Time Management And Your Training
By Coach Joe Beckerley, CSCS
Congratulations, you have signed up for an Ironman and are on the cusp of something remarkable, a true lifetime athletic achievement. Whether you are preparing for your very first Ironman, or training to beat your previous times, less than 0.01% of our population has completed this challenging feat. This will be a lifetime memory.
One of the most impressive aspects of watching Ironman athletes cross the finish line is understanding their commitment to training. While training plans vary, most will fluctuate between 9 and 16 hours a week, for at least 20 weeks. On some weekend days, you may jump out of bed, straight onto your bike, and still just barely make it home in time for dinner. This means the average person hearing “you are an Ironman” as they cross the finish line, has spent close to 300 hours training. This puts Ironman athletes right up there with the hours of training required by in-season college athletes. The only difference is that many Ironman athletes are also juggling full-time jobs, work trips, family vacations, spending time with partners and helping children with school projects.
So how do you manage your time? Balance your training with your work and family life?
Getting to the finish line not only requires determination, it requires excellent time-management skills. Here are a few tips I have used personally - that have also worked for the athletes I train.
Build your support system. Training for an Ironman is a life commitment and I encourage athletes to sit down with their loved ones. Explain to them why you want to commit to this goal and ask explicitly for their support. Tell them you know it will impact them, and that you will need ideas about how to fit your training in. Their support will be essential on those long training weekends. You will be amazed at how much easier it is to train when your partner is nudging you awake, remind you “you better get on your bike now, because everyone is coming over for the kids’ birthday party this afternoon” than it is when you’re getting an eye roll and a family frustrated that “you’re leaving again?”. Crank up their excitement about the event even further by letting your family weigh in which location you should pick for your Ironman race.
Athletes also should discuss their goals with their bosses. Most bosses will respect this and be excited for you. They may be able to help provide some flexibility for your training. This might mean letting you shift your schedule an hour later on days when you are biking before work, or shifting your schedule early on other days for you can leave work a little early to meet up with your local triathlon group for an Open Water Swim.
Know your training plan. In order to understand exactly how much time you need to carve out, you need a detailed training plan that includes all your daily workouts up until race day. You need to know the big picture.
There are several ways to get your training plan. To maximize your time, I recommend hiring a coach to create a personalized plan to your life schedule. IronmanU has many coaches to choose from. Talk to your coach about any scheduling problems you might have. Often times, a coach may be able to schedule a step-back week for the week your family has planned a summer vacation, or even reduce your training hours overall by substituting in some higher intensity training, which often takes less time. If you are not able to work with a coach, you can also purchase a plan through Training Peaks or create a plan for yourself. Either way. You need a plan, so you know what to schedule.
Calendar your training plan in 2-week blocks. The athletes I train have had the most success planning two-week training blocks. Usually 2 weeks out, items on family and work calendars are set. Look at your family and work calendars and put everything that is non-negotiable on your calendar first. Then, block out each workout from your training plan for the next two weeks. Schedule the exact time you will start. If you are not planning on running or biking straight from your home, or if you need to drive to a place you can swim, make sure you account for that time when you’re thinking about it all.
Channel your creative problem solving. This is the point where some athletes get stuck. As they look at the next two weeks, it might feel like there simply are not enough hours. This is when you talk with people in your support system and get creative. Consider these creative hacks that might free up your schedule.
1. Bike commute to work. Even if your work is not far from your home you can take the long way there to add in additional miles to hit your weekly bike training goals.
2. Run or Swim during your lunch. Many of your runs and swims will be shorter workouts 30-60 minutes and can be fit in during your lunch break with a pre-packed lunch ready to eat right after or at your desk.
3. Wake up early. With discipline many of your workouts can be completed before much of the world has woken up. Start your workouts early and have the rest of your day for your other life priorities. If your children are too young to leave while they are sleeping so you train outside of the house - consider ways to train without leaving your home. Would a bike trainer or other equipment help?
4. Get a good babysitter. Or swap off childcare with a fellow athlete so you both alternate training. Many of my athletes tell me that when they keep commitments to themselves and show up for their training, they are able to show up for their children as better parents. Even if it means a couple hours away from your children, your children may be rewarded with a happier, fully present parent once you’re home.
5. Create a family outing around your training. This could be asking your loved ones to join you at the beach for your open water swim, then have a family beach day. Many of our athletes will also will bring bikes to meet their family or loved ones at event (birthdays, camping trips, family celebrations) and then ride their bike home while their partner drives. In my family, we have even planned weekend trips where my wife bikes to a hotel and I drive with the kids. We have a fun family evening together then the next day, I bike home while my wife drives the kids.
Plan training vacations. Some vacations - like long road trips across the country, or trips to certain dense urban areas - can make it harder to train. Consider making your vacations a bit more training-friendly during your Ironman training. Where could you go where you can easily swim, bike and run during the morning hours while your family enjoys a vacation? Camping on the Oregon coast in the summer? A resort in Clearwater Florida in the winter? Let your mind run wild.
The Ironman is a full distance triathlon that will take the average athlete at least 12 hours to complete. But the real work and hours are the hundreds leading up to the race. So get out there.
This distance should be respected and to enjoy the day to its fullest on race day you must train yourself to be ready and this will take time management and some creative hacks to manage your time.
Ironman U Certified Coach, USA L2 Triathlon Coach and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist Coach Joe Beckerley is a multi Ironman finisher and owner of Performance Strength Lab a Multi Endurance Training Facility in San Diego CA.