Training plan templates make a hell of a lot of assumptions. Those silly PDFs and app icons assume we have unlimited time to train, zero friends, are unemployed, and that our lives revolve around triathlon. Perhaps that’s you in a nutshell. Though, more than likely it’s probably not. You have to ask yourself, will the cookie-cutter Ironman template of:
Base phase - 12 weeks
Build phase - 8 weeks
Peak phase - 8 weeks
Race phase - 2 weeks
Total - 30 weeks at 10-15 hours per week;
…work for you? Some weeks you won’t have six hours to train, let alone 15. While some weeks you’ll have 20 hours. What do you do with those extra five hours? Well, I’m about to explain how you can manually adapt your rigid training plan to continue progressing, maintaining the entertainment, while avoiding injury and burnout. Remember, training for an Ironman should be equal parts fun and rewarding and flexibility allows for both of those critical aspects.
You have a travel day coming up and it interferes with one of your key workouts for the week. It’s OK to move workouts for logistical purposes! Adjusting the plan to move that important bike session ahead of traveling is ideal. In that particular case you’ll use the travel day as a rest/recovery day.
Traveling puts an enormous amount of stress on the body. Even if you’re sitting on a plane or in a car for only a few hours, the stress load is magnified. Attempting to hit that key bike session after you get to your destination isn’t going to be effective. Not to mention the mental struggle of feeling guilty or sometimes in my case frustrated that I’m missing a workout or won’t feel as strong when I do get around to it. So, I find it’s better to get that workout in ahead of traveling and then use the down time in the airport to absorb the training.
On the other hand, there are critical instances where it’s not OK to move workouts around. If you’re mentally stressed, busy, or sick rest and recovery need to be your primary focus. Adjusting your schedule to not miss an intense run workout isn’t going to benefit you under these circumstances. Rather, it’ll push your recovery out further and add additional stress to your body. You need to place just as much emphasis on recovery workouts as you do the key sessions in your plan.
Training should be fun! That’s Rule #1. So while your training template doesn’t call for joining your local group run or ride, a spin class, yoga, boxing, or hiking there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have to confidence to swap those in often enough. There’s a right and wrong way to do this though.
The wrong way
Swapping a recovery run for an intense hill workout with your running club isn’t the best idea, especially if you nailed an intense run earlier in the week. Likewise, going on a casual bike ride with the family probably isn’t going to give you the most positive adaptation if your latest sessions were on the easy side. Again, you need to be able to adjust your workouts during the week to accommodate these social workouts if you know they’re coming up.
The right way
To effectively add in group rides and the like, keep the purpose of the workout in mind. If your training template calls for a two-hour ride with 4x15:00 at Ironman race effort, but your local cycling club only incorporates short sprints into their rides that’s OK! The intensity will be there to provide a positive training stimulus despite not following the plan exactly as it’s laid out.
An intense workout can be swapped for another intense workout with friends even if it’s not identical to what you have written out. No one likes the stick in the mud who says, “sorry, I can’t train with you today because my run calls for 10 quarter-mile repeats in Zone 4 and you only want to do nine repeats.” Be flexible and social!
Adjustments to my personal training plan
I started my base training very early for Ironman Mont Tremblant. Now, I’m presented with a gap to fill if I was following the standard length of the base phase. I need to fill in about six weeks. With a solid base of fitness already and to avoid building and peaking too early then trying to hold onto it longer leading into race day, I’ve decided to extend my base phase. Let’s call it Base Phase 2!
I’m already more than eight weeks into my base building and will stretch it out to more than 16 once it’s all said and done. I want to build a huge base of fitness and increase my aerobic capacity. This will be easier to maintain and then build off rather than trying to maintain peak form for several weeks ahead of race day.
On the bike, for example, I’ll be mixing in a variety of VO2, sweet spot, threshold, and tempo efforts. This will allow for more time efficient adaptations and an increase in my FTP. By covering different power zones I’ll be able to make significant gains in a handful of hours each week. This is in stark contrast to a high-volume bike regimen that requires twice as much time in the saddle.
Building that foundation of fitness is arguably the most critical aspect of a training plan, which is why I’m electing to extend it rather than progress too quickly out of it. Here’s a look at my workouts from this week:
Swim: 4500 yards