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IronDreams: OMG! I Just Signed Up for an Ironman (Part 2)

posted Feb 28, 2010, 5:31 PM by Donald Vescio   [ updated Sep 12, 2011, 8:13 AM ]

You’ve registered for your Ironman and you’ve committed to putting together a plan to get ready for it. But what comes first?  Designing a training plan and then trying to find the time to follow it, or figuring out how much time you have available and then designing a training plan that fits your schedule? 

The problem with the first approach is that you might schedule more training than you have time to do. The problem with the second approach is that you might not find enough time in your existing schedule to train properly. So, you need to approach the problem from both ends--determine the necessary training needed to achieve your Ironman dreams and determine the true amount of time that you have available to train. 

Depending on your goals, training for an Ironman can average from 10 to 20+ hours per week--that’s just the time spent with your heart rate elevated. In addition, there are the prep tasks for working out--getting your gear and supplies together, changing into your workout clothes, mixing your sport drink, driving to the pool or track or gym, and warming up.  And there are the post training tasks—cooling down, stretching, putting your gear away, showering, dressing, refueling, and rehydrating. The prep and post workout activities can add several hours each week to your training schedule which means less time for the other parts of your life such as family, friends, and work.  Somehow you have to balance your Ironman dreams with your real life.

So how do you get the time to train properly for an Ironman and still have time for a life?  There are three areas to look at:

  • Finding “free” time.

  • Making training part of your family life.

  • Using training time wisely. 

Finding Free Time

Now you’re asking “What free time? I’m booked solid with work, the kids, and the house”!  Well, sometimes you need to be creative. The first step is to look at your everyday activities and see where you can combine training with that activity. The most obvious choice is commuting to work or school. Commuting by biking or running saves money, helps the environment and is practically free time. I used to commute twenty-five miles to work. It was almost an hour by car with traffic, but only about seventy-five minutes by bike. That was a gain of seventy-five minutes of training for a fifteen minute “investment”. 

If your round trip commute is too long, try driving to work with your bike in the car and riding your bike home. The next day, bike in and drive home. You need a safe place to leave your car overnight or join a carpool that can accommodate your bike. If you have a short commute, try running to work or school. There are logistical issues involved with commuting by bike or foot, and a shower and locker room at work would help, but don’t discount a good “birdbath” with baby wipes, a washcloth, and a towel. Remember to pack all your work clothes. More than a few times I had to hit the local K-mart for socks, underwear, or a shirt.  

Whenever possible, replace a drive with riding or running. Ride your bike or run when doing errands or to family events and outings. Use a backpack for your clothes and your “birdbath” kit or have someone meet you there. You create training time whenever you replace driving with riding or running. 

Kids’ activities can be a source of training time. Do pool laps while your child’s in swim lessons or find a pool that has daycare. Run laps around the soccer field during soccer practice. Go for a run or bike during dance/music lessons instead of waiting in the car reading a magazine. Get a bike trainer and do an indoor session during nap time. Trade playdates with other parents who are also looking for time to train. The potential sources to find time are almost endless. 

If you’re the cook in the family, spend some time on the weekend getting meals prepared ahead of time so that you can go on a run or bike and have dinner ready within minutes of getting back. On the weekend, I freeze marinated chicken breasts and cook baked potatoes. During the week, I cook the chicken on a Foreman Grill, microwave the potatoes, steam some veggies and dinner is ready in fifteen minutes. A crockpot is great way to have dinner “cook itself” while you’re training. Put everything in a freezer bag on the weekend, dump it in the crock pot on your way to work, and dinner’s ready when you get back from your post work ride or run.

Making Training Part of Your Family Life

Training doesn’t always have to be about ‘you’, make it about ‘us’ and you can actually improve your family life by training! When my daughter was young, we spent hours of quality time using a baby jogger. I would give her a stick and every time we’d pass a road sign she‘d try to hit it. I bought a bike trailer and she’d spend the whole ride playing with her Barbies. Usually I’d make it a destination ride by going to the lake or the playground. That way she’d look forward to our “rides” together. I don’t recommend pulling a trailer with your carbon tri-bike. A mountain bike with road tires handles much better and will give you an even better workout.  Don’t forget a helmet for the little one.

There’s some great equipment out there.  You can buy bike trailers that convert to joggers.  One jogger I’ve seen even has a harness option so you can pull it and keep your arms free.   Give your kid a whip and you can play Ben Hur!  

To keep your significant other happy get a tandem bike. While not cheap they’re priceless when it comes to spending time together. You can get the whole family involved by getting a child seat and/or trailer to bring the kids along. They also have special bolt-on cranks that a child can use in the “stoker” position when they get too old for a childseat or trailer.

Offer to take the family to the beach, lake or park and then go on a run or swim while they play or lay in the sun. It makes for a fun outing and you get to work out with new scenery.

Using Training Time Wisely

Save time by being efficient. Keep your bike in good working order so that you don’t “blow” a session by having a mechanical problem. Have all you bike and running clothes readily available in the same place so that you don’t have to search for your gloves, hat, or rain gear when you have to dress for the weather. Always keep a bag packed with running and swimming gear in the car so you can get in a workout if the opportunity presents itself.

The greatest training time efficiencies can be gained by having a good training plan with specific training objectives or milestones. Every workout should have a goal and a plan, and every workout should lead towards your training objectives or milestones. This prevents wasting time accumulating “junk” miles. Track your workouts and regularly review the plan to make sure you’re making progress toward your Ironman goal. There are a number of good books available to help you design an effective training plan, or a good coach can help you put together a training plan that’s specific for your needs. A coach who is experienced at the ironman distance can help you develop training sessions that incorporate some of the training opportunities described above. Most of all a coach can help keep you on track to reach your IronDreams while balancing the rest of your life. 

Marc Saucier, a USA Triathlon Level One Certified Triathlon Coach at Vescio Multisport Performance Services, has been a competitive triathlete for over twenty-five years. He has competed in eleven ironman triathlons, including three Hawaii Ironman World Championships. His next ironman is Ironman Florida 2010. Marc can be reached at or 978-314-7325.