Need a reason to complete an Ironman? How about this: you’ll have to eat like you did as a skinny teenager just to survive the training. If so inclined, it’s actually possible to tick the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile ride, and full marathon race off your list after just a year of training, says renowned triathlon coach Matt Dixon, founder of Purplepatch Fitness. The key: using shorter-distance triathlons like sprint triathlons (500-meter swim, 20-km bike, 5-km run) and half-Ironmans (1.2-mile swim, 56-mile ride, 13.1-mile run) as part of your training regime. “Triathlons are not swim, then bike, then run—they’re swim, bike, run,” says Dixon. “Completing all three disciplines successively is a skill and you have to practice it.” The skill comes in learning how to be efficient in the transitions, of course, but more overlooked are the nutritional aspects of getting enough calories into your system before and during the 140-mile race just to survive it. “Nutrition is the fourth discipline,” says Dixon. “What works for a neighbor might be very different than what works for you. Some foods or gels might not sit well on your stomach or give you gastrointestinal issues and the only way to find out is by trying them out in races.” Dixon suggests tackling your first sprint triathlon after three months of training, during which time you should be focused more on swimming and a little less on running, which is more taxing on the body. Schedule your first half-Ironman six months before your full Ironman race, and make sure to have fun. Complete a second half-Ironman three months later, this time focusing on improving your performance. In between, mix in other sprint-triathlons, a 10k, or some half-marathons. Just don’t compete in a full marathon, says Dixon, which requires too much recovery time to be useful. Lastly, schedule a final sprint triathlon three weeks before the big race, and feel free to go all out. “If you finish feeling strong, you are ready to go,” says Dixon.
To get ready for your first sprint triathlon, use Dixon’s three month interactive training plan.