Half ironmans are an extremely intense and grueling endeavor, which only the most dedicated members of society will be able to complete.
A lengthy period of training and preparation is needed before competing, both to hone your skills and condition your body.
That said, while you will have ideally participated in activities such as marathons, Olympic distance races, or smaller triathlons before doing a half ironman, anyone can aspire to compete in an ironman, provided you are willing to put in the work.
There are various training methods you will find online, including both complex training and basic training plans.
Each has been shown to work well for different groups of people and both will generally focus on aerobics and cardio, as these are the most important areas during a half ironman.
While training plans need to be progressive and increase workload over time, it is best to follow a rigid training plan that is realistic, and you can stick to.
The problem is, with so many options out there, how do you know which training plan is the right one to help you get started in the world of ironman competitions?
Well, in today’s article, we are going to look at what an ironman training program should entail and the options that are available for different types of people, to hopefully make your decision just that little bit easier.
What Is A Half Ironman?
A traditional Ironman is an extreme version of a triathlon, which covers an incredible 140.6 miles (226 kilometres).
A half ironman is an “easier” version of the traditional ironman, which covers half of the distance.
During a half ironman, competitors will complete a 1.2 mile (1.9 kilometre) swim, 56 mile (90 kilometre) bike ride, and 13.1 mile (21.1 kilometre) run.
The length of each of these activities is exactly half of what it would be in a full ironman.
How Long Does It Take To Train For A Half Ironman?
The amount of time it takes to train for a half ironman can vary dramatically from person to person, depending on factors such as their current level of fitness, ability in each of the three disciplines involved, and previous experience in triathlons or ironman competitions.
That said, the average length of half ironman training programs tends to range somewhere between 12 and 24 weeks.
This is slightly longer than the average triathlon training programs, which usually last for a maximum of 16 weeks.
Beginners should focus on longer training programs in preparation for their first half ironman, as their body will require longer to prepare for and acclimatise to the rigours it will experience during such a task.
This can be anywhere from the top end of the average range up to 30 weeks or more.
Those that have zero aerobic or endurance training or experience may even want to use a 6 month plan, as trying to complete such a gruelling endeavour as a complete newcomer is quite a tall ask.
The lower end of the average range is ideal for those who have some level of endurance training and have participated in events like Olympic distance runs, sprint races, or traditional triathlons. People in this group should consider a training plan of around 16 to 20 weeks.
People who have an extremely high level of fitness and who have engaged in endurance training 4 to 5 times a week for a long period of time may only need around 12 to 15 weeks to prepare, as their bodies will already be somewhat used to the strains and activities a half ironman entails.
How Long Does It Take To Complete A Half Ironman?
Much like how long it takes to train for a half ironman, how long it takes to complete a half ironman will vary drastically from person to person as well.
The speed at which you complete a half ironman is usually dependent on factors that include your age, gender, and fitness level, as well as your ability level in the three activities, as this will determine how fast you are in each segment.
Even external factors, such weather conditions on the day of the event, can play a deciding role in how long it takes an individual to complete their half ironman.
That said, according to a 2011 survey of 67,000 people by runtri.com, the average competitor takes 6 hours to complete a half ironman.
While the times for each of the individual sections can also vary greatly, the averages were around 45 minutes for the swim, 3 hours on the bike, and 2 hours 15 minutes for the run.
The fastest half ironman on record was completed in 3:36:30 by German triathlete Jan Frodeno, who has won numerous world championships and Olympic medals in triathlons, ironmans, and other endurance events.
Recommended Gear For A Half Ironman Race
Before you even think about starting to train for a half ironman, it is essential that you first obtain all of the necessary equipment.
This is important for your comfort and safety, throughout both training and competition.
Each leg of the race will also require different types of equipment.
The one piece of equipment that you can purchase which will be used in all three segments of a half ironman is known as a tri suit.
It will look somewhat like a wrestling singlet, featuring short legs and either straps or short sleeves on the top.
A quick drying, compression piece of equipment, it is designed to speed up transition between each of the three stages, as you won’t need to completely change your attire after each event.
