Miffie cycling in triathlon race

You DON’T have to train a million hours a week to do your first Ironman distance race

How do I know? 

Because I did my first ever full distance IM last November. For years, the idea that training for an IM triathlon is a second full time job kept me from trying. I had kids to care for, a husband that has done multiple digits of Ironman races- trained long hours, I had a very full career (that often came home with me at night to work on after the kids went to bed).


And I needed to maintain my sanity. (Not sure if that worked).

If you know me or have read other parts of my blog, you know I also spent years tackling chronic overuse injury from my 1/2 IM distance race back in the early 2000’s. That “I’m broken” mentality is also what just happened to make my first Ironman real. (Talk about turning lemons into lemonade!)

Why? Because- math. (I just lost some of you, but hang with me- I’m not a big math fan either). My attitude changed from “To do this I’ll have to train as hard as I can and see how fast I can finish Ironman and not break” to “I have 17 hours to finish that race. How do I make that work for me?”

And my world view of Ironman changed.

Did I start from scratch? No. I had a bit of a baseline. And by baseline, my threshold was pretty low. I hadn’t swum more than 1000 yards in the pool in a long time. I generally biked 15-25, maybe 30 miles (generally one ride on Wednesday, one Saturday- generally flat courses). And running? Ugh, yeah, no. I had done some elliptical stuff to get cardio, but not a lot. And core! I spent lots of time in PT over the years-they pummeled me with core, core, core. (AND I thank them). There are LOTS of articles out there on “Low volume, high intensity.’ That is NOT what I wanted to do. My body wouldn’t handle the high intensity. And honestly? I wanted to enjoy the training, not have them be all about push, push, push.

  • Step one for my “Can I actually do this?” was a spreadsheet….It really didn’t have to be a spreadsheet, but I’m visual. I just really needed a way to picture adding up the miles over the months and see if it looked…real. And have a plan to stick to for each week.
    • I calculated how many miles/laps per week I had to increase to make it to Ironman with the goal of 16 hours (I padded for a possible flat).
      • THAT is what I stuck to ( or tried to. . . before my crash set me back a bit….but whatever).
    • My main rule: no more than 20% increase in ANY week in each sport-
      • I’m a firm believer, because otherwise I get injured.
    • And how many days a week can I do this and not get more injured? Oh, yeah, and still maintain a life, sleep, laundry.
  • Cycling- 2-3 rides/week
    • Saturday long bike ride (increased 20% per week)
      • My longest ride goal was 100- 110 miles- two times in the last month before the race. Getting above 65-70 miles is important-there is nothing like it to find out exactly where the saddle and your seat and your body start battling it out with each other.
    • Wednesday- a short to medium ride (up to 35-40 miles). On days when I had to, I set up a wind trainer in the house and cycled for time (instead of distance) and plugged in a movie. Also, I ran my laundry WHILE on the wind-trainer, getting off every 30 minutes to move stuff to the dryer. And eat an Oreo. It works.
    • One other ~15-20 mile ride (IF I could fit it into life)
  • Swimming- 3/week  
    • Baseline- I started at 1000 yards, added 250 yards per week if my shoulders felt good (it was only >20% increase that first week).
    • One long swim per week (ending at ~4250 yards x 2 in the weeks before the Ironman, and at least a few 3000-3500 yard swims in the weeks before that). (Fun things to keep sane: M&M mini’s at the end of the pool to eat after every 1000.)
    • A couple of shorter swims (anywhere from 1500-2500 yards) per week.
    • OPEN water swims- I signed up for a couple local ones because- open water, ugh. And wetsuit trials and getting used to people swimming near or onto of me ( I resorted to a wicked elbow shot to a couple of folks. Only once -actually DURING Ironman-did someone try to swim into me, and when I pushed them away, they actually came back and tried to assault me….what a jerk). I used these open water swims to replace a long swim workout.
  • Running- 2/week
    • Now, here’s the thing, between the disc issue in my back, and hip issues… running and I don’t get a long. But you kinda have to do it to get to the finish line.
    • I did a walk-run combination (see here) that I personally call a Wog. Jeff Galloway developed the idea (here). I am not embarrassed to walk, and it actually made me faster than my clunky running.
    • One long Wog/week (adding 20%/week)
      • After my bike crash, the longest Wog I managed before Ironman was 13 miles ( I did that a total of twice).
    • One shorter Wog during the week (3-5 miles)
    • And THAT was all my body could handle- so I added an elliptical one other day a week 20-60 minutes of easy elliptical cardio- IF I had time.
  • Core- A couple of days a week, I worked on ~30 minutes of core. THIS MAY BE THE SECOND MOST IMPORTANT THING TO DO (after the long bike rides).
  • RECOVERY- yeah, I need recovery. I invested in a pair of Normatec boots Normateclegsand have never been happier with how fast my legs recover. NO. They DON’T pay me to keep
    saying this. It is just true.

And that was it.

No- I wasn’t planning to podium. I tried to be realistic. Just focus on what I can do, not what I can’t.

And I did it. I finished in 16 hours 11 minutes and 59 seconds. I can’t guarantee that lower volume work outs will be your ticket. But if high volume workouts and life don’t mix for you, and the stress keeps you from even trying, you may be missing out on the adventure of a lifetime.

Happy Training! 


My typical training week:

Sun Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat
Swim-Long+ Wog-Short Recovery Day Swim short + Short Bike (If time permits) Bike-Medium Wog-Long Swim-short + 20-30 minutes gentle cardio at gym Bike-Long

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