With six Ironman Championship wins under his belt and the title of "The Greatest Endurance Athlete of All Time" from ESPN, Mark Allen knows what he is talking about when it comes to competing in triathlons. Ahead of the Ironman World Championship on October 14th, Allen has been interviewed in the upcoming October issue of the Red Bulletin (on newsstands September 19) to share some personal training tips to get Ironman ready in 12 months.
Take it from Ironman royalty Mark Allen: 12 months is all it takes to be ready to compete in the triathlon’s pinnacle event. "As long as you have some sort of fitness background, a year is plenty of time," Allen says. But it’s not going to be easy. In the October issue of the Red Bulletin, Allen outlines exactly what it takes to prepare your body to swim, cycle and run 140.6 miles—and live to brag about it
1. PICK A RACE: Nothing makes this challenge more real than signing up for an actual Ironman. "There’s a mind-body connection," Allen says. "Signing up for a race helps your body be ready." Allen suggests a late-fall Ironman—the Arizona event in mid-November is popular for first-timers—so that the bulk of your hard training takes place during mild months.
2. BECOME A DATA GEEK: A good triathlon watch can measure everything from sleep quality to swim-stroke efficiency. But the one metric that matters above all else is heart rate, Allen says. Chest straps are more accurate than wrist sensors, so choose a watch that is strap compatible. Later in your training, a GPS feature will track distances and a cycling power meter will measure how much effort you are expending, which ultimately will tell you if you’re getting fitter.
3. OPEN AN ONLINE TRAINING LOG ACCOUNT: Having past, present and future training sessions accessible in one place allows you to pick up patterns of successes and failures and then adjust accordingly. TrainingPeaks (trainingpeaks.com) is a popular one size-fits-all option; coach-specific sites like Allen’s (markallencoaching.com) are more personalized.
4. BUY A TRI BIKE: Triathlon bikes are designed to be ridden in the aero position, and it’s essential that you become used to the equipment on day one. The right fit is important, too, Allen says, "because your body begins developing a neurological pathway between your brain and your muscles." Allen also suggests picking up an indoor trainer that’s compatible with your new ride since you’ll be logging your first several.
5. DO A TRIATHLON!: It’s never too early to sign up for a local sprint-distance race. With a breezy half-mile swim, 12-mile bike ride and three-mile run, this is a great chance to simply get a feel for combining the three sports under pressure and transitioning between them.
6. HIRE A COACH: While Allen insists that this is not an essential step for Ironman hopefuls, services like his are surprisingly cheap. For as little as $25 per week you can get help designing
training program, connect with coaches via phone and email and even receive personalized feedback on swimming, cycling or running form if you send video.
7. JOIN A MASTERS SWIM CLUB: Swimming is one area where having another person evaluate your technique is invaluable. Masters clubs are sort of like group-swim workouts, with some seasoned pros on hand for feedback. Allen suggests working on your stroke mechanics as much as possible early on. "Do it in the very beginning so that you have all the tools you need throughout the rest of your training," he says
8. SIGN UP FOR MORE TRIATHLONS: Longer races such as Olympic distance (one-mile swim; 24-mile bike; six-mile run) and half Ironman will serve as important milestones in your progression. Allen recommends doing an Olympic-distance tri just as your training volume begins to really increase and then a half Ironman at the six-month mark. A couple of months later, he recommends another Olympic distance race. "It sort of resets your body’s concept of what fast is," he says. "Then, when you continue with your training, your Ironman speed doesn’t feel as hard as it did."
9. DIAL IN YOUR NUTRITION: "For all the information out there, Ironman nutrition is actually really simple," insists Allen. "You just need to understand what to eat during your workouts and what you are eating in between workouts." During workouts, Allen suggests using energy bars and gels to consume around 300 calories (your exact caloric need will depend on trial and error) and about 30 to 40 ounces of fluid per hour. Before and after workouts, every meal should include unrefined carbs such as oatmeal or brown rice, lean proteins like chicken for muscle recovery and healthy fat, such as nuts or avocado.
10. LEARN TO JUGGLE: By the second half of the year, you’ll be doing five-hour bike rides and two- to three-hour runs, so you will need to be able to negotiate your schedule with your employer. "Use weekends smartly," suggests Allen. "Put the long workouts on days off, where you have the best chance of getting it done." Finally, Allen has encouraging words for anyone who simply can’t fathom the distances. "Take heart: When you finally get to your Ironman, it does not feel anything like two half Ironman races back to back. It’s just a different feeling—you
will be able to do it."