Planning the Ironman Season and Periodisation

With the 2010 season winding down in the Northern hemisphere most Ironman athletes are already planning the year ahead. If you’re racing a branded Ironman then chances are you’re already booked in and the A race is set. Whatever stage your at there’s a year of training to do before you tow the line.

You could take the simple weekly Ironman plan and utilise that for the next twelve months, but to get the most from your performance you need an overall periodised plan. Consistently repeating a simple week is 90% of the work adjusting the focus and increasing training load is the final 10%. As the athlete develops the simple week needs to be adapted in intensity and volume.

Don’t forget the psychological aspects either. A year is a long time to focus on one goal. Too much too soon leads to mental burn out as much as physical. Planned periods of down time are a good, if not essential idea. Stepping back and decompressing so you return more motivated than before.

Step one is picking your event. There’s no right or wrong go for something that interests and motivates you whether it’s location, organisation or a goal. The season’s A race is the pivotal point for building your program everything else will sit round it and the plan works back from here.


Allow no more than two weeks for your taper. You’ve probably seen guides advising more, but read Chuckie V’s take on tapers first. Most athletes don’t do the volume or training load to need more than two weeks of tapering.

The first week of taper is still relatively big at about 60% normal volume. Keep a good dose of race intensity in and remember that’s race intensity not harder. Ironman pace is not the same as your all out effort however good you feel with extra rest. Develop a sense of the pace as you’re freshening up and make mental notes for race day.

The second week has a greatly reduced workload of no more than 30% normal volume. Front load the week so the amount of training thins out as it progresses. Take a day off your legs too with at most a swim. Don’t fret if you end up doing less than planned you’ll be fine (ITU LD Worlds being a classic example – I barely trained that week and had a great race).

Remember the aim is to arrive at race day injury free, rested and in form. You’ll go a long way to achieving this by holding back during the taper. Rest as much as you can, eat well (but not excessively) and limit intense work. Don’t try to train too hard it’s too late, equally avoid grinding to a halt.


Two to at most eight weeks out from your race is the peak when training really focusses on your racing goals. That means more race specific sessions with focussed blocks of pace or volume work. You’re aiming to shape the fitness you’ve developed into race performance.

My preference is for a single block of four to six weeks with a few easier days in the middle if needed. You could opt to deliberately divide this into two blocks of 2.5 weeks and schedule the rest in. Stick to the simple plan, but focus sessions on race intensities and have some major training days added in.

As you approach the taper reduce the really significant workouts. From three to four weeks out you don’t want sessions that are close to race performance. No long duration race pace rides or major bricks. Particularly avoid hard endurance runs I find they take a lot from the legs.

Despite that warning keep the weeks challenging up till the taper then you really rest up. You don’t want to leave your race performance at the end of the peak.


The bulk of Ironman preparation is done around six to eighteen weeks out from the event. That’s a long time which will inevitably be split into shorter blocks with easier days in between. I don’t specifically schedule easy weeks in my plan, but expect to back down a few days every three weeks. As you become more experienced you can often listen to your body and back down when needed.

The focus is consistent growth of fitness. If you’ve picked a Summer Ironman then hopefully the weather is improving and there’s more opportunity to get some larger rides in. The simple weekly plan covers your needs just start to do bigger rides at the weekend. You don’t need to be at the biggest volumes you can manage, but it’s time to put in more work.

As the weeks progress increase the training load. By the end of the phase you should have approached your maximum weekly volume and have executed some significant workouts. Endurance will be well developed along with capacity to work aerobically. I’d schedule an easier week at the end of this period just to freshen up ready for the peak.

A race towards the end of the build is a great idea as a good indication of race form. Opt for a Half-Ironman and race hard (not Ironman pace) with a small taper and planned recovery afterwards. It’ll give a good idea of how you’ve progressed and what to work on during your peak.


I’m avoiding the word base because for some the connotation is of long slow miles and hours in the saddle. Everything outside eighteen to twenty weeks before your race is about preparing yourself for the training ahead. The work you do establishes a base line you build on.

The period can stretch back for weeks so be wary of burn out. Don’t aim to be performing your best from the start. The temptation to jump back in to training straight after the race season ends is there, but rest will do you good. It can be tough as once you’re rested you’re raring to work towards the new goals. The schedule should be manageable and consistent and enough to keep you in good shape.

Once you’ve had some down time you want to start developing fitness. Take the weekly plan and ensure the key sessions are there for each sport. Then build up additional workouts to focus on limiters or areas of development. I want to use winter to build my swim and run further so I’ll keep the key bikes, but run and swim a lot more.

Key sessions will have a lot in common with the rest of the year. The main thing is not doing too many nor too much overall volume. My focus will be building my running with other workouts take a back footing. Once the New Year comes as I move further through the phase I’ll raise my efforts towards build levels.

General Notes

None of this is radical thinking. I move from general training aimed at increased fitness through to specific Ironman work later in the season. I utilise a simple weekly structure to manage a routine and to maintain consistency. The nature of workouts vary, but generally their placement doesn’t.

Throughout the phases I’ll utilise periods of overreaching. A decent training camp or two in the build phase and a good scattering of training races. I’d advise against stacking too much in the latter part of the peak phase, look to be moving towards your taper then.

More experienced or advanced athletes don’t need to differentiate between preparation and build. After a period of recovery start back into training. Build up over a period of a month till you hit a weekly routine and volume that you can manage until the peak. Cycle in blocks of overreaching, recovery and training races to keep pushing that bit further.

If you’ve ambitious goals and the training history (along with the time) to handle this it can be very effective. Consistency remains the rule, but now you’re maintaining a larger training load for a longer period. You need the key workouts, but also more focus on race specific sessions throughout. Routinely incorporate race efforts into longer workouts to achieve this.

Finally I want to reemphasise the need for downtime and to manage expectations when you return to training. When you’re a year out from your big race you don’t need to worry if you’re not hitting sessions exactly how you want. You’ve months to prepare and reach your goals. If you’re hitting them now it’s a great boost and perhaps you can rethink plans, but the aim is to progressively build fitness. Start out too hard and the result can be burn out.

Ironman Training Library

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