Over the last 8 months I like to think I learnt a little bit about how to train for an Ironman. I’m writing this down for my benefit because very soon I’m going to stop believing I actually did this. A lot probably works for non-Ironman stuff too, so it’s as much to give me a prod for doing other things too. Lot’s of this I learned myself through Don Fink’s brilliant, Be Iron Fit book.
write down your goals.
It’s silly, it’s crazy but a pen and paper might absolutely be the key to this. If you have a goal in your head you have an excuse not to complete it. Writing it down makes it real. This is often really difficult to do, fear of failure, fear of what people will say, there are lots of reasons not to do it. However, as long as you keep it in your head you don’t have to think about it all the time. You might day dream about it sometimes but you don’t see it all the time. In my (limited) experience people were universally positive when they saw the goals. It engages other people in your targets, they ask about it. You sort of feel like you don’t want to let them down.
make your goals visible.
Absolutely tied to the goal above. You can’t write it down and hide it away. Write it out, print it out and pin it somewhere you see every day. The fridge, your desk at work (my favorite place, right next to my monitor at work, you can’t get away from it). Put it somewhere where you’ll gaze at it and be forced to think ‘what have I done to hit that today?’ It’s a great reminder of why you are doing it.
make your goals specific.
Saying ‘I want to do an Ironman’ isn’t enough. It’s a big goal sure, but finishing isn’t the only objective. Doing it the best you can is. Write down some stretching goals at the start. Think that’s too much? Unless you have those tough specific time based targets you may well find you skipping sessions, ‘it doesn’t matter if i miss this, I just need to get round’. It gives you a little excuse not to push yourself as hard as you can. Even if the cut off time is you ultimate goal, set yourself targets for each event. Give yourself that extra reason to get down to the pool tonight even though you’re tired, you want to hit that 1:29:59 target you set.
You absolutely need to plan. You are going to be doing an absolute crap load of training. It’s pretty overwhelming to start with. Planning is essential on fitting your new mad regime in with your regular life. Previously I’d fit my training around my regular life, this time I fitted my regular life around the training. The plan is essential in this, it lets you spot clashes, it lets you sort them out.
break your plan into achievable segments.
My spreadsheet plan was 330 rows long. Seeing a plan that details exactly how you are going to spend the next 7 months is a little overwhelming. The answer? Chunk it up into 3 or 4 week segments. Print that out (see next step). Four weeks is not scarey at all and every four weeks you get to feel like you are making a lot of progress by printing out a new copy.
keep that plan close by.
You need to know what your doing, your friends, family and partner needs to know too. Training is a bit of a ball-ache for everyone else around you so don’t let the element of surprise piss them off too (oh did I not tell you it was a 4hr bike ride today?). They are supporting you, make it easy for them! I kept mine in googledocs to kept track of it everywhere. Invited to a birthday party? Check that plan before you say yes… I also printed it off and kept a copy at work and at home.
check things off.
Get a highlighter, when you do a session, mark it off. If you use it, flag it as done on your spreadsheet. Checking that horrible brick session off is a great feeling!
the first step is the hardest.
Getting out of the door or on the bike at first is by far the hardest thing you will do in the training session. Once you are going you might as well carry on, but wow it can be tough to actually start. I broke this down eventually to a theory that once I put my kit on (and then eventually just my shoes) I would go do the session. It becomes much easier when the only battle you are facing is if you can put your running shoes on. Once they are on the session is basically done!
do the hard things early.
Be a morning person and plan your sessions in before the day happens. Leaving it to later in the day makes it be in your head all day. Things happen, life happens, stuff will pop up to make you miss your sessions. If you do it first thing, that just doesn’t happen. So set that alarm early and get out of bed. You will feel great (and very smug) when you get to eat two lunches safely in the knowledge you’ve already kicked ass in the training sessions that morning.
Similar to the planing one, but this is be organised about your training kit. Don’t miss sessions because you have stuff in the wash, dont miss sessions because your shoes are still wet. If you are doing your sessions first thing in the morning, get your kit ready the night before. If you are running into work, take your work clothes the day before and leave them so you don’t need a bag. Your plan might be pretty similar week after the week, so you will know what you have to do on each day. For me, that meant packing on Sunday night to run into work on Tuesday, and the same on Wednesday for a Friday run. If you have to get into work to get into your work stuff, you might as well run there.
give yourself many reasons to do it/reduce the number of excuses
A lot of these things come down to this. Give yourself as many reasons as you can to complete the session. Maybe it checking off your run, maybe its tracking your progress in graphs, maybe it’s because you want to eat two lunches. The more reasons you have to do it the easier it becomes. Try and do the opposite with excuses, forget the weather, make sure your kit is ready, give yourself as few chances as possible to skip your sessions.
Is it quicker to go to the pool first? Or run home from work? Should you eat breakfast at work? I got a little studious about this, I would set off at the same time from home and figure out how long it took me to do each session. Using this I quickly figured out running into work was a massive time saver, and it wasn’t worth the time saved not putting on socks before going swimming. I made it a challenge fitting in all the sessions I had to do.
record your progress and share your progress.
Get a blog and tell everyone what you are doing. It’s not showing off, it lets you see exactly how far you’ve come. Even now I still read my first entries (I only got my first ever road bike 2 weeks before starting training. Madness!) it’s a truly excellent way of tracking what you are doing. In those really tough weeks it’s really good to take stock and read back on what you used to be like.
anyone can do an ironman.
I strongly believe that given the motivation, determination and consistent training pretty much anyone can train for an ironman. The intensity of the training is fairly low but the time demands are pretty high. You can do this if you stick to it. It might be the best decision you ever make.