It will provide added warmth during the swimming stage, while its quick drying nature makes it much more comfortable to continue wearing for the run and cycle, where it will help to prevent chaffing.
While not a requirement in order to compete in a half ironman, it is an essential piece of equipment for anyone who wants to perform at a competitive level.
When looking at the swimming stage, your first priority should be on obtaining a well-fitting wetsuit.
This will help to keep you warm, as well as improving your buoyancy while you swim, allowing you to focus on completing the stage as quickly as possible.
Wetsuit lube is another item you may want to consider, as it will help you to get the suit on and off much faster and more easily, speeding up your transition between events, and avoiding any rubbing or chaffing.
A swim cap is a good idea, especially if you have long hair, as it will improve your streamlining, making it easier to glide through the water.
It will also stop your hair getting in the way of either you or any of the other competitors.
Finally, a suitable pair of goggles will stop your eyes from getting sore and maximise your visibility while swimming.
This will help you to safely complete the swimming stage as quickly as possible.
Moving on to the cycling stage, your number one priority should be on selecting the correct type of bike.
If you are looking to record competitive times, you will want to select either a tri bike of a road bike with tri bars.
The handlebar setup on either of these options will allow the rider to position themselves comfortably in a position that maximises their aerodynamics.
This can help to dramatically reduce your time in endurance events.
If you aren’t wearing a tri suit, you will also need to purchase suitable attire to be worn during the cycling stage.
This will need to be something comfortable but that also features a level of compression, in order to maximise aerodynamics and help prevent chaffing.
Footwear is also an important factor to consider during this stage of a half ironman.
Many people prefer to use specialised cycling shoes, which link the user’s feet to the pedals. These help to transfer energy from the user to the bike much more efficiently and also help you to avoid your feet slipping off the pedals.
However, tri shoes are also a good choice, as they provide some of the benefits of cycling shoes but also speed up the transition from one stage to the next.
Cycling socks are another wise footwear item to purchase, as they maximise the fit and comfort of your chosen shoes.
As with any cycling event, a correctly fitted helmet is a must have. Not only will it protect you in the event of an accident, but it can also help to improve aerodynamics.
Finally, gloves are another item worn by many during the cycling stage.
They increase your grip and comfort throughout the ride and can also help to keep your hands warm in cold or windy weather.
If you have already purchased and tri suit and tri shoes for the previous stages, the only additional equipment you will require is a pair of comfortable, well-fitting socks.
If you have chosen other equipment in the previous stages, your main priority here will be a good pair of running shoes.
These need to be light, comfortable, well-fitted, and offer a good level of support, to ensure you can run comfortably and competitively for extended distances.
In terms of running clothing, you will want to select an option that is comfortable yet relatively tight, so as to not add any wind resistance. Make sure that it isn’t so tight that it causes chaffing though.
Aside from the equipment required for each of the individual phases, there are also a number of other items people who compete in half ironmans will utilise to maximise their performance and enjoyment during a competition.
A fitness watch with GPS is a good option to not only help you ensure you are on the correct path, but also to gauge how you are doing and save your performance to compare with other sessions.
Clif Bloks and gels are a smart way to keep your energy levels topped up while on the go, while hydration drinks and powders will keep you from getting dehydrated.
For a similar reason, it is always a good idea to have multiple water bottles topped up and ready to go.
On sunny days, sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses are a good idea to stop you from getting burned or being distracted by the sun getting in your eyes.
Glasses or goggles can even be used when it isn’t sunny, to stop the wind from drying your eyes out and maximise visibility.
Sweatbands can also be a good way to help keep the sweat out of your eyes, further improving visibility, and are an especially good option for people who perspire heavily.
Chafe cream can be a good idea, especially if you know you are prone to it, as getting sore can seriously hurt your time or even bring your performance to a premature end.
Finally, a multi tool is a smart thing to have stored on your bike. It can help you to make quick repairs if anything unexpectedly goes wrong and can even help to keep you safe in an emergency.
Training Plan For Your First Half Ironman
So, now we get to selecting your preferred half ironman training plan.
