If you’ve taken part in your first sprint or Olympic-distance triathlon, you might be tempted to go that one step further and sign up to an Ironman 70.3.
It’s a serious feat of endurance, and a big commitment, requiring months of training and preparation. But if you’re prepared to put in the work, anyone can complete one – and the journey to the startline can be hugely rewarding (and fun!). ‘You do not need any prior swim, bike or run experience to decide to start your journey to preparing yourself for a 70.3 – just the right attitude and mindset,’ says Loren Ward, co-owner and lead coach at Passion Fit Coaching. ‘However, your level of previous experience could determine how much time you give yourself to prepare.’
Here, Ward explains what exactly is required to train for your first Ironman 70.3 – from the weekly training volume to the equipment you’ll need. RW’s deputy digital editor, Jenny Bozon, also shares her key learnings from preparing for her first 70.3…
How long does it take to train for an Ironman 70.3?
The time required to train for a half Ironman differs from person to person, depending on your experience level and what your goals are, says Ward. ‘Is your goal simply to finish, or to execute the race to the absolute best of your ability? Depending on the goal, I would usually recommend anything from a minimum of six months up to 12 months (or even longer in some cases).’
How many hours a week are needed to train for a 70.3?
Your goals for your 70.3 will determine what your weekly volume will look like, but even then, everyone responds differently to training, Ward explains. ‘This could look like anything from eight hours a week to 20 hours a week.’
Training consists of a mixture of swim, bike and run sessions each week, with long rides, long runs and brick sessions at the weekend. ‘A breakdown in terms of weekly time/volume would be 25% swim, 25% run and 50% bike. But again, this will depend on the person, based on their previous experience and their individualised strengths and biggest areas for opportunity and development,’ Ward says.
One area many neglect the most is swimming – but Ward says this is a huge oversight.
‘Because the race itself, from a distance perspective, is broken down into 2% swim, 79% bike and 19% run, many people make the mistake of neglecting their swim development,’ says Ward. ‘But this is often a huge misconception that the time investment in the swim will not bring enough return.’ The time invested in swim training will pay dividends on race day, as you sail into T2 feeling like your race has only just started…
What’s the minimum equipment you need?
Triathlon is renowned for being an expensive sport – but you really don’t need the most top-of-the-range equipment to complete one. For the swim, you’ll need a swimsuit/trunks, a pair of goggles and a swim cap, plus a wetsuit for open water swimming. For the bike, you’ll need a road bike or TT/triathlon bike (which can be purchased second-hand), a helmet, bike shoes and some bib shorts. And for the run, simply a pair of running shoes and, for women, a sports bra. ‘I would always recommend getting started with the basics, then discuss with a coach where the best area for you to invest further in may be,’ says Ward.
How do you know if a 70.3 is right for you?
The first thing to consider is whether you have the time to invest in training. Are you going through a busy period in your life and/or work? Can you realistically fit eight to 20 hours of training into your current schedule, without feeling overwhelmed? Or would it be possible to step away from some of your current commitments to accommodate the training load? This is where motivation comes in. ‘Always start by asking yourself: “Why do I want to do a 70.3?” says Ward. It’s so important to be clear on this and where your motivation is originating from.’ Ultimately, this will help you to decide if you’re willing to fully commit to the training load. It will also make the challenging days easier. ‘You will inevitably have some tough days within your build-up to the race, so being clear on why you want to take on this challenge is essential,’ says Ward.
Then there’s the cost investment – can you realistically afford the race place and any new equipment you might need for the race? And if so, are you prepared to part with your cash? In addition to the basic kit mentioned above, if you’re new to cycling you might need to invest in add-on accessories like a bike pump, tyre leavers, innertubes, drinks bottles and energy drinks. As for running, you might need to invest in a new pair of running shoes and items such as a race vest to carry water and fuel on long runs.
Is it worth investing in a coach?
If you’re new to triathlon, you might be wondering whether finding a coach could be helpful. While you can absolutely purchase an off-the-shelf plan and prepare yourself independently for your first 70.3, if your budget allows, a coach can be a worthy investment. ‘We see many triathletes spend thousands of pounds on equipment they don’t need in the hopes it will help them to gain minutes across a swim, bike or run leg,’ explains Ward, ‘yet, in reality, the right coach has the potential to bring you far greater progression for a fraction of the cost. A coach can help to guide you right from the early stages, such as setting your own personalised goals, understanding not just what to do in terms of training, but how to execute the sessions, right through to designing a race and nutrition plan… and that’s just the physical side. A coach can also help you with the huge mental challenges preparation for such an event brings.’
