Setting the Targets for the Sub-9 Ironman Plan

Building a training plan to take me to a sub-9 Ironman starts with setting targets. It’s the easiest step, designing the program and following it will be tougher. Targets are essential in building the plan they give a focus to workouts and a benchmark for testing performance.

I could set simple goals to ‘go faster’ or ‘work harder’, but generic ideas provide little direction. Specific paces or power can be measured, tested and compared allowing a feedback cycle into the training program. If I’m not making progress I’ve time to adapt the plan and focus on what’s holding me back.


The goal is to be on the bike with an hour on the race clock so my swim pace needs to allow time to get through transition. Austria is relatively long and I’m not the fastest between swim and bike, I need four minutes at least. Working back gives a swim target of 56 minutes for 3.8km or a pace of 1:28 per 100 metres.

Having a target pace gives a point to measure swim performance against. The coming months need to focus on reaching the level where I can sustain 1:28 per 100 metres. If I can’t manage that I’ve little chance of doing it on race day without expending too much energy in the water.

I need my Critical Swim Speed (CSS) to be faster than 1:28 to ensure I can comfortably swim that pace in a race. Ironman New Zealand backs this up – I swam 58 minutes for a pace of 1:31 per 100 metres tallying with my CSS at the time. A Wetsuit and drafting provide sufficient performance benefits that I know once CSS reaches 1:28 I can hold that in an Ironman.

To achieve my swim PB in New Zealand I had six weeks of consistent pool work with average distance close to 20km. There was a spread of sessions focussing on endurance, technique and also swimming at CSS to develop threshold. A month of similar training proved equally effective for Kona where I took three minutes off my previous time there.

The longer timeframe leading to Austria allows me to incorporate regular CSS testing into the regime and ensure my program is heading in the right direction. The consistent mix of sessions that’s worked well this year will remain, but testing enables me to tweak the plan and adjust timings.


I’m going to be bold and set the goal of a 4:45 bike split. It’s 10 minutes faster than my current Ironman PB though Austria is potentially a faster course than Western Australia. That’s still a step up especially considering I want to be riding at a comfortable effort.

I’ve taken confidence from the 5:04 in Kona if I can do that now what will another six months of hard training achieve? The lack of run training makes it hard to tell if the subsequent marathon was affected by the bike. There were bigger issues than how hard I’d ridden.

I’m focussing on developing the power I can ride an Ironman at. Metabolic testing suggests that I can fuel anything up to 250W enough to spare glycogen for the run. I’ve yet to ride an Ironman close to that my best approaches 230W so there’s room for advancement. In 2007 I raced Austria averaging 190W for a 5:12 bike split, 50W more would be a significant move in the right direction.

Over winter bike volume is dropping whilst I turn my attention to running. I’ll maintain the dose of intensity with work to develop threshold power and sustaining Ironman pace. Endurance work will return in Spring, spending more time on the bike a lot of it working on the ability to ride an Ironman ‘hard‘.


After recent months any target marathon pace seems ambitious and aiming for three hours particularly so! That’s 4:16 min/km (6:50 min/miles) and 15 seconds per kilometre faster than my current Ironman PB. I know I can sustain that pace during a seven hour race from Immenstadt. If I achieve that run form how much impact the extra two hours of Ironman will have is an unknown.

Similarly to swimming it provides a baseline, I know that I need to be able to comfortably sustain 4:16 min/km pace for at least two hours in training. It’s essential that running at that speed is easily manageable with minimal perceived effort. Ironman running is about efficiency whatever speed you achieve it needs to be at relatively low exertion.

Having discussed run training in my last post I’ll not go into detail, but reiterate key points. The aim is to build back to running high volume over four months. I’m unlikely to run as much as I did before, I don’t think every mile of the hundred mile week was essential for developing run form. The growth in volume will be gradual and so more sustainable.

