Five Things to Do the 5 Weeks Before Ironman

Tuesday, July 16, 2013 | By Ben Greenfield
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It's official. The countdown has begun and you now have 5 weeks before your big Ironman.

So what do you do? Freak out? Start performing monster training sessions? Move to a mountaintop resort for a monk-like block of focused workouts?...Relax! The final five weeks before Ironman are certainly no physical or mental walk-in-the-park, with these five tips, you’ll arrive at the starting line ready to rumble – without being overtrained or undertrained for your big day.

1. Plan

Duh. Of course you have a plan, right? But I’m not referring to your actual yearly or monthly Ironman training plan, although that is definitely a necessity. What I’m referring to is the big component that most people leave out of their preparation process: a daily training plan.

That’s right; every day when you pop out of bed in the morning, you should know the exact details of the workout that you’re going to do. How many yards of swimming, split into how many repeats? What’s the exact run workout and time intervals? What power or heart rate zone are you shooting for on the bike? Impossible to jive this amount of daily planning with your work or family life? Then at least sit down every Sunday evening and plan out the approximate picture of what the week should look like.

In other words, don’t fly by the seat of your pants. It’s too important this close to the race to have you exact workouts written out and planned out. Heck, that’s why you use TrainingPeaks, right?

2. Avoid Groups

Yes, that’s right – you read correctly. Avoid groups. While the occasional group bike ride or triathlon club workout or Master’s swim session is OK, you’re now at the point in your training where you need to be mentally and physically prepared to cope with pacing and time trialing on your own.

Groups can push you outside your planned intensity, leave you doing more than you actually should be doing (this is way more common than a group pushing you to do less) and take away from the specificity of your last five weeks of Ironman prep (see tip 5).

3. Intensity

Most people don’t drop out of Ironman or slow down considerably because they run out of endurance. The human body is an amazing endurance animal. Most people give up or slow down due to neural fatigue – an inability to be able to handle the discomfort or a loss of focus.

You’re going to find yourself well equipped to make it through these tough times during Ironman if you “dip into the pain cave” during your training session and focus on intensity more than you focus on volume. Huge aerobic sessions are not going to result in significant improvements in fitness during the last few weeks, but targeted speed sessions will refine your mind and body. So hit the track for 400’s and 800’s, do some hard 25 and 50m surges in the pool and include some intense time trialing or Olympic distance triathlons to get you ready for the bike.

4. Density

When I use the word “density”, I’m referring to your actual nutrition. Think of nutrient density as a ratio of actual nutrient content (vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and fatty acids) to the total energy content (calories). Just because a food is energy-dense does not mean it is nutrient-dense. For example, the notion that grains and legumes are amongst the healthiest foods comes from an analysis of them in their raw and inedible state. Once you look at their cooked values, they are amongst the worst from a nutrient density standpoint.

On the flipside, nutrient dense foods with natural anti-inflammatory properties, like dark-skinned fruits and vegetables (pomegranates, cherries, blueberries, plums, artichokes, spinach and broccoli are excellent), high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids (cold-water fish, cod liver oil, fish oil, etc.) and natural herbal anti-inflammatories like turmeric, curcumin, garlic and ginger should form the basis of a good nutrient dense diet. If you’re prone to tummy aches, nasal congestion or other body issues during Ironman, you should also avoid common autoimmune diet triggers.

5. Specificity

Finally, every single workout at this point should have a purpose.

If your race is in the heat, you need to be training in the heat and waiting until the afternoon to do your workouts or doing them with a heater on underneath a bike or treadmill. If your swim is in choppy water you need to go swim in the pool during open water swim time or while the local swim team is eating up the lanes. If your race is flat, you need to be time trialing at high cadences, not climbing hills. In other words, don’t just train. Train with laser-like specificity for the exact race for which you’re preparing. At no time is this more important than the last few weeks before your Ironman.

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