Many kinds of training plans exist today, but a typical twelve-week training plan has three elements at its core: strength work, speed work, and foundation work. These things are layered all throughout the course of the plan so they blend together optimally come race day. What’s most important is that these three elements are structured to reinforce one another instead of toppling each other down.
When you get this kind of structure, you’re guaranteed to be strong, resilient, and confident that you did everything you can to prepare for race day.
It all starts with building a solid foundation by building a good aerobic base. This is possible by doing long sessions that build your endurance and nudge it further.
You can build this with long rides and long runs where distance or time rather than pace is the goal; you're putting "time on feet" and increasing your body's tolerance to lengthy sessions.
Next, you’ll need to get your strength work in. For Ironman distance, strength work is very important. It’s not about getting your heart pounding, but rather getting strong enough to compete in Ironman races. If the one who slows down the least wins the Ironman, then you need to be strong enough to hold your target pace.
The biggest mistake people make in this type of work is thinking that strength training sessions have to hurt aerobically. Even when doing strength training sessions twice a week doing hill repeats on your aerobars, your heart rate might not rise too high. It’s not about how high your heart rate is. It’s about strengthening your legs and your entire body to maintain your technique and be as efficient as possible throughout an ironman race which could take you from 9 up to 15 hours.
More importantly, you need to know your limits and not overdo strength training. You want your legs to feel that they’ve worked hard, but you don’t want to feel destroyed. Like doing weights in the gym, strength work does muscle damage during and after the training session happens. This is why it’s important to do recovery days after tough sessions, which include rest and getting enough protein in your body.
Following a really tough strength day, there’ll be no long rides or if you do decide to go on a ride, it’ll be what we call a coffee ride: leisurely, low intensity, and you can chat to people while riding. This recovery allows your body to recuperate and absorb the gains you’ve made in your last training session.
After foundation and strength, you build speed last. Speedwork hurts and does a lot of muscle damage. Again, recovery is vital following a strenuous speed session.
Remember, when you do speed, do it properly. You need to make sure that there is a distinction between FAST! and easy. The biggest mistake is to go at the same pace all the time so you end up doing your recovery intervals too hard, and your hard intervals too easy.
All three elements build on each other to make the athlete into the best version they can be on race day.