Fourth Industrial Revolution enthusiast and passionate about Analytics, Startups, and…
If you’ve made it this far, you’re likely interested in completing your first Half-Ironman. You may not know much about it, but you’ve set yourself a challenge and want to complete it, just like me. I’ll share my preparation process and lessons learned in a series of articles.
I never considered myself very athletic, but a critical factor led me to begin preparing for this race without even realizing it. Living in Quito, Ecuador, means being surrounded by mountains. The Andes mountain range passes through here, and this natural environment sparked my interest in sports.
I often contemplated the majestic Cotopaxi from my home, an active volcano towering at 5,897 meters. So, at the beginning of 2022, I enrolled in a preparation course to ascend it. Eventually, I conquered the summit of this volcano and the highest peak in Ecuador, Chimborazo, which stands at an altitude of 6,263 meters. This is also the Earth’s closest point towards the Sun, even closer than Mt. Everest, due to the bulge at the equator. The mountaineering preparation involves ascending mountains to gradually higher altitudes, which helps the body to build endurance and acclimate to the conditions.
Part of the training process involved running twice a week. After I conquered the summits, I decided to continue running, and I ran a lot. I completed trail running races of 20, 25, and 30 km. In addition, I decided to participate in a sprint triathlon, a short distance. This was the beginning of my journey toward the Half-Ironman. The experience of swimming in open water, followed by cycling and running under the sun of the beach of Salinas, Ecuador, filled me with joy. I felt strong and wanted more, a goal that would present a more significant challenge.
In December 2022, I joined Stingray Triathlon, a team of triathletes in Quito that I found through a friend. This marked the beginning of my training and, without realizing it, a change in my lifestyle. My sleep schedule shifted as I began waking up early to train and going to bed earlier to be well-rested. Through this community, I have met many great people who have taught me a lot. By stepping out of my comfort zone, I am slowly but surely proving to myself that the distances of the Half Ironman are indeed possible.
Over the past two months, I have learned a lot about the training process, necessary equipment, and other aspects of preparation. I am sharing my experiences to provide you with a guide and more in-depth understanding of preparing for an Ironman 70.3.
1. What is a Half-Ironman?
The Half Ironman, also known as Ironman 70.3, is one of the world’s most challenging and thrilling triathlon races. It involves covering a total distance of 70.3 miles (113.14 km) which includes 1.2 miles (ca. 2 km) of swimming, 56 miles (ca. 90 km) of cycling, and 13.1 miles (ca. 21 km) of running, all in a single competition and the mentioned order. The race must be completed within 8 hours and 30 minutes, and your time starts when you enter the water. You have 1 hour and 10 minutes to complete the swimming, 5 and 30 minutes for cycling (including swimming), and 8 and 30 minutes to finish everything. If you cannot complete the race within the time limit, you will be disqualified and receive a DNF, which stands for “did not finish,” but you can still complete the race on your own.
2. What is the optimal preparation time before an Ironman competition?
Preparing at least 10 to 20 weeks in advance is recommended, depending on your level in each discipline. If you have good experience in each discipline, then 10 weeks may be sufficient. However, if you are like me and need to improve your swimming and road cycling techniques, it’s best to start preparing at least 6 months in advance. My training sessions are every day of the week, with all three disciplines being practiced three times a week. Some of these workouts happen as early as 5.am., which means waking up at 4:15 a.m. during the week. Most weeks involve training twice daily, with long bike rides on the weekends lasting up to 6 hours on the road. Initially, it may feel like a shock to your system, similar to a cold plunge. It will push you out of your comfort zone.
On average, most people do not wake up so early or dedicate so much time to training in their week, so adjusting to this new rhythm takes a lot of effort. However, over time and with consistency, you will strengthen various aspects. You will have tremendous willpower to wake up, train, and feel that your body, muscles, and endurance can go even further. Your body and mind will be trained to adapt to this new lifestyle.
There may be days when external circumstances or a lack of motivation may prevent you from completing one of your workouts, and you may feel bad for not training. But don’t worry; the goal is to keep going. Remember that training is a process, and progress is not always linear. Listening to your body and giving yourself the rest you need when necessary is essential.