While these can vary greatly, they will all require a huge amount of dedication, with the average plan seeing people train six days per week, with a single rest day to allow their body to recover.
How much time you spend training during that time can vary anywhere from 4 to 20 hours per week, depending on both your ability level, the intensity level of the plan, and how far you are into it.
Most plans are designed for one of two groups, either the beginner group, or the advanced to intermediate group.
Both groups will require you to do individual sessions dedicated to each of the three activities, as well as sessions where you train them back to back, just like you would in a competition.
On a beginner plan, you will want to be aiming to be train for around 4 to 6 hours per week towards the start of the program, then increasing that to about 10 by the time you are done.
A good example of a beginner program would look like this:
- Monday – 15 minute swim + 30 minutes of weight training
- Tuesday – 45 minute bike ride
- Wednesday – 30 minute jog, interspersed with short sprints
- Thursday – 30 minute swim + 30 minutes of stretching
- Friday – 1 hour of jogging
- Saturday – 1 hour 15 minute bike ride
- Sunday – Rest
Weeks 7 – 12
- Monday – 15 minute swim, 30 minute jog, 45 minute bike ride
- Tuesday – 90 minute bike ride + 30 minutes of stretching
- Wednesday – 1 hour jog + 30 minutes of weight training
- Thursday – 30 minute swim + 45 minutes of stretching
- Friday – Rest
- Saturday – 30 minute swim, 1 hour jog, and 90 minute bike ride*
- Sunday – 1 hour of yoga or intensive stretching
During weeks 7 to 12, the Saturday is your main prep day, which will give you a feel for how you may feel if you were to enter an actual competition.
The times listed for Saturday here are for week 7. In each subsequent week, you should aim to increase your swim time by 2.5 minutes and your running and cycling time by 5 minutes compared to what you did last time.
Upon completing the 12 week beginner program, you will then want to move on to the intermediate and advanced plan.
Intermediate And Advanced Plan
When you move on to the intermediate and advanced plan, both the difficulty and the length of time you spend training each week can increase significantly.
This can see you training anywhere from 10 to 20 hours in any given seven day period.
- Monday – 15 minute swim + 1 hour jog
- Tuesday – 1 hour jog + 90 minute bike ride
- Wednesday – 30 minutes of weight training + 90 minute bike ride
- Thursday – 30 minute swim + 30 minutes of stretching
- Friday – 1 hour of yoga or intensive stretching
- Saturday – 30 minute swim, 90 minute jog, 2 hour 15 minute bike ride
- Sunday – Rest
Weeks 7 – 12
- Monday – 30 minute swim, 45 minute jog, 1 hour bike ride
- Tuesday – 3 hour bike ride. Include sprint and hill climb sections
- Morning – 45 minute swim, preferably in open water where possible
- Evening – 1 hour of weight training
- Thursday – 2 hour jog. Include sprint and high incline sections
- Friday – 60 minutes intensive stretching or yoga
- Saturday – 45 minute swim, 2 hour 15 minute jog, and 3 hour bike ride
- Sunday – Rest
By the end of week 12, you will hopefully be completing the distance of a half iron man each week, in at least an average time.
This should have you fully prepared to be competitive during the competition.
Tips For A Half Ironman Training Plan
So, now you have a good idea of what goes into a great half ironman training plan.
However, in order to get maximum results for all of your hard work, there are a few important tips you will want to take on board as well.
Firstly, make sure you follow a good nutrition plan throughout your training.
No matter how hard you train, your body isn’t going to be able to make improvements unless it has enough energy and nutrients to do so.
This is particularly important in an activity like a half ironman, where you will be burning through an incredible number of calories.
When selecting your training plan, make sure not to go too crazy. Don’t select the most challenging option possible, hoping it will lead to the quickest results.
Pick a realistic training plan that matches your ability, and it will help you to improve gradually, without putting your health, sanity, or desire to compete at risk.
It is a good idea to practice swimming in open water where possible.
The experience is very different from in a pool, so it is a good way to ensure the experience isn’t a shock to the system when the time for your first competition finally arrives.