It will culminate in some testing Spring races to see if my run has stepped up. Assuming my Ironman marathon should be within 10% of a standalone marathon I’m looking for a 2:40 standalone. I’m not a fan of marathons in Ironman prep, but can handle a half. If I can manage a 1:15 in March I’ll know I’m on the right track.

Next Steps

With targets set the next step is to work on a plan that can deliver the results. The past two years have been about the volume of work the next is about the quality. That’s not to say there won’t be volume, but the emphasis will be on ensuring I’m doing the training needed to reach these goals.

Of course the big step is embarking on the plan.

Ironman Training Library

From nutrition to pacing - a collection of CoachCox blog posts focused specifically on Ironman training and racing.


  • Interesting that you’re leaving 15 minutes for T2… Ha!

    I thoroughly presume that you’re not actually planning that, and the remaining 15 minutes is actually a contingency buffer against something not going according to plan during the next few months. But 15 minutes seems like a lot of “unknown” when you’re racing at such an elite level. 15 minutes of unknown seems more like the kind of contingency time that someone with goals in the 11-12 hour range might be considering.

    I’m wondering if you’re thinking at the moment if things go according to plan that on race day your planned splits will still be leave a 15 minute contingency? Would your goals be drifting up towards an 8:50 split, or are you likely to perhaps allocate an extra 10 minutes to the bike ride if your FTP isn’t creeping up as high as you’d like or allocate a few extra minutes to the run if you fall a bit short on the 1:15 half marathon during prep.

    As many of us in the northern hemisphere are in the goal setting stage for the 2011 season and beyond I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this.

  • Josh-

    Well you know getting those compression socks on does take time!

    There’s an element of contingency to that. It leaves room for adjusting goals if as you mention I don’t think I’m on for a 3:00 marathon or a 4:45 bike. The good thing with the swim and run because they’re measured by pace I’ll have a good idea how close I am to hitting my targets. Obviously you can’t be certain, but if test sets and training suggest I can hold the pace at a suitably ‘easy’ intensity I’ll be pretty confident.

    With power for the bike you don’t know for certain what that means for speed. I do at least have a rough idea in the sense of my old power data from Austria. If I’m able to hold 240-250W or not I won’t know for certain what that means in terms of speed. That said if I’m still off that target I’d be more cautious about my cycling goals. I know 220W equated to around 4:55 in WA, but again on a different course I can’t be certain what to expect.

    There’s also contingency for if things go wrong – a puncture or similar. You can’t control those external factors, but at least with 15 minutes of play there’s some room to get through and still hit the goal.

    The other factor is I see signs in how this year has gone that with the right work the prolonged period of preparation for Austria might allow me to reach these goals. My best IM average power is around 226W in NZ and I’d say I’m stronger on the bike now (no powermeter in Kona). Similarly I’ve seen improvements in swim and run from very concerted blocks. If I can apply that kind of structure over the course of the next 8 months then each target feels possible. Perhaps I might be able to smash 9 hours on a good day!

    The goals are ambitious, but I think reachable. Well at least I’m sure they’re reachable if I were just reaching for one of them, combining them will certainly be more challenging. I need to set myself ambitious goals they really help motivate me. Being stuck in the northern hemisphere this winter I know I’ll need that motivation when I’m on the turbo for the fourth time in a week.

    I think that’s the trick with goal setting ambition tempered with a little bit of realism. I work to the principle I can improve on what I’ve done this year, but then the hard part is trying to judge how much. At least with an idea of pace or power I can be testing this throughout and have some idea if things are working.

    Then I put in on the web so come July there’s no backing down from the goals I set!


  • daz

    russ how about u swim in ur compreson socks


  • Daz

    I wear compression sleeves these days and if the rules allow them wear them in the swim. Socks are often banned in swims because something covering the foot could look like flippers or similar.

    I don’t really need ages to put socks on in transition these days. If I was going to I’d use the quick method: put the compression socks on the day before, roll them down leg and put the roll in your run shoes, on race day you pull them over the feet and roll back up again. 🙂