The Comeback Kid

Take on the Ultimate Tri Challenge


There are 10 weeks of specific training to race day, which should be sufficient given that you have already developed a sound training base for Ironman 70.3. Training for the full Ironman is quite similar to training for the 70.3, with the main adjustment being one session of longer distance for each discipline.

In my first article on training for Ironman 70.3, I mentioned that the 70.3 Challenge did not require as big a commitment in terms of time, and this is one of the major differences in training for the full Ironman. The weekday training will be quite similar in terms of distances and time required, but the weekend training is where you do the long stuff. Here you will need the support of your family, friends and colleagues, as you will be training at least 10 hours over the weekends, excluding any travelling time to your training venue! You will also find that you need a fair amount of recovery time – usually on the couch in front of the TV – after the tiring weekend sessions.

Below are some guidelines as to how much time you will be spend training per week.
• Weekdays: One rest day and four days of minimum 1 hour per day (Total of 5 hours).
• Saturdays: Usually a long run (25-28km) in the morning of around 3 hours, plus and an open-water swim in the afternoon of 1.5hours (Total of 5 hours).
• Sundays – Usually a long ride starting with 100km building up to a maximum of 150km (Total of 4-6 hours).

This means your total training time requirement is in the region of minimum 15 hours per week. A real commitment is required here!

The basic principles of training for the 70.3 Challenge still apply when training for the full Ironman distance:
• Consistency: This is key, especially when doing the weekend endurance training sessions.
• Rest and recovery:  Listen to your body and rest when tired, ill or injured!
• Train smart and specifically: Every session must have a specific purpose. Remember, train today so that you can still train tomorrow.

The Ironman is an endurance event, and naturally the key training sessions are done over the longer distances to acclimatise the body to the longer legs of Ironman.

SWIM: The swim distance is 3.8km and training should include at least one open-water swim in your wetsuit over 3km each week. If you live at the coast this should be done in the sea, while inland athletes will obviously have to use a lake/dam. The session, usually done on the weekend, is a simple endurance session, swimming a continuous 3km at a steady pace, working on your technique as well as learning to sight the marker buoys as well as draft other swimmers. Always do this session with other swimmers.

BIKE: The bike distance is 180km and it is not essential to do this full distance in training. The bike training rides start at 100km and build up to 150km. Because of traffic and time considerations, most athletes do these rides on Sundays, but you can also do these rides on Saturdays. Two important aspects about the long bike training is firstly your nutrition, as you need to practise eating and drinking on the bike to maintain energy levels. Secondly, you need to develop an ability to ride in the time trial position on your own (no drafting) for at least 80-100km. Many triathletes do the long rides with cyclists or in big groups, but this will not help you in Ironman when you need to ride 180km on your own. Therefore, it’s a good idea for a group of triathletes to go together to a 40km loop circuit, where each rider can ride two or three laps on their own and at their own Ironman race pace, in the time trial position. This way riders stay relatively close together, without fear of getting lost, and everyone can regroup before riding home nice and slowly.

RUN: The Ironman run is a full marathon, but not many Ironman athletes ever do a full marathon in training. The long training runs start at 22km and build up to 30km maximum. These should be done at a steady, relaxed pace. In the programme I have planned these runs for Saturdays, but you can do them on Sundays if that suits you better, and there is in fact benefit to doing the run on a Sunday after a Saturday bike.

BRICK SESSIONS: I am sure you all know that these are sessions that involve doing two of the disciplines consecutively without a rest in between. This type of training gets the body used to the demands of doing the three disciplines as you would on race day. Brick training usually involves running after cycling, but a good idea is to also try doing a short swim at the gym before you head out on a run. I also recommend that you alternate doing cycle/run bricks between the long and the short rides. On a Sunday after the long ride do an easy 5-8km run, and alternate with a mid-week bike doing followed by a short fast 3km run.

Using the same basic plan as for all triathlon training, the aim is to do a minimum of two sessions of each discipline each week, with a maximum of three. That means six to nine session each week for the next 10 weeks!

Every athlete is different and the generic training schedule I have put together needs to be adapted according to your age, sex, available time, as well as ability. For example, a 20km run can mean one hour 30 of running for one runner, whilst for an older or slower runner this would be two hours. This means the slower runner is actually spending more time training, which is not necessarily a good thing!

Remember, enter early and make the commitment. Most importantly, enjoy your training and keep your eye on the goal. Train to race – don’t race in training!

Click here for the full training programme.


 Derick Marcisz has 41 years’ experience as a runner, cyclist and triathlete. He has run 25 sub-2:30 marathons, with a PB of 2:17:17 and a 21km PB of 1:05:36. He has been involved in triathlon since 2000 and has represented the South African Age Group Team at four World Championships, with a best placing of 20th in his age group. Derick has completed 69 triathlons and duathlons over all distances from the Energade sprints to Ironman, and he is the current 2010 SA Triathlon Champ in the Olympic distance for age group 55- 59. He has been involved in coaching athletes for many years and is currently doing an ITU Triathlon Coaching Course.