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It takes 6 months to 1 year, depending on your current fitness. Athletes who can on day 1 complete a 70.3 Ironman, can train within 6 months. Athletes who have never done a triathlon or are brand new to triathlon training, will require 12 months.
There are an abundance of plans out there for 12 or 16 weeks. The truth of the matter is that unless you’re already a seasoned triathlete routinely training 7-10 times per week, it’s simply unsafe to train for an Ironman in 3 or 4 months.
Ironman training takes a toll simply because of the required volume. On average you’re looking at 4-5 days where you’re doing multiple training sessions, and 1-2 days where your training sessions are long (multiple hours as you get close to race day). To ensure that you remain injury free, progress responsibly and actually enjoy your training, it’s important to find an Ironman training plan that requires 6 to 12 months of training, and starts as close as possible to your current fitness level.
Hm, what’s that? I hear some of you are a little impatient. So…
Is 6 months enough time to train for an Ironman?
Yes, if you’re currently capable of running 10-12 miles, cycling for 40-60 miles, and can swim a mile, then you can safely train for an Ironman in 6 months.
These distances are the sweet spot for those looking to (safely) train for an Ironman in 6 months.
A training plan like this will require you to establish a solid base of training over the first 2-3 months. 8-10 sessions per week, combining steady endurance style workouts, as well as upbeat tempo/speed workouts. The goal in this base level would be to gain ultimate comfort at a moderate level of volume before peaking.
Peaking would be the 4th and 5th month of training where you’d raise your ‘long workout’ volume to be similar to what you’d experience on race day. Runs of up to 20 miles, bike rides over 80 miles, and swim sessions in the pool approaching 3,500-4,000 meters.
The last month would be spent tapering. Easing down from those high volume workouts allowing your body to rest, recover, and maintain its fitness so it’s as ready to go as it can be on race day.
Hm, ok that sounds really intense, and like not that much time. So…
Is it possible to train for an Ironman in a year?
Yes, and for most athletes, taking 12 months to train for an Ironman is the best option. It allows you to really acclimate slowly and gradually to triathlon training, as well as work in several trial/practice races at the olympic and half (70.3) distance before your full Ironman race day.
Similar to a 6 month plan, a 1 year Ironman training plan encompasses of the base, peak and taper phases, but also makes room for a build phase (extending the gradual build from base to peak) and an acclimation phase. The acclimation phase is so often overlooked by many plans available online, and is the one that really allows athletes new to triathlon to slowly adapt their body to the effort required to properly train for an Ironman.
Over a year of training, you’d spend roughly 2.5-4.5 months acclimating with a slow and gradual build to 10 sessions per week (4 doubles, 2 long days). The amount of time you spend here would be based on if you had some base level of fitness, or if you were truly going from couch to Ironman. You’d then spend 2.5 months at steady volume to build a very solid base of fitness to reduce the chance of injury. After that another 2.5 months of slowly building volume 10-15% over your base phase. The last 2.5 months would be a combination of peaking to race level, and tapering pre-race for several weeks allowing your body to rest and be race ready.
It’s recommended that any triathlon beginner eyeing up an Ironman race take this 12 month approach for the purposes of acclimation, scheduling, injury prevention, and simply enjoying your training.
So, the million dollar question…
How do you train for an Ironman?
To train for an Ironman you’ll spend several hours per day, at least 6 days a week swimming, biking and running. A common schedule would be to run 3 times per week, swim at least twice, bike 3 times per week, and cross train 2 days per week – bringing your total number of workouts to 10.
1 of those runs and 1 bike should be ‘long’, while the rest should vary from being slow and steady to fast hard efforts.