“Half Ironman Training can be quite intense. Below are a few training tips that could help you on your next race. Read on and find out what they are!”
The Half Ironman is a challenging event, comprising a 1.2-mile swim, followed by a 56-mile bike, and culminating with a 13.1-mile run. As a beginner, your primary concern will be on finishing the course within the allotted cutoff times, which vary by event. In order to achieve the required endurance, you should plan to train for at least six months. Through consistent training, and proper pacing, any able-bodied individual can have a successful Half Ironman event.
Choosing Your Event
Before choosing which Half Ironman event you’ll do, there are a few things you should consider. First, cutoff times vary by event, so look up the cutoff times for each discipline at each of the events you’re considering. Average cutoff time for the 1.2-mile swim is one hour from the start of your wave. You will then typically have 4 to 4.5 hours to complete the 56-mile bike, and up to three hours to complete the 13.1-mile run. Again, these cutoff times will vary, so know what time constraints you’ll be held to prior to registering.
Course profile, typical weather conditions, and altitude should also be considerations in your decision. Whenever possible, choose an event which closely mimics your training conditions. Being prematurely pulled off the course after investing countless hours of training, over many months, is a discouraging outcome. Play it smart by following these training tips, and you’ll be prepared to avoid this heartbreaking scenario.
To complete the swim portion of the Half Ironman, you will be required to swim 1.2 miles in less than an hour. As a beginner, you should plan to swim three days per week, with one of these being a long swim that gradually builds until you can comfortably swim 1.2 miles without stopping. For the first few months, focus on proper form, and building your aerobic base. That means swimming at a pace that is comfortable while employing bilateral breathing; breathing every third stroke.
In the final six to eight weeks leading up to your event, keep your long swim day, but use the other two to focus on swimming shorter distances at a faster pace. For example, you could do a main set of 5 x 200 yards with a 45-second recovery between each 200, or even 7 x 150 yards with a 30-second recovery. Push yourself to go faster, but keep times consistent between efforts. This type of work will increase your ability to perform at a higher level, and recover faster. Practice speed work in the pool, and your long swim speed will increase as well.
One final important factor in the triathlon swim equation is open water swim practice. Swimming open water is a completely different experience from pool swimming, both mentally and physically. If you wait until race day to experience your first open water swim, you’ll compound your anxiety level, and set yourself up for failure. If your race will require wearing a wetsuit, make sure you get in several practice sessions wearing one. The confining feeling of a wetsuit can be quit unsettling, so train like you race, and get those practice sessions in.
Next thing on your Half Ironman Training is bike training. Cycling fitness is the most important factor in triathlon success. Whatever distance of triathlon you’re participating in, the bike is the longest segment, and you will always want to finish the bike feeling as fresh as possible for the run. This requires a lot of saddle time, and in order to build a solid aerobic foundation, you’ll want to keep the intensity level low while gradually increasing duration. As elite triathlon coach Gordo Byrn, author of “Going Long,” recommends, “[…] you’ll want your backside to give out before your legs.” If your legs are feeling tapped out before the overall discomfort of sitting in the saddle has you yearning for the end of the ride, then chances are you’re going out with too much intensity for the early phases of training.
Once you’ve built your long ride up to a comfortable four to five hours, you can start working on more speed, but always reserve one day a week for a long ride. Find your functional threshold effort or heart rate by completing an all-out 30-minute time trial, preferably on a flat to rolling course. Use this value as a training target for sessions geared toward increasing your muscular endurance. Start out by incorporating two to three 10-minute intervals at this intensity level, with a full recovery between efforts. Gradually increase the duration of your intervals to push that functional threshold and increase your sustainable power. While there are many different systems to train, this threshold will be of utmost importance for a successful Half Ironman race.
A solid aerobic foundation is most important for run training because more damage is done to the body when running than in either of the other disciplines of triathlon. If you are new to running, pay considerable attention to making small increases in mileage, and do not incorporate speed sessions until you can comfortably run for over an hour without stopping. Pace during these early training sessions should be low enough that you could carry on a conversation. If you don’t have a running buddy to converse with, another trick for checking that your intensity is to practice inhaling for three steps, exhaling for three steps. If you find yourself struggling for air, then you need to slow it down, as the intensity with which you are running is too high and requiring a high oxygen consumption. The only thing to be gained from running too fast, too soon, is injury which will set back your training, and threaten your ability to complete your race.
When you’ve reached your one-hour run benchmark, then it is time to start adding speed work. Run training expert Dr. Jack Daniels, PhD, author of “Daniels’ Running Formula,” recommends two to three quality run sessions per week. Since you will also be swimming and cycling, this may be all the running you are able to fit in. Make sure one of these sessions is focused on maintaining your long run fitness. Your second session could be used for a high-intensity track workout, with the final session directed toward increasing your running functional threshold. To find your threshold running pace, sign up for and complete a 10k race. The average pace or heart rate for this performance can then be used for interval sessions that will increase your muscular endurance, and ability to maintain a powerful run.
Once you have a solid foundation in each of the three disciplines of triathlon, it’s time to start putting them together in training. Combining workouts, or doing “bricks,” should be a high priority in the six to eight weeks leading up to your race. The most common brick workout is the bike-to-run. Due to the differences in muscle fiber recruitment and blood flow, when you first run off the bike, your legs will not feel like your own. Rest assured, this feeling will pass in eight to 10 minutes as the muscle confusion passes, and your running legs return. Begin incorporating these bricks with short runs off the bike, 10 to 15 minutes long, but in the month leading up to your event, you’ll want the confidence of having run at least an hour after cycling for up to three hours. Some athletes choose to do more, and may even cover the entire distance of the event before toeing the line on race day, but if you’ve been training consistently as outlined above, this won’t be necessary for a good finish. More at Beginner Training for a Half Ironman