40s Comeback: Minimalist Ironman Training for Maximum Effect (6 hours per week)

A time-crunched 45-year-old Clydesdale finds the family efficient triathlon training frontier: 6 hours per week. 

If only the boys could tow me through Ironman…

Three years later: bigger boys, same outfit

Three years later: bigger boys, same outfit

After a decade-long hiatus from serious endurance sport, I missed the benefits of hard work concomitant with big goals. In 2010 and 2011 I entered two mountainous Tour de France stages to see what biking was all about. To build cycling forbearance, I emphasized long distance, low intensity workouts. Bikers call it “saddle time.” The training did not work for me. Working a full-time job while maximizing the time spent with my wife and two young boys — whom I coach in several sports — didn’t leave time for 5+ hour weekend “base” workouts.

So I decided to go old school as an experiment. I reverted to the ethos I learned as a rower in the 1980s at St Paul’s and Harvard, and as a 1990s Marine: Every workout is a race.

I found a way to complete big events on 6 hours per week.

In 2012, I ran the Ironman U.S. Championship in New York City. It was a tough race with a hot, hilly marathon. I finished in 10 hours and 46 minutes training an average of 6 hours per week.

In 2013, I took the year off, riding my bike just a single time (keeping a promise I’d made at Mile 90 of Ironman NY).

January Ironman Training: 4 Hours per Week

January Summary

Back when training was fun, the 1996 Eco Challenge (Suz Bottom, second from the left)

Starting weight (first three morning average): 217

Ending weight: 215

10 total workouts (two Monday holidays)/ 4 hours per week

Hardest workout: Riding computrainer through two episodes of Mad Men for 1:30, a great series but not exactly adrenaline-filled.

Estimated Ironman finishing time: 11 ¾  hours (1:25/6:30/3:50)

ON January 1st, 2012, I weighed 217 pounds. Finishing up my book, The Snake Eaters, took a toll on my Fall workouts. I’m a demand-sider: I control my weight with exercise, not food intake. I need to be 200 by mid-June, giving me 2 months to train at race weight before racing Ironman New York in the August 11th heat.

To drop weight and get fit, the biggest challenge as a father of two young boys – and a debtor to a wife who was already allowed me several big adventures – is time allocation.

In January I was able to carve out 4 hours per week of workouts. The book debuts in May so for the next few months writing may outweigh Ironman prep as a hobby. Here’s the January split:

 

8 hours of writing, 4 hours of working out

-50 hours working

-50 hours sleeping

-40 hours family

-16 hours commuting

-8 hours writing

-4 hours working out

 

 

February Ironman Training: 4 Hours-Per-Week

A nice February workout for 6-year-old Ryan...50# Wahoo

February Summary

Starting weight: 215

Ending weight: 214 (Key West vacation did not help here)

Total workouts: 12 (Key West vacation did help here)

Weekly Average: 4 hours

Longest run: 12.4 miles (Southport 20k; hilly)/7:22 pace

Estimated Ironman finishing time: 11.6 hours (1:20/:05/6:15/:05/3:50)

The injury came early this year with a grade one right calf strain during a 12-mile race on February 12. That I had only twice run more than 5.5 miles in January. The ramp was too steep. Calf strains and metatarsal stress fractures have recurred for five years now. It’s a combination of skinny calves, a top-heavy body, a pounding stride, a sharp mileage ramp-up, a torn brevis tendon in my right ankle, and awful flexibility. I can run a marathon on a stress fracture but not a torn calf. I need to get serious about stretching. Maybe the boys can stomp the tightness out of my legs when we wrestle.

On second thought, in 2008 my 3-year-old gave me a nasty case of turf toe by jumping off my back onto my calf while I was playing horse, so I’ll avoid the ruffians except to build calluses.

Adding insult to the injury, on February 27th I was a last-minute substitute on a local basketball team and, wearing light hikers, rolled my bad ankle within five minutes. I’ll stick with the doctor’s orders–with just a single lateral tendon intact, no basketball or sand volleyball. Ever.

March: Ironman on 5 hours of training per week?