After you have been training for a while, but before your first competition, try to take part in a sprint or Olympic distance race first.
This will help you to get a feel for a competition and gauge your ability, without having to complete the full distance or get disheartened by being at the back for hours.
You will also want to make sure you learn to pace yourself in each of the three activities.
You don’t want to completely burn yourself out in an early stage if it will negatively impact the next. Find the balance of intensity in each stage that leads to the best overall time.
Make sure that all of the equipment you purchase is effective and of a good quality but isn’t too expensive.
This will make sure you are comfortable and competitive yet aren’t put off of taking part in the early stages by massive expenditures.
You will want to train the most on the bike, as this is the longest section and also the one which requires the most technique.
Conversely, train the least on swimming, as it is the shortest section and the one you complete when you are at your freshest.
Ensure you have a meal plan for race day and make sure you stick to it.
Balancing your food intake around a competition is critical, as you need to have plenty of energy, but don’t want to be feeling full or sluggish, or have your body trying to digest food while your muscles need all the fuel they can get.
Finally, rest and recovery are crucial. If you don’t allow your muscles plenty of time to recover, not only will they not grow and improve but they will also be much more prone to injuries, which can derail your training entirely.
Suitable hydration and caloric intake are critical when training, especially when taking part in an activity as physically demanding as a half ironman.
Even during your training, you will be burning a massive number of calories, so will need to up your intake accordingly.
While the exact number of calories you will require will vary depending on factors like your age, size, muscle mass, and gender, anyone taking part in this type of training will need to ensure they are consuming significantly more than the number they require for maintenance.
Not doing this will limit the amount your muscles develop and stop you from performing at the highest level you are capable of.
It will also lead to an increase in both the quantity and severity of injuries, as your muscles won’t be able to repair themselves as efficiently when they have insufficient fuel.
Many people who take part in half or full ironmans, as well as regular triathlons, use the keto diet or a variation of it.
This is because it can help to stabilise your blood sugar, meaning there will be less variation in levels of performance from one day to the next, ensuring you know what to expect on the day of a competition.
It has also been shown to be great for reducing inflammation, meaning your body will tend to recover quicker and you are less likely to sustain any injuries.
You will also want to make sure you have a separate nutrition plan for the race day itself, as well as all the supplies you are going to need.
For starters, this is so that you don’t run into any issues like cramping, bloating, or dehydration, all of which could derail your performance.
Then there is the fact that, no matter how hard you have been training, adrenaline will always become a factor during a competition.
This means your diet needs to be able to carry you to levels you may have never been before.
Can Beginners Do A Half Ironman?
While beginners can certainly look to take part in a half ironman, it is important to assess your current ability and situation, before diving headlong into a rigorous training program.
There are two criteria you should first check you meet before you select your half ironman training program.
The first is that you should be comfortably exercising 3 to 5 days per week on a regular basis before you embark on a half ironman training program.
The other is that you are able to swim for 30 minutes continuously, cycle for 60 minutes continuously, and run for 40 minutes continuously.
Once you are able to exercise regularly and can complete the above tasks, you can then begin training for your first half ironman.
It is also a good idea to compete in events like sprint races, Olympic distance races, triathlons, or marathons once you have been training for a while, before attempting a half ironman.
These will all give you a good idea of how you are progressing and what you are in for, without being quite as gruelling.
If you are in any way unsure of your fitness levels, ability, or health, you must check with a physician before you begin preparing for an activity as physically demanding as a half ironman.
As you will have undoubtedly realised by now, taking part in a half ironman is an arduous task, which will require an incredible level of fitness and dedication to complete.
That said, by rigorously following the correct training regimes and diets, completing one isn’t a goal that is out of the realms of reality, even for beginners.
This article will hopefully have given you all you need to select the perfect half ironman training plan for your own needs and ability.
It should also have given you all the tips and tricks you need on everything from nutrition to equipment to perform at a high level.
So, all that’s left is for you to take the plunge and make your first steps on the long, long road to getting into the world of ironman and completing your first competition.