I remember in June 2011, my then 5-year-old son was just about to start his second year of running Iron Kid in the Coeur d’Alene City Park when he was introduced to a handful of pro athletes here to participate in Ironman. He was in awe and quietly told me he wants to be an Ironman when he is old enough. That year, both Ben Hoffman and Heather Wurtele set new course records with Ben coming in at 8 hours, 17 minutes and 13 seconds; and Heather coming in at 9 hours, 16 minutes and 2 seconds.
So here we are with 2017 being the last year for the full Ironman in Coeur d’Alene — and many people, like my son, want to be a local Ironman and still have not done the race. What are the chances that a moderately fit and healthy person could train to be ready for a full Ironman in the next 10 weeks?
Believe it or not, there have been years of debate around just how much training one needs to enable them to complete an Ironman. The ability to complete the course is much different from being a Ben Hoffman or Heather Wurtele, winning it all and setting a course record here in Coeur d’Alene.
Let’s break down the race in the simplest of terms. The requirement is swimming 2.4 miles with a mandatory swim cut off time at 2 hours 20 minutes. Then enter the bike transition to start your 112-mile ride with a mandatory bike cut off time of 8 hours 10 minutes, then into the 26.22-mile run with a mandatory 6 hours 30-minute cut off. In all, a total allocated time of 17 hours to complete the course starting roughly at 7 a.m. for non-pro athletes, then ending at midnight.
Sounds pretty straightforward. So back to the question, can you be ready to finish a full 140.62-mile Ironman race with only 10 weeks to train? The answer to this depends on a number of factors, but yes, it is very possible for someone in good shape to finish Ironman with just 10 weeks to prepare.
It starts with the swim, which is often the most feared aspect of the race for most rookies who have not done a triathlon. The swim is less about hours in the water building endurance and more about technique. If you are a good swimmer, an experienced swim coach can give you the technique and refinements needed to make it 2.4 miles in roughly 2 hours. This is if you are in good condition and your health is medically sound for a high level of extended exertion. With a little effort, swimming a couple of hours four or five days a week, you could master the swim well enough to finish the portion of the race which only makes up 10 percent of the total time requirement.
The bike section of the course is a much different story. Biking 112 miles in 8 hours will require you to maintain an average speed of roughly 14-plus miles per hour. The pro-athletes maintain a speed over 20 miles per hour and this effort takes skill, technique and endurance. I have asked many local and pro-triathletes what is the hardest segment of the race and they all say the bike course. This is for a number of reasons, such as course conditions, is it windy, hot or raining? All of these factors can make the bike section dangerous and extremely difficult.
Training with a focus on form and technique with an ample amount of high intensity indoor stationary rides, plus moderate outdoor rides with plenty of vertical road conditions will be key to being prepared. Let’s face it, the bike course will make or break your overall race. If you can manage to get six days of bike training in over 10 weeks with a few days off for proper recovery, then the course should be doable. It would be important to incrementally increase at least one ride per week in distance. Set a goal of being able to ride 60 miles comfortably by week five in 4 hours. Once you hit 60 miles in 4 hours, then set your pace and goal to 100 miles by week eight. Short high intensity sessions to build endurance and lower body strength will be key, so don’t feel like it is all about daily miles, 10 weeks can give you what you need to get it done.
Over the last 14 years, a common practice during Ironman Coeur d’Alene has seen finishers walking the majority of the 26.22 running course to successfully complete the race. This has been as much a strategy as it has been a necessity. Many local finishers will tell you, if you can make great time during transitions, then on the bike course you will buy yourself additional time to walk or trot your way home in the 6-plus hours during the run course. Every minute gained in the swim, transitions and bike helps you manage a comfortable fast walk pace through the run course. To put this walk vs. run into perspective, the world record marathon time is close to 2 hours. The average pro-triathlete can manage a sub 7-minute per mile pace getting the 26.22 wrapped up in a little more than 3 hours. The current top 10 best Pro-Ironman mens class all do sub 3-hour runs. Even if you buy yourself an extra 30 minutes between transitions and on the bike, you could finish the 26.22 run at a 15-minute per mile fast walking pace.
This year is the last full Ironman Coeur d’Alene and you may want to add it to your bucket list before it’s gone. Are you one of those people who have always thought about doing a full Ironman but held off? Perhaps you are someone who has completed Ironman in prior years and want to send the last race off with your name on the finishers lists. Either way, you have roughly 10 weeks to train. If you’re in good shape and have the time for a concentrated training effort, this last Ironman could be yours for the taking.
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Judd Jones is a director for The Hagadone Corporation in Coeur d’Alene.