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Half Ironman Preparation

Written by: Craig Zelent
Posted: Friday, 04 April 2008
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The following is a five-month Half Ironman training program to ramp up for a Half Ironman Triathlon. Shown below are mileage expectations for the build up period leading up to the race. Doing the mileage described probably won’t be enough to qualify you for Hawaii, but it will provide you with a solid foundation for a great racing experience. This is a general guideline. Depending on your skill sets, you will need to make some adjustments. For instance, if you are aquatically challenged, then you will need to do more yards than I have shown.

For each month I describe 2 types of weeks. The first type of week is “EPP” (Endurance Protection Plan or Extra Painful Portions). You have 2 days to really focus during the EPP week. Ideally I would suggest doing the long run on Wednesday and the long bike on Saturday to spread these out by a few days. But most of us have jobs so it is more likely you will do these 2 workouts on consecutive weekend days. In that case, it is best to do the long bike on Saturday and the long run on Sunday to mimic the order you will do in the race.

The second type of week is the “Brick.” Again you have 2 days to really focus your efforts and they should be consecutive days. On Saturday you will do a bike/run workout with no break in between. On Sunday you will definitely do a longer run than you did the previous day. The purpose of the Sunday run is to simulate the later stages of the Half Ironman and running on dead legs. The bike ride sometime later that day is optional, but highly recommended especially if you had trouble logging bike miles during the week.

To mix up your training and avoid boredom, I recommend alternating these weeks. You should figure on doing each type of week 2 times per month. I do encourage a third type of week called a “Race” week. The Race week will give you some mileage relief, some fun and more variety to your program. You should still have pretty solid mileage during a Race week, but your main focus is to have a great race performance.

I highly recommend participating in a weekly spin class. These classes usually take about an hour and this will be the most beneficial hour you will spend on the bike all week. The most important factor in an effective spin class is a knowledgeable, motivated instructor. To max out your speed on the bike, you must do a spin class. Since half of the time in most triathlons is spent on the bike, you can really gain a lot of ground on your competition by spinning. On a personal note, since I have been doing spin workouts my bike performance has improved at least 10%.

I do highly recommend non-triathlon related activities like weight training, yoga and pilates. Each of these will improve your strength and help to reduce the likelihood of injuries. In particular, yoga and pilates will enhance your flexibility. For each of these non-triathlon related activities, I'd recommend 2x per week for most of the year. Then when your swim, bike and run requirements are really high and sucking up so much time, you could down shift them to 1x per week. Aim for 2x, but if you just don't have the time that is ok to do this cross training 1x - many full IM and half IM people face that time challenge. Core strengthening is really important. By core I'm referring to your abs and low back. I have a low back problem as do many, many people. I'm also a fan of addressing my weaknesses. So I do 3 sets of my ab and low back exercises 2x per week. I will make every effort to do the ab and low back exercises all 52 weeks in the year. I do many of these core exercises with an exercise ball.

Racing at a warm venue is a unique animal. I fear many racers will make a key tactical error by not using enough salt tablets. I recommend using the Sportsquestdirect.com product called Thermolytes to replace your sodium. This type of product is used by endurance athletes to minimize heat fatigue and muscle cramps due to excessive perspiration. You should follow the products recommended dosage. I have used over 50 Thermolyte capsules at each of the past 3 Ironman Hawaii races I’ve competed in. I would use at least 20 Thermolyte capsules at most Half Ironman races. That sounds like a staggering quantity, but it was absolutely the correct amount for me as it was within the recommended dosage.

For questions about nutrition and triathlon training I am referring people to Kim Mueller, MS, RD. Kim is a Registered Sports Dietician, competitive endurance athlete, and fellow tri-club member who provides nutritional counseling and meal planning to athletes around the world. Tri-club members are encouraged to take advantage of a complimentary initial 30 minute consultation with Kim. More information on her services can be found at www.kbnutrition.com. Kim can be reached at kim@kbnutrition.com.

Month 1 (5 weeks):

EPP: Long bike: 30 miles, long run: 6-7 miles.
Brick: Saturday: bike 20 miles then immediately run 15 minutes. Sunday: run 30 minutes, bike 45 minutes.
Weekly totals: swim 3,000 yards (2 swims), bike 40-50 miles, run 15-20 miles.

Month 2 (4 weeks):

EPP: Long bike: 40 miles, long run: 8-9 miles.
Brick: Saturday: bike 30 miles then immediately run 20 minutes. Sunday: run 30-45 minutes, bike 45-60 minutes.
Weekly totals: swim 3,000-4,000 yards (2 swims), bike 60 miles, run 20 miles.

Month 3 (5 weeks):

EPP: Long bike: 50-55 miles, long run: 10-12 miles.
Brick: Saturday: bike 40 miles then immediately run 30 minutes. Sunday: run 45 minutes, bike 45-60 minutes.
Weekly totals: swim 4,000+ yards (2+ swims), bike 80 miles, run 20-25 miles.

Month 4 (4 weeks):

EPP: Long bike: 65+ miles, long run: 12-15 miles.
Brick: Saturday: bike 50 miles then immediately run 45 minutes. Sunday: run 1+ hours, bike 1 hour.
Weekly totals: swim 6,000+ yards (3 swims), bike 100+ miles, run 25-30 miles.

Final Three Weeks:

Much of your focus in the last three weeks should turn to swimming. The Half Ironman swim is 2,200 yards. A great swim workout to prepare is 11 x 200 yards (or 6 x 400 yards) on an interval or with 5-10 seconds rest. I would do this once weekly during the final 3-4 weeks. Do not do this distance during the final week prior to the race. In addition, everyone should get their bike tuned 2 weeks prior to the race to allow for a few rides afterwards to make certain it is dialed in properly.

The people with a 3 week taper may want to follow these guidelines:

Week 1: Do a max of 75% of your biggest week's mileage.
Week 2: Do a max of 50% of your biggest week's mileage.

For the final week I suspect you will all have your own preferences regarding what to do. If anything, please error on the side of doing too little rather than too much. My personal preference would be to take Monday and Friday off completely. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I would do 2 of the 3 sports (swim, bike and run) each day for a total of 1 hour max. On Saturday I would do a max of 15 minutes of swimming or biking. Your emphasis should be on hydrating, resting and mentally preparing. Keep those feet up especially on Saturday.

Craig Zelent is a 12x Ironman finisher, including 5x at Kona. Craig is available for personal triathlon coaching and can be reached at 760-214-0055 or tricraigz@yahoo.com

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Copyright (C) 2007 Alain Georgette / Copyright (C) 2006 Frantisek Hliva. All rights reserved.