Triathlon Training: Training for Ironman Is a 12-Month Process, Not a 12-Week Training Plan


By Lindsay Hyman, CTS Pro Coach

The day after an Ironman race, hundreds – sometimes thousands – of athletes line up or go online to register for the next year’s race. That’s right, the race was asking people to commit a year in advance. In today’s last minute, just-in-time world, this is an anomaly. Undoubtedly, many of you don’t even know where you’re going next month, much less next summer. But this advance scheduling is critical to a successful Ironman, because for most competitors—and especially the first-timers—training for Ironman is a 12-month physical and mental challenge.

Over the years of coaching and preparing athletes to be Ironman ready, I’ve seen people take three years to achieve their Ironman dream as they made the steady progression from runner or cyclist to multisport Ironman finisher. It can be a long haul, people. But that commitment, when it results in success, is also a huge part of the sport’s satisfaction. With that in mind, I wanted to share some of the key, high-level tips I and the other coaches at CTS have gleaned from decades of working with Ironman athletes.

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Step 1: Choose a goal Ironman race based on your real-world training schedule

During their first year of IM training, my athletes and I look at the entire 12-month calendar and figure out when they’ll have the most time to commit to quality training. Seasonal weather, daylight, family and work commitments and even pool access are all considered into this equation. Once we figure this out, only then will we look at the racing calendar for an IM to enter.

Case in point: The timing of the Coeur d’Alene IM (late June) works well for parents of school-aged children since the most intense and longest training blocks for the race will occur in the spring/late spring while the kids are in school full-time. And the beginning of summer break will dovetail with the athlete’s tapering period.

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For others, summer races with their great weather and long days hold the most appeal. However, others, who live in stifling hot summer climates may choose early spring races to motivate themselves to train through the winter months and then ramp up training during the cool spring months. In the end, figure out when you have the most time to train long and hard for several months first, then find a race.

Bonus Tip: Give and Learn

If you don’t get into your local Ironman race this year, or the nearest race date doesn’t jive with your preferred race date, use the race as a learning opportunity. Become a volunteer. It’s a fantastic opportunity for you to scout the race—and if you’ve never done an Ironman, see what you’re in for. You’ll familiarize yourself with the logistics, course and transition layout, and pick up a motivational buzz from seeing the racers pass by.

Step 2: Make your first Ironman a 2-year journey

Before you sign up for the IM of your choice, you’ll want to develop a deep base of experience. And I’m not talking about ripping off an Olympic-distance triathlon and then tackling an Ironman. I’ve found more success in coaching athletes to the finish line of an IM if they work their way up to it over 2-3 years.

It takes time for the body to adapt to the new stresses of training without the risk of injury. With a 2-plus year plan, you can set up a steady progression from Olympic to half-Ironman to full Ironman that conditions your body—and your family and work colleagues—to your training regimen and schedule. Of course, some athletes may be able to go from reasonably fit to Ironman-ready in a year. But I urge you to think about your IM as a two-year process at least.

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Step 3. Pace your race schedule to grow faster, not just finish

Once you cross the finish line, don’t be surprised at how soon you start thinking about doing another Ironman. The emotional satisfaction is that powerful. My advice, be cautious. One Ironman in a year is difficult, two is very challenging, and three would require a pro- triathlete’s commitment to training and focus (although it can certainly be done, especially by very experienced triathletes).

Personally, I’ve found that athletes who strive for balance in their family, career, and training do best by committing to an Ironman every other year. The level of focus required during your Ironman years becomes easier to handle and understand when it’s balanced with a year of reduced training volume. During the alternate years, focus on 70.3 races and work on getting faster. That way, you’ll ideally enter your next Ironman build with the strength and speed to not just finish, but set a new PR.

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1 year time line

2 year time line

3 year time line

0 – 6 months

Select and register for your IM race

0 – 6 months

Select your IM race

0 – 6 months

Select your IM race

6 – 12 months

Train and be IM race ready!!

6 – 12 months

Train for a sprint and Olympic race

6 – 12 months

Train for a sprint and Olympic race

13 – 18 months

Train for a 70.3 race and register for your IM race

13 – 18 months

Train for a 70.3 race

19 – 24 months

IM race ready!

19 – 24 months

Train and stay focused

15 – 30 months

Train for a 70.3 race and register for your IM race

31 – 36 months

IM race ready!

Lindsay Hyman is a Pro Level coach with Carmichael Training Systems, Inc. and a certified USAT Coach.  In additional to competing at Ironman distance triathlons, she coaches athletes from first timers to champions in sprint to iron-distance events. 