 

 

The Basement "Spa"

March Summary

Starting weight (first three morning average): 214

Ending weight: 210

Total workouts: 16

Weekly Avg Work: 5 hours

Actual bike watts/1.5 hours (aero): 199 watts (terrible)

Estimated Ironman finishing time: 11.5 hours (1:20/6:30/3:40)

Hardest workout: Crank the Cank computrainer at 230 watts—DNF (blown up at 1:15)

 

I averaged 5-hour workout weeks in March, about 40% of what I’ll do on Ironman day alone. I don’t feel too far behind. My body has gotten used to quick ramp-ups (and free *Falls*). Besides, these next two years are workload experiments. By 2015, when I want a max effort at 45-years-old, I’ll know what mix of workouts is most efficient.

As any time-crunched 40-something athlete knows, time and injuries dominate performance. We can’t yet retire, and devote weekday daylight to workouts, but the wheels are coming loose. Let’s leave injuries for another post and take a look at my current time allocation.

50 hours sleeping

50 hours for Goldman, Sachs

40 hours family time

5 hours/week coaching the boys’ football and soccer teams

5 hours workouts

2 hours writing

16 hours commuting

April Ironman Training: 7 hours per week

Bahamas, 2006

Bahamas, 2012...Live now, or it's gone.

 

April Summary

Starting weight (first three morning average): 210

Ending weight: 207

Total workouts: 19

Weekly Avg Work: 7 hours

Longest bike: 96 mile commute home from Wall Street via Bear Mountain

Longest run: 12 miles slow

Actual bike watts/1.5 hours (aero): 199 watts

Estimated 56-mile stand alone ride pace: 18.5 mph

Estimated 13.1 mile stand alone running race pace: 7:00

Estimated Ironman finishing time: 11. hours (1:20/6:30/3:45)

Hardest workout: Crank the Cank computrainer at 215 watts; finished, but barely at 190+ HR

April saw an increase in Ironman training from 5 hours-per-week to 7 hours-per-week, largely due to a 96 mile slog with Gerheart and Atkinson from Wall Street home via Bear Mountain one night. We didn’t even climb the hill and were still fairly thrashed and late for dinner. The Eleuthera, Bahamas vacation in the middle of April was probably good for acclimatization but little else–the lobsters were scarce this year and we saw few spear-able fish…and no sharks! Either the locals had come through the reefs just ahead of us or I’m worried at the boys’ prospects in a decade. Fisheries management is not a strong suit of any country today.

Fruitless in fishy flesh only. We had an adventure, and a long swim for an 8-year-old.

Apr 1: 50 mile road loop/ 17 mph/3:20/HR 140-170

Apr 3: 42 mile ride into work/2:17

May Ironman Training: 7 hours per Week

Ryan Atkinson and Jake Gearhart at the end of 100-miles

 

 

...while the boys have the skills for fun sports!

 

Starting weight (first three morning average): 207

Ending weight: 205

Total workouts: 16

Weekly Avg Work: 7 hours

Longest bike: 105 mile Gran Fondo race

Longest run: 9.5 miles

Estimated 56-mile stand alone ride pace: 18.5 mph

Estimated 13.1 mile stand alone running race pace: 7:00

Estimated Ironman finishing time: 11.75 hours (1:20/6:30/3:45)

Hardest workout: Gran Fondo–105 miles.

I’d hoped to get in more weekly work by now–and hit 10 hours of training per week–but it was impossible between work and kids’ sports. It was playoff time in Greenwich and I was having too much fun coaching up the two flag football teams to sneak in big weekend workouts except for Fondo. With two months to go before Ironman, I could be in real trouble if it’s a hot day. If it’s cool, I will muddle through in under 12 hours. But hard workouts in June and July can still change that.

May 2: 9.5 mi run into work after Carry the Load relay leg/ 160 HR/1:10

May 4: 40 mile ride home from work/2:27

May6: Greenwich Biathlon 2.5/10 mi ride/2.5….58:45/HR 180

May 10: 9.6 mi run into work/166 HR…40 mile ride home/2:27

MAy 12: Riverside 3 mile run/18:49/ 6:16 pace/HR 188

May13: 1.5 hours aero computrainer/205 watts/HR155-170 slow drift

June Ironman Training: 7 Hours of Weekly Training; Something Wicked This Way Comes

Commute by train, or...

Starting weight (first three morning average): 205

...at 0415 in the rain?

