How to Train for Chattanooga's Half IRONMAN

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This May 17, Chattanooga welcomes the Sunbelt Bakery IRONMAN 70.3 (or half IRONMAN to the uninitiated) to town. The event features a 1.2-mile, point-to-point downstream swim in the Tennessee River, a 56-mile scenic bike ride through Chattanooga’s Southside and into northern Georgia, and a beautiful and spectator friendly 13.1 mile, two-loop run along the Tennessee Riverwalk and Riverfront Parkway.

While the enthusiasm of the full IRONMAN last September may have inspired you to sign up, it’s possible you haven’t started training specifically for the event yet. We talked to local coach Lee Simril of Simril Multisport Coaching about the best way to get ready assuming one of the three scenarios:

1. Scenario #1:
You’re essentially coming off the couch after a lazy winter.

Ry Glover

Coach Simril points out that regardless of your base fitness level, everyone starts at a different point when they begin thinking about doing an endurance event. The most important thing you can do is to start working out in each sport several times a week. As you get your fitness back, consider the following list of things when planning your half IRONMAN:

• While you may want to start swimming in the pool, once the weather warms up a bit, get in the river. You want to be sure you can safely swim the distance in open water. You can alleviate a lot of stress leading up to your event by becoming a “bomb proof” swimmer. The key is to be confident in your abilities to survive the swim.

• The weather may be hindering your time on your bike on the roads, but when you have the opportunity to get on your bike, do so: You need to be comfortable on your bicycle. The bike portion can create stress similar to the swim. Knowing how to safely ride around other people on bikes, how to shift gears, how to drink and eat on the bike, fix a flat, etc., will help alleviate race day stress. Clare Mills, a local triathlete and member of the Chattanooga Triclub is preparing for her first half IRONMAN and although she’s experienced at shorter distance events, she says, “the bike course seems daunting with traffic and all those people on the course.”

• This time of year is perfect for hiking and you can practice becoming a great power walker. Since the run is the last portion of the event, you may feel the need to walk some. Another thing about being willing to train for walking is that it allows you to have longer training bouts. For instance, a two hour run may not be possible, but a two hour walk usually is.

• Drop as much excess body weight as possible. You can sabotage your training if you are carrying even an extra 10 pounds—that amount can have a big impact on your training and your performance. “If you doubt the importance of dropping weight,” Simril notes, “put on a 10 pound backpack and go for a run.”

• Plan to participate in a shorter triathlon, a sprint or Olympic distance, in the late spring to build confidence for your half.

2. Scenario #2: 
You’re a fairly solid runner and aren't too worried about a half marathon, you cycle some, and swim on occasion. How should you focus your training for May?


Coach Simril says the best way to prepare for this scenario is to do each sport twice a week. Maybe run three days a week to prevent leg soreness that you might otherwise get after each run if you only ran twice a week. Clare Mills has been swimming, spinning, or spending time on the trainer, and running three days a week for each sport. Her running includes a long run and an interval workout with a one recovery week with lighter workouts every few weeks. Mills says she's "making progress" on her running, which she considers the weakest part of her events in the past. "I'm enjoying running more and more now," she says.

Simril emphasizes that you shouldn’t stress about any individual workout, and you should make each workout as fun as possible. “Don’t suffer on the indoor trainer, unless that is your thing,” he adds. Mills offers that her "biggest challenges have been the winter training season. The cold can be good for running, but it’s hard to find motivation for swimming and hard to plan for cycling—so that means lots of hours on the trainer.” Simril adds that taking a swim lesson or joining a swim group can be a great approach: “Group workouts are a great way to keep the fun factor high.”

3. Scenario #3:
You're pretty fit right now and don't want to overtrain or lose too much before May.


“Overtraining is very individual and mostly about your mind,” Simril says. While it’s certainly possible for people to push their bodies too far during training, more often than not, people's desire and ability to train is about their minds. Simril stresses the importance of having fun: “If a fun Fartlek (speed training) run accomplishes the same thing as 10 hill repeats, than do the Fartlek. Same goes for a friendly group ride versus a solo slog.”

Ultimately, the key is to show up at the starting line in May, fit and ready to enjoy the Scenic City.

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