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24 Responses to “Triathlon Training: Training for Ironman Is a 12-Month Process, Not a 12-Week Training Plan”

  1. David on

    I just finished my first half ironman and will be doing my first full ironman this Fall. My two location choices are Los Cabos and Cozumel. Does anyone have experience in these ironman locations and have a suggestion for me?


  2. Mehdi on

    The longest race i have done in my life is 10k after a 14 month fitness and diet that helped me to go from 103kg to 80kg.
    Now i started running every day morning on treadmill and im pretty much attracted to set to myself the challenge to finish an IM.
    How many weeks preparation would it take to get to a decent shape ? knowing that I am zero in swim 🙂
    Thanks in advance,

    • Tim Hawley on

      Congrats on your achievements, thus far! I have done various running distances and triathlons and will be doing my first Ironman next year. I would recommend trying a sprint distance triathlon first to give yourself a good base. I would love to be a part of your training process! Check out my website!

      Where are you located?

  3. Laurent Amat on

    I am planning to go to my first Ironman in August 2016. I already complted few olympics and 70.3 triathlon and now like to prepare for the next level. Would it be possible to provide some support?
    I live in Norway so it is really difficult to run or ride from Mid October to March. How then a training calendar looks like.
    I swim the 4k in approx 1h15 min and ride around 30km /hour with a run 3h45 (assuming 30sec extra per km after the ride)
    thanks in advance for your response

  4. Mike on

    I am looking to do ironman canada in 2016 and need a training plan to get going I have been biking but nor running or swimming in 7 to 8 months. Is there a plan to get things moving in the right direction I can put in whatever hours I need to for training.

  5. Jackson on

    I’m hoping to compete in my first Ironman december 2016.
    I play Aussie rules footy so my base level fitness is quite high. I can already comfortably swim 5km in a session continuously. I ride during the summer and can clock 100km in around 3 hours and my running pace is 4min kms for 10km.
    Are there any sort of training plans for people with my base fitness around?

    • Lizzie on

      I’m wanting to do the Ironman in December 2016 as well. Is this in Perth? By the way I’ve never been in any comps so I’m so excited.

  6. Simon Moore on

    hello i would like to compete in ironman uk 2016 i was wondering if you could give me some advice and help me with a training plan

  7. Roland on

    I’m looking to complete a full ironman in 2-3 years. So far I’ve only ran a marathon. I haven’t swam or biked long distances. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  8. Coral Wilson on


    A few years ago I wanted to begin training for a triathlon, but had life obstacles. Now I am ready to commit to serious training. Can you offer me any direction and advice other than what is on this site, which was helpful. Such as diet and recovery.

  9. Christine on


    I signed up for the Great Floridian (ironman distance) that is scheduled for Oct 24th, 2015. This will be my first full distance and I am looking for as much help/resources as possible. Where do I start??
    I have completed several sprints, a handful of olympics, one half ironman, and one marathon.
    I am not looking to complete the ironman by a certain time – I simply want to enjoy the experience and finish before the cut off.
    I am trying to set up a training schedule, but am unsure of the best approach.

    Look forward to hearing from you!

  10. Patrick on

    Hi I would like to start to train for my first ironman in a years time and I am looking the best advice to start off.any info woukd be great thank you

  11. Ron McCaillancourt on

    Looking to do an ironman late August 2015 in Ottawa. I am looking for a training schedule that will leave me race ready for that time.


  12. John Bonfadini on

    I have arthritis in both knees however I am still keen to attempt a full ironman. Swim and bike are o/k however I am concerned that I will not be able to complete the run due to my knees. I have completed a 35 k walk recently and finished it however I was in a lot of pain at the end. During the ironman is the medication that can be taken to assist with iflamation and joint pain during the race to assist me to finish ?

    • Seamus H on

      john, this may be late, but i recommend taking up yoga. I have chronic knee pains at 24 due to 3 acl tears, and on a separate occasion, a double meniscus tear (all playing soccer). I took up yoga 2-3 times per week to increase flexibility and that seems to have helped to subdue some of the pain. This is of course on top of a pre/re-hab program in which i focus on knee stability exercises. In conjunction with all of the other training that I do, this has helped to substantially reduce the pain that I am in and now I run pain free again. It is a lot of extra work, maybe 4-8 hours per week, but I would say that it is worth it.

  13. Juan Carlos Chamorro carrera on

    Hi there, my goal is training 1 year as smart as I can to make a ironman 2016, step by step, I am Spanish,I live in San Francisco, my training session is 10 hours a week…. Thank you so much

    • Juan Carlos Chamorro carrera on

      Hi there, I would love get a great work out for ironman, my goal is make 1 ironman in 2 years at least…. I am Spanish, live in California, training a week 10 hours … Thank you


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