A Case Study of Training Smarter Not Harder

A Case Study of Training Smarter Not Harder

My Best Ironman Yet with Half the Training

On August 21, 2016, I did Ironman Mont Tremblant for the second time.  There were many differences between 2016 and my first time at Ironman Mont Tremblant in 2012.  In 2016, I had a 4 and 2-year-old, my wife was also racing, it poured rain for most of the race, I was exhausted race day from carrying the kids and their stuff the previous 3 days, I trained in half the time, and I had my best Ironman yet!!!

Here are the results:

2016 35-39 Div 48/257 (Top 19%) Overall 280/2480 (Top 11%)
2012 30-34 Div 51/213 (Top 24%) Overall 336/2542 (Top 13%)

To summarize the results, I finished 5% higher in 2016 in a more competitive age group and 2% higher than the field.  For full disclosure, my overall time in 2016 was slower by 10 minutes, but I contribute that to the mechanical issues I had on the bike and the rain.

How many hours a week did I train?

2016: Average 7-10 hours
2012: Average 14-16 hours

Am I trying to show off or brag about how little I trained?

No. I am trying to show others they can accomplished huge personal goals, and still be there for their family and friends.  I trained with the time I had, and I worked hard to make the most of it.

Could I have done better if I would have trained 15-20 hours a week?

Probably not. My training for my 2009 Ironman Coeur d’Alene and 2012 Ironman Mont Tremblant were more “traditional” (15-20 hours a week or more), and while the race was successful but my results not as good.  I do know if I would have done a more “traditional” training method, I would have needed a LOT more rest which wasn’t an option with a full time job and 2 kids running around the house.  Either way, I would not have changed the way I trained for my 2016 IMMT.  I feel like the only time I had away from my kids during training was my two 100 mile rides, and obviously on race day. Below is an example of the training during my 3 different training periods:

Weeks 1-10 (5-6 Hours per week)

Monday
Rest Day

Tuesday
Morning:  Run High Intensity Interval Training – 30 min (Example: 6-8 sets of 1 min Max effort, 3 min of walk/easy jog)
Evening:  20 Minutes of Kettlebell Exercises (Combination of Halos, Squats, KB Swings, and Turkish Getups)

Wednesday
Morning:  Bike High Intensity Interval Training – Spin 30 min on the Trainer (Click to see examples)

Thursday
Morning:  Run – 30-45 min Easy Pace (Zones 2)
Evening:  20 Minutes of Kettlebell Exercises

Friday
Easy Bike – Spin 30 min on the Trainer (Add some high cadence intervals 30 sec on, 30 sec off to loosen legs)

Saturday
Bike – 90-120 min hilly ride (Mostly Zone 2)

Sunday
Run – 60-90 min (Zone 2 only. Walk hills if you have to)

Note: No planned swim workouts in the first weeks

Weeks 11-20 (5.5-7 Hours per week)

Monday
Rest Day

Tuesday
Morning:  Run High Intensity Interval Training – 30 min (Example:  5 sets of 2 min Max effort, 4 min of walk/easy jog)
Evening:  20 Minutes of Kettlebell Exercises (Combination of Halos, Squats, Swings, and Turkish Getups)

Wednesday
Morning:  Bike – 30 min Easy Pace (Zones 2)

Thursday
Bike High Intensity Interval Training – Spin 30-45 min on the Trainer(Click to see examples)

Friday
Easy Bike – Spin 30-45 min on the Trainer (Add some high cadence intervals 30 sec on, 30 sec off to loosen legs)

Saturday
Bike – 150-180 min hilly ride, 5-10 Min Run (Zone 2)

Sunday
Run – 75-90 min (Zone 2 only. Walk hills if you have to)

Note: No planned swim workouts.  I changed to only 2 runs and started 4 bike workouts a week. I also did one 4-hour bike ride as test.

Weeks 21-30 (7-10 Hours per week)

Monday
Rest Day

Tuesday
Morning:  Run High Intensity Interval Training – 30 min (Example:  5 sets of 2 min Max effort, 4 min of walk/easy jog)
Evening:  30-45 Min Open Water Swim (Optional)

Wednesday
Morning:  Bike – 30 min Easy Pace (Zone 2)

Thursday
Bike – 60 minute Tempo on Road (HR 5-10+ than race HR) or a Swim Workout

Friday
Easy Bike – Spin 45-60 min on Road or Trainer (Add some high cadence intervals 30 sec on, 30 sec off to loosen legs)

Saturday
Bike – 180 min hilly ride, 5-10 min Run (Zone 2)

Sunday
Morning:  Run – 90 min (Zone 2 only. Walk hills if you have to)
Evening:  Swim 45-60 min Open Water

Notes:  I did complete about 12 swim workouts, removed strength training, and two 100+ mile rides (which replaced 180 min bike ride) during this period.

