Thursday, October 23, 2014

Overloading for Ironman Hawaii

by Gordo Byrn

Alan and I have enjoyed providing you this series. In reading our articles, you’ll likely find that you’re drawn to one of our styles more than the other. Remember that you can give yourself an edge by learning, and training, against your preferences.


Just like last time, I have built training plans that give you specifics on what I discuss in this article. I have modified the Base Blocks to contain overload and recovery for the two athletes that we discussed last time (Strong Stan and Fast Fran).

Both plans contain two overload long weekends (Weeks 2 and 4), a big week example (Week 6) and a deep recovery week example (Week 7). They are examples of where a Kona-qualifier needs to be at the end of his or her Base Preparations.

In the training plan, the big week is a good example for a do-it-yourself training camp. The big week requires a week off work and, ideally, training in a location that fits my training camp tips (below).


Qualifying for Kona requires a lot of work and, even if you have all day to train, smart overload is an effective way to get better.

Athletes can waste a lot of energy worrying about the structure of their training plan. Prove that you can do the work before you worry about the structure. Here are the most effective overload techniques that I’ve used over the years:

  • Run 25 times in a month
  • Run 100 km / 62 miles in a week
  • Bike 800 km / 500 miles in a week
  • Swim, Bike, Run daily for 3, then 6, then 10 days
  • Swim 25,000 meters / 27,500 yards in a week
  • Swim 14 days in a row

While you tick the box on each of the above, remember these two principles of overload:

  • Always maintain your single-sport minimums (see below)
  • Evaluate the success of your overload based on the speed that you can return to your normal, balanced, Basic Week.

Taking these in turn. My single sport minimums for ironman training are:

  • Swim - 12,000 meters, three sessions
  • Bike - 3 hours, two sessions
  • Run - 3 hours, four sessions
  • Strength - at least once every 10 days, ideally once per week

Both the total time/distance and the sessions are minimums. For example, 6x30 minutes of running is superior to 3x60 minutes -- especially in a big bike week.

If you are overloading to the point where you can’t maintain your minimums then you’re going too far. Triathlon is a swim/bike/run sport -- moving away from your swim/bike/run minimums should be avoided. Remember, you’re not training to finish an Ironman, you are training to qualify for World Champs!

The speed that you can return to normal is an important benchmark. Inconsistent athletes, in particular, need to focus on this concept (which is covered very well in Alan’s section on Kona For The Realist).

I'll illustrate with a simple example. Let’s assume your basic week consists of 15 hours and are considering 28 hours for a Big Week (at a spring training camp, perhaps).

Base Load = 15 hours x 3 weeks = 45 hours

Training Camp Overload = 28 hours
Week After Training Camp = 10 hours – hit the minimums
Second Week After Training Camp = ???

If you skip the training camp then you will do 45 hours across three weeks. If you attend the camp and get sick then you might end up with less than 45 hours over the three-week period and have wasted much of the camp benefit.

In example above, a return to normal (15 hours) in week three would give 53 hours for the training camp block (28+10+15). Now this says nothing about the quality of the hours but, for Ironman, simple volume metrics are useful.

For training camps, I also have principles and metrics for you to remember:

  • Leave your normal life when training big
  • Go to a place where swimming is convenient, cycling weather is pleasant and you have no distractions
  • No connectivity until you’ve finished your training day
  • Start your day with the sport that you most often blow off
  • Stay balanced in approach
  • Start thinking about recovery in the final 48 hours as you’ll be tempted to bury yourself on the last two days and screw up your return to normal training

For your first camp, I recommend that you use my simple mantra of swim, bike, run daily for three to six days. See what you can handle and remember my advice to start with the sport you tend to blow off.

With a few balanced long weekends under your belt, you should think about Big Weeks that contain the following done over six days:

  • Swim - 6 / 5 / 3 / 3 / 2 - thousands of meters per session
  • Bike - 6 / 5 / 4 / 2 / 1 - hours per session
  • Run - 12 / 6 / 6 / 3 / 3 - miles per session

That would end up being 23,000 meters of swimming (25,300 yards), 18 hours of cycling and 30 miles (50 km) of running. For most of us, that is about 30 hours of training, which is a level where the Kona Qualifier (see note at end) should be able to maintain quality in most of the sessions and, most importantly, be back to normal six to eight days post-camp.

If you don’t have the ability to complete this level of work, and bounce back, then you’re going to have a tough time getting to Hawaii. I’ve seen it done on less but all of those athletes had the capacity to do the Big Week that I lay out in my training plan.

If you are new to endurance sport then don’t despair (!) – your stamina will improve rapidly in your early years. Remember that this is the advanced plan and my book with Joe Friel (Going Long) is the best place for you to start.

If the swim volume completely cooks you (as it did me when I started) then your race is being slowed by your lack of swim endurance and you must address your swim fitness to get to Kona. Start every big day with a swim and remember that the race is far, far easier when you’re not playing catch up.


If you are an experienced athlete and struggle to achieve my overload metrics then consider your approach to nutrition. Endurance sport attracts athletes that like to deplete themselves and “depleters” can race well over short distances. To train big you need to learn how to fuel yourself.

Smart nutrition requires us to make peace with aspects of our personalities (body image, pacing, arousal control) that many will never sort out. If you want to get to Kona then you’ll need to address areas that others prefer to avoid. Ironman Hawaii has been the motivation for many to change.


At this stage, the purpose of the overload is to create the capacity to handle the Kona-specific single-day overload that comes in the final 11 weeks of your preparation.

As I said in the section on Basic Base For Ironman Hawaii, remember the following:

  • Be willing to trade intensity for consistency.
  • The program will get extremely challenging.
  • Leave yourself a place to go, both later in the year and on race day.

I can remember when my friends, Scott Molina and Jonas Colting, started sharing these techniques with me. I thought they were crazy and struggled to wrap my head around the training. However, I was highly motivated, gave it a shot and learned first hand what’s required for success at the highest levels.

There are many ways to improve and if your program is working for you then keep what’s working.

If you want to beat an athlete then you must be prepared to outwork him/her for as long as it is going to take.

Keep it simple and persist.

NOTE: if you’re over 50 then you’re likely to need enhanced recovery. What’s feasible over 6 days for a 40-year old might take you 8-9 days to complete. Use my tip on the speed that you can return to normal training to guide yourself.

Further Reading:
Big Week Training

Big Day Training

My diaries from riding across America. A daily average of 2500 meters, 100 km, 5 miles (swim/bