68 min faster in 11 months. My journey to sub 11h Ironman Triathlon.

In October 2016 I raced my first full distance triathlon, Ironman Barcelona. It took me 12:06:58 to finish.

11 months later, in August 2017, I competed again, this time in Copenhagen. My time, 10:58:31.

This article is for anyone who would like to learn how I trained, what worked and what didn't, what I could do differently and what specific training sessions I need to implement to go faster next time.

Humble Beginnings
Before the race in Barcelona, I was relatively new to the sport of triathlon. I had only a few races under my belt, and I had no previous professional experience in any of three sports.
My cycling was probably the strongest. Swimming, total disaster. The year before the event I could bearly swim 50m without gasping for air, at a very slow pace, and with an awful technique.
And lastly, running. 


To be honestly, I don't know what I was thinking. I always hated running!


So as you can see, I wasn't ''an endurance guy'' at all.
I had a vast experience in sports, first playing handball for 12 years, then squash for 7 and kettlebells for few but those were all explosive base sports.
Short, fast bursts and a lot of breaks. The longest rally in squash last 1min, and the kettlebell sport set is "only 10min" (although very long 10 min!)


I was a total newbie in the cardio world.



The training for Barcelona was very sketchy. I've only signed up 3 months before the event (one of those wine fulled ad hoc decisions), and my plan was downloaded from one of the Tri websites (generic and very random).
I mostly focused on the swimming, and I did some cycling, completely ignoring the running. There was simply not enough time for everything, I was exhausted after all that time spent in the water. "If I cannot run, I will walk" I've said to myself. And boy, I did walk a lot! (painful 04:51:24) (a full race report here)

After the Barcelona, my competitive side kicked in. I knew I could do better. I wanted to go faster!
But this time I wanted to be more strategic.


First of all, I decided to learn more about the sport and the endurance training.


As always, I jumped head first, and consumed all the info I could put my hands on;
  • books (paper and Kindle version - lately only the Kindle as my wife banned me from buying more physical copies, our flat is apparently too small!), 
  • tri online magazines,
  • podcasts
  • apps  

With Joanna, my best training partner!
I signed up for the Ironman Coaching Cert, a huge money and time investment but totally worth. Your tutors are the best coaches in the world!
And lastly I've joined Edinburgh Tri Club, and I've managed to convince their primary coach to become my mentor.
Now, armored with all that knowledge it was time to put into the practice.


Training Plan

I started with planning my regular training week. I didn't have a specific plan to follow, I simply put down what I wanted to do every day.
After many tweaks it looks like this:
  • Monday - swim 
  • Tuesday - turbo 
  • Wednesday - run and swim 
  • Thursday - turbo plus run (brick) 
  • Friday - swim/rest 
  • Saturday -long bike plus run (brick) 
  • Sunday - long run

Knowing what is planned for every day has brought some regularity into my training and life. I wanted it to become a habit, so I didn't need to think:

"oh, it's Wednesday, what should I do today"
and instead
"right, it Wednesday, hill sprint!"

The training sessions are easy to follow too. My favorite one is run out and run back faster the same way, hill sprints, 20x100m and turbo sessions on the bike.


I would increase training intensity or training volume for 3 weeks and then deload in week 4.
3 days (Tue, Wed, and Thu) would be shorter and fast, and the weekend sessions tend to be longer and endurance based.
Friday would be an easy swim or rest.

Racing


I had a couple of B and C raced planned: 2x sprints, 1x Olympic distance and the half distance, 2 months before the main race.

On each of those races, I would focus on one thing.
It wasn't about winning or going as fast as possible. No, it was about the practice and rehearsal for the big day. One time I would focus on transition, the other time on the swim or eating. John, my mentor, and coach has sold me on this idea and I think this worked very well. 


Strength


Strength training played a significant role in my preparation. I believe that one or two brief training sessions a week make you stronger and bulletproof your joints.

My weapon of choice are kettlebells: swings, squat and press. Very low key, simply to learn and very effective.
I also do a lot of hanging and core specific exercises, with the hollow body position being my favorite.
A Strong core means less energy is wasted and you can sustain better form for longer. This means faster times and low risk for injuries.


Eating


I raced Barcelona on carbs only, mostly gels. Copenhagen was more solid food and only one or two gels during the run.
Omlet with Avocado, Peppers and Mushrooms
I've made a conscious effort to eat more fat during the preparation and limited simply carbs.
To teach my body how to use the fat as a fuel, I perform some of my training in the fasting state. I also do 16-20h fasts every other week.
Running slower was a big step forward. Instead of going faster everytime on the sub-max HR I rub slower, at around 135 beats per minute. This approach was first used by Dr. Philip Maffetone and then applied by many great athletes, including Mark Allen!

Recovery


During the given training session, your body is pushed to the limit, it uses their reverse, the muscles are overtrained, heart overused. The training makes you weak. It is rest and recovery what's make you strong.

There are many ways to make a recovery faster. Many of them are very easy, and it only takes a couple of minutes. During my preparation I did:
- sauna - 2-3 times a week
- foam rolling - before and after all the sessions
- stretching - mostly Jefferson Curl and The Couch Stretch, multiple times during the day
- massage - a couple of times
- meditation, a breathwork - 1-2 times per week


Ironman Copenhagen


I am pleased with my result. The swim was a little bit slower than planned, due to a very crowded course and the massive cramp which almost stopped me altogether.

With Grzesiek (still faster than me, but not for long :p)
The bike, very good, although I still think a could push a little bit more. And the run, I've planned 4h, and I did 4h2m. Not but for my second ever marathon distance:)

You can read a full race report here.

What's next?

The goal for the next year is sub 10! 


I know it's possible, it's just the matter of a good winter training, fast course and a little bit of luck! And in next couple of years, if the heath is good, I will race in Kona!!! :)

Before you go, check out my book, podcast and training recommendations:

Books:

            

And my favourite!



Podcasts:


Strength:




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