How did I fit my training in while maintaining a full time job and spending time with my kids?

I spent more time on the trainer than my previous Ironman distance races.  Most pros do the majority of their rides on the trainer, and only do specific training on the road (e.g., hills or long distance).  The trainer is much more efficient than on road and great for high intensity workouts.  You don’t have to worry about traffic, stop signs, stop lights, getting cut off by cars, or waiting for other riders.  Another huge advantage to the trainer is you can dial in your Heart Rate zones without worrying about the next stop sign or the next hill.  Of course you can’t mimic everything on the trainer.  You need to hit the road to practice climbing, descending, corners, and nutrition. Your long ride on the road should be used to focus on effort (which can be tracked by HR or Power), and your nutrition.  The results are used to guide your plan on race day.

I did most of my training while the kids were asleep.  I would put them to bed, hop on the trainer for 30-60 minutes in my basement.  Then go up and clean the dishes and make lunches during my cool down.   My wife and I would watch our TV shows together while we are both using our trainers…remember she was training too.  In the early morning hours, I would go for run or ride.  My usual “long” ride was Saturday at 5:30am for 3 hours, which got me home just in time for breakfast at 8:30. My typical “long” run was at 6:00am for 90 minutes, and I would often get home before the kids woke up.  My swims were done at the beach (we are blessed to be within walking distance of a beach).  My wife and I would take the kids to the beach, one would do their swim workout and other would watch the kids.

TIP: Take your children to the local pool.  They can swim and play while you do laps (of course you will need someone to watch them.

Though, it is not like training was done without sacrifice…you have to find the time somewhere.  My yard and vegetable garden didn’t get the attention I would normally give it, and I didn’t get as many house projects finished during those training weeks.  Also, most of the TV I watched was while I was on the trainer or doing dishes.

How did you get away with only swimming 12 times?

This needs to be a separate post. I stopped serious training for the swim years old.  I realize there isn’t a lot of return on investment per hour of training.  2011 was the first year I cut back on swim training.  I was training for Timberman 70.3, and I swam 1 min faster than Timberman in 2010 with half the swim training.  I swam 10-12 times in 2012 for Ironman Mont Tremblant, and I only swam a 3 minutes slower than my previous Ironman in 2009.  The problem I have with swimming is, you can swim 4 times a week and the improvement in your time could only be a couple minutes.  I would rather spend that with my family or training on the bike or run. The most important part of the swim is your form. I personally find that endurance can be built quickly, even for beginners.  Though, any new beginner needs to test their endurance before implementing this strategy.  The test will depend on your previous experience and your upcoming race.  If I were a beginner, I would practice my swimming in the off-season, then sprinkle into my training (like once a week or every two weeks), test a longer swim every 4 or 6 weeks out from your A-race, and decide if you need to train for the swim 2 or 3 times per week.

Another swimming tip, if you have access to open water swims every week, I would do half the training without a wetsuit.  I find that swimming with a wetsuit is faster and easier than without, but don’t complete all of your training without.  You need to get use to the reduced flexibility by wearing it.

How can this be applied to your training?

You need to assess your strengths and weaknesses.  For example, I am an above average runner, a steady swimmer, and an average biker.  I also know that the most important leg of an Ironman race is the bike, by FAR.  If you can’t bike the 112 miles, then your run training means nothing.  (For example, I have a friend who is an ultra-marathon runner, multiple time Boston Qualifier, but 3 times has been unable to finish the bike of an Ironman.  I would love to him crush an Ironman marathon one day). I compensated for the shorter “long” rides by doing 4 bike workouts a week.  My schedule would fluctuate week to week, but I always made sure to do a 45-60 minute ride the day before or after my “long” ride.  I also did 3 tests of my long biking capabilities.  These tests are important to verify my fitness, but to test out my nutrition plan. In Week 16, I did a 4-hour ride.  During the final 10 weeks, I did two 100+ mile rides spaced out 4 weeks.  Those longer ride tests also gave me confidence for race day.

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