3. Train with professionals and learn the essential terms to understand this sport better
To better understand this demanding sport, training with professionals and familiarizing yourself with the essential terminology is crucial. One of my friends attempted to complete a Half Ironman independently, but soon realized the value of training with a qualified coach. Personalized training plans can help set realistic goals and ensure physical and mental readiness for the competition. A certified and experienced coach can guide you through the training process, improve your technique, and help you avoid potential injuries.
To track your progress and training plans, Training Peaks is a popular app that allows athletes to sync workouts directly to their watches. With a button, you can quickly start your workout and stay on track with your training plan. Learning triathlon-specific terms is essential to understand your performance and progress better.
Remember, the primary goal of your first competition should be to enjoy and learn; you may even fall in love with the triathlon. Finishing the race feeling strong is the ultimate achievement for a beginner like me. Personalized training with a coach and understanding the sport’s terminology will help you get there.
4. What equipment do I need for a Half Ironman?
Preparing for a Half Ironman requires physical and mental preparation and a significant financial investment, particularly if you’re new to the world of triathlon. Each discipline requires specific equipment, including swimwear, a bike and helmet, and running shoes. Here are some essential items you’ll need to consider, but if you’re looking for a more detailed version, we also have an article that exclusively talks about equipment.
One of the most essential items is a sports watch. Garmin dominates this segment. You will need a watch with all the necessary triathlon features (open-water swimming, cycling, and running). Some watches are designed for runners or swimmers, but you require everything integrated. Models like the Garmin Forerunner 745, 945, or 955 are excellent options.
For swimming, you’ll need a latex cap, swimming goggles, swimwear, as well as fins and paddles (the latter can help improve your technique and strength during training). For cycling, it’s essential to have a road bike, helmet, cycling shorts, a cycling jersey, gloves, cycling glasses, and a water bottle to keep you hydrated. Finally, you’ll need running shoes, shorts, and a sports T-shirt. If you don’t have any items listed, you might need to spend around 2,000 – 4,000 dollars, but don’t worry, you can do it progressively.
To ensure you remain hydrated during your training and on race day, it’s essential to learn how to hydrate appropriately according to the intensity of your exercise and replenish calories quickly. You may also want to add energy gels and isotonic hydration drinks to your shopping list.
5. A Radical Change in Your Lifestyle
Making lifestyle changes is a crucial aspect of preparing for a triathlon. It requires dedicating significant time and energy to training, which may mean sacrificing other activities and learning to prioritize. Saying “no” to things that may interfere with your training schedule is essential. Additionally, paying attention to your diet is crucial to ensure you eat nutritious foods that provide the energy you need to compete. Consulting with a nutritionist is highly recommended.
At first, it may seem odd to see a training schedule without a short break, especially if you’re used to taking a rest day at least one day a week. Training sessions will likely be planned from Monday to Sunday on your Training Peaks app. However, daily training is quite common in the triathlon world. On average, Ironman’s 70.3 participants train between 7 and 14 hours per week in the months leading up to the race, depending on their availability and goals.
Daily training can be exhausting, and waking up early almost daily takes a toll on your body. However, it’s something you can adapt to with time. You may need to change your bedtime routine and try to be in bed between 9:30 and 10:00 p.m. Good sleep is essential not only for training, but also for overall well-being. After a few weeks of training like this, your body will begin to adapt to the change, and you’ll feel comfortable with this routine. However, there will still be days when you’ll feel tempted to stay in bed, but training the mind and having the willpower to get up is essential. If you’re training for something extraordinary, don’t expect to have an everyday life.
Don’t be surprised if you only talk about bikes, training zones, cycling cadence, transitions, and other triathlon topics after only a couple of weeks. When you enter this world, you’ll find a great community of people willing to help you and see you improve. Being part of a team through your training can help you stay motivated to complete this race and make new friends. As humans, we have a natural need for belonging, ranked third in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which describes human needs.
Fourth Industrial Revolution enthusiast and passionate about Analytics, Startups, and Sustainable Development.