RPE/10), your heart rate, and your power on the bike. Remember fitness is an output – how fast can you go? Heart rate although useful is not ‘fitness’ and many factors can affect it.

Take aways:

  • Perform time trials on a regular basis
  • Keep them comparable
  • Use pace and power as gauges of fitness, and heart rate as a guide


How To Train For An Ironman Triathlon

Specific adaptation to imposed demand (SAID) is the fundamental principle that should guide your training. So you’ve performed a fitness test, and you know you can run a solid 8minute mile pace for 6 miles. If your goal is to run a 7:30minute mile pace for 6 miles you need to make your training specific to that goal. You need to run at and over that pace.

So what is the most effective way to get faster in training? By training fast you will be able to race fast. Of course you can’t just expect to run your goal pace for the duration set immediately so the best method is interval training. This is the stop start method of training that allows you to go at or above your goal pace for a set period, with recovery intervals planned. An example would be 6x 2minute run at 10k goal pace, with 2minute recoveries.

The FITT principle is a good guide of the variables you can play with in terms of training. Frequency, Intensity, Time or duration and Type of exercise car all variables. In the 6x2minute session described it could be that you reduce your recovery intervals weekly (T) from 2 minutes to 90sec then 1min and so on until you are able to achieve the pace for your 10k with no rests.

With any triathlon training session specificity is key and you will do well to ask yourself ‘what do I want to achieve from this session?’

Take aways:

  • Apply the SAID principle
  • Apply the FITT principle
  • Adopt interval training


What To Eat During An Ironman Triathlon

How to train for an Ironman doesn’t just involve fitness, it involves food! Nutrition is so important and my personal favourite part of health and fitness. It is often overlooked or misunderstood though, and this is no surprise because there is so much conflicting information available.

As endurance athletes your focus should be on nutrient dense foods during your day. These foods include fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, lean meats, poultry and fish. Considering nutrient density it is useful to look up the ORAC rating (antioxidant content) of foods. You might like to know dark chocolate is full of antioxidants, which are effective for combating free radicals. Free radicals are essentially like ‘rust’ for our body and are increased by pollutants, oxygen and exercise.

Sports nutrition can be used effectively during and within 15minutes after training or racing. In these times it is wise to consume high glycemic index foods such as sports bars and drinks. Keep these foods confined to these times however as this is when your body is most effective at using them. You are highly insulin sensitive around exercise sessions, and if you consume a diet high in sports nutrition in your sedentary day you will not be doing yourself any favours.

Take aways:

  • Eat nutrient dense foods
  • Use sports nutrition only at key times – use your 15 minute window


How To Race An Ironman Triathlon

So you have broken your training into manageable chunks and you are confident in your ability to complete the race. However it is essential to execute your race properly otherwise you will struggle.

Plan your day, your journey and where you have to be. Are there transition bags for a triathlon or do you have to be in a certain pen at the run start?

Ensure all your equipment works. Gather it a week before your event and never try anything new on race day – always test it in training. Gather your entourage: friends, family, coach to help you and to carry things for you. Remove any stresses that are unnecessary and people love to help and get involved.

Stick to your plan. No matter what other people are doing around you stick to your plan. It is your race and you know what pace to go at. If others sprint off at the start don’t feel obliged to keep up. You will have a faster overall time if you keep to your limits and likely overtake others who set off to fast. This is particularly true in longer events.

Take aways:

  • Stick to your plan
  • Never try anything new on race day
  • Get others to help you
  • Plan ahead and get ready



Proud Ironman finisher and ProjectTri team member Sonia.

I hope these pointers begin to answer your questions about how to train for an Ironman triathlon. If you’d like more detailed advice I have a proven Ironman training triathlon plan you can purchase online.

So if you’ve read enough and you’re in need of a zero guesswork Ironman triathlon training programme that will guide you to the finish line with confidence, then take a look at the plan.

Designed for ‘real world’ busy triathlete to their best ever race. With limited time to train for long races such as the  Ironman triathlon it is imperative that every session counts and that the training volume is manageable.

Project Tri is perfect for you if you want to achieve your goal event, with no fuss and a simple and effective plan to follow, and be part of a supportive team training approach.

Still wondering how to train for an Ironman triathlon? Then why not join Sonia and discover how she smashed her first ever Ironman attempt in Wales –  Join the Project Tri triathlon team free for 2 weeks! The team approach is a year round annual training plan that keeps you fresh, motivated and fitter than ever with low volume quality training. When you are ready to focus on a specific race, you then access your race specific Ironman plan. Learn more about joining the team, which includes access to all the race specific triathlon plans as well as the year round team training support.

Happy training,