Ending weight: 201

Total workouts: 15 (32 hours)

Weekly Avg Work: 7.5 hours

Estimated Ironman finishing time: 11.2 hours (1:10/:09/6:00/:08/3:45)

Hardest workout: 70 mile commute home in 90-degree heat.

I certainly expected to be up to 10 hours of training-per-week by now. But between my high school reunion and flag football playoffs (I coach), I lost my opportunity for big weekend workouts and had to use commuting time instead, which is much tougher. Now I’m caught between my inclination to pound out a seriously hard July and all the pundits who recommend a deep taper before the Ironman. I don’t have enough miles to do a progressive decline anyway. Might as well ramp up. See you on July 31. I hope to be averaging at least 10-hours-per-week.

June 1: 1500 m swim/4 mile run

June 5: 41-mile bike home/2:28/HR 145

June 7: 3 hour computrainer/HR 145-160/185 watts

June 8: Cook Your Buns 3 mile race/6:16 pace/190 HR

June 9: 30 mile ride easy TT/6 mile run easy on Ironman course

June 12: 9.6 mile run to train station/1:11

June 13: 2 hours computrainer HR 145

June 14: 9.6 mile run to train/1:13

June 15: 20 mile ride easy after bike fitting in aero/1.25 hours/HR 150

June 16: 2.5 hour computrainer/HR 145-155

June 19: 40.5 mile bike into work/2:15

July Ironman Training: 10 Hours per Week

In July I departed the clydesdale ranks, sinking to 197 pounds from a high of 217 in January. I did a lot of work. Or so I thought. Including a Half Ironman, a mile swim followed by a 15 mile run, and an 8 hour night ride, I averaged 9.75 hours of training per week. I was astonished at the total considering most serious age groupers regularly put in 12-15 hour weeks, spiking to 20. In the aftermath of July, I’m left impressed by the work ethic of my peers, and wondering how realistic a shot at Kona is if 10-hour-weeks maxed out my leisure time. I’m convinced that time management is the salient skill for fathers and mothers on the margin. 0400 workouts in the dark are one thing–I just sacrifice sleep–but missing the boys compete in events like youth triathlons are quite another kind. How do they do it?

6-year-old Ryan getting after it...

Gavin hammers the line

Big brother Gavin (9) helps in transition

…and skipping out on island vacations in the guise of acclimitization (July 17-21) is off limits.

Took this lobster in self-defense

 

Starting weight (first three morning average): 201

Ending weight: 197

Weekly Avg Work: 9.75 hours

Estimated Ironman finishing time: 11 hours (1:10/5:45/3:45/:15)

Hardest workout: All-night ride in 95+ degree heat

 

July 1: Mossman Half Ironman 5:02 (penalized further 4 mins for music+side drafting together) in 75 to 90 degree heat. Pretty hilly. Short swim. Hammy cramps starting mile 7.

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Ironman Lake Placid (IMLP) 2014 Race Report: Minimalist Training Program

Scan 2

A family tradition…in a few years I’ll be escorting the boys with my cane.

When I sampled Ironman in the early 90s, I viewed the 45+ age-groupers with curiosity. So I was unsurprised when a kid at my Lake Placid hotel last week asked me why “an older guy” would subject his body to 141 miles. Twenty years ago I was curious about them. Now I was curious about myself.

 Many of you are curious about Ironman so here’s a brief. I finished the hilly Placid course in 10:55, good for 14th of 349 in my age group. Two years earlier I completed Ironman New York in 10:46, which was 28th of 385. This November in Florida I’m gunning for 10:26, which would beat my time as a 24-year-old.

Ironman has three categories: the machines going for Kona qualification on 12-20 hours/week, those who want to finish with support of coaches and family, and the weirdos.

So to all weirdos who read these presents, greeting.

Training

My buddy, Ryan Atkinson, and I decided to test the minimalist training threshold at Ironman Lake Placid. The winter was the busiest I’ve ever experienced in my job. In springtime, I was coaching both soccer and football for both boys in different age groups. I didn’t have time for a conventional workup, with weekends dominated by low intensity rides and runs. With golfing-like time allocation. So we took the only road available to time-crunched dads: make every workout count. Cut out some beer. But not enough to lose our devil-may-care attitudes.