8 things I’ve learned from training for my first 70.3
1. To get more confident on a bike, you need to ride outdoors – often!
It sounds obvious. But when I began training for this September’s Ironman 70.3 Weymouth right back in April, I had very little experience of riding my bike outdoors – especially alone. Nervous of navigating and busy London traffic, I thought I’d be able to get away with doing most rides on the turbo trainer, but as those long rides increased each week to three-plus hours, I knew I needed to get outdoors – and it’s been totally liberating! Every week my confidence, bike-handling skills and ability to navigate have increased. Plus, it sure beats staring at the same four walls! My best advice? Invest in a cycle computer (I have the Garmin Edge 530), spend some time the day before plotting your route on Strava and just get out and do it – even if you don’t want to at first! The reality is, come race day, you won’t be able to ride 90km on your turbo trainer, so build your confidence early.
2. Carb drinks are genius
When you’re riding for over an hour, you need to fuel and, when you fuel properly, you know about it! Prior to training for Weymouth, I used to take a non-strategic and, quite frankly, rather silly approach to fuelling long rides – stopping for a coffee and a cake once I stumbled upon a coffee shop – and grabbing a handful of sweets here and there. But to fuel optimally, you need to consume around 60-90g of carbohydrate per hour and the reality is, it’s really hard to consume that amount via real food. I’ve found carb drinks to be a boon, as before each ride, I can accurately calculate how much I’ll need and, because the powder is mixed with water, I’m able to keep on top of my hydration at the same time. It’s made all the difference to my enjoyment and performance.
3. You need to swim long and hard, regularly
The area where I’ve seen the most improvement has undoubtedly been the swim and that’s due to the length and intensity of the swim sessions, which my coach, Loren Ward, has prescribed for me each week. Given the distance of the swim on race day is 1900m, I expected the swim sessions to be no longer than 2000m, but I’ve been swimming 2600m twice a week now for the last 10 weeks, and my swim times have increased exponentially. An example session would be: 200m warm-up, 3 x 8 x 100m fast. It’s a hard session and I can’t say I look forward it, but Loren has assured me that the aim of doing these sessions is to build my swim fitness to the point that, when race days comes around, those 1900km feel like a breeze. (Here’s hoping!)
4. Running on the track is fun (and not just for really fast club runners)
Until last month, I’d always believed the track was too ‘elite’ for me – reserved for the speedy club runners among us – and that booking a lane would be a hassle. It turns out, it’s neither. Completing my running intervals on the track has made those sessions feel mentally and physically easier, and it also helps keep the variables really low – so things like elevation, terrain and traffic on route – which makes it easier to monitor progression. Plus, the spongy rubber terrain feels softer on your joints and it's much harder to feel lazy when you’re stood on a running track!
5. You can run surprisingly fast off the bike
In week 11 of my training plan, I completed my first brick session: a two-hour ride followed by a 20-minute run. I spent the whole ride dreading it – nervous of how heavy my legs and lungs may feel off the bike – but oddly enough, I was able to maintain the same pace as during my weekly speed intervals – and with relative ease. While your legs do feel peculiar at first, you’ll be surprised by just how quickly your legs turnover off the bike and, because your heart rate is already elevated, running quick feels surprisingly more effortless than usual.
6. The training can be seriously tiring – physically and mentally
I’ve absolutely loved the training so far – seeing my fitness and confidence grow across all three disciplines has been very rewarding and I’ve loved the focus and structure it’s given me. But the training volume has been more demanding that I expected – and fitting it all in around your other commitments can be challenging – particularly if you have a busy social schedule! And the truth is, sometimes I’ve had to train when I’ve really not wanted to: think, the day after my best mate’s wedding! But one of the key things I’ve learned from my coach is that consistency is everything and it’s during those challenging sessions where you really develop your mental toughness.
7. You need to be ridiculously organised
Like marathon training, 70.3 training isn’t something you can ‘wing’, so you need to be organised. Planning your week’s training can sometimes feel like solving a thousand-piece puzzle, especially if you’re going away and need to take your bike and kit with you. My advice is to plan social events wisely – as you might not be the best company after a long brick session. Also, get used to doing a big shop and planning your meals in advance, because in my experience, returning home from a long ride to an empty fridge can be soul-destroying – and not to mention a bit foolish, given how important is it to refuel ASAP after a long session.
8. If you can afford a coach… get one!
Working with my coach, Loren, has made the journey towards my first 70.3 feel far less daunting. Aside from programming in my weekly sessions around my individual goals, having her there to ask for her advice has not only been super helpful as a newbie triathlete but comforting, too – especially when it’s come to concerns around things like how to structure my training if I’m experiencing a niggle or going away on holiday. Plus, as the sessions have gradually got longer and harder, the prospect of sharing my training data with her afterwards has given me the much-needed incentive to execute them to the very best of my ability. Nothing beats being held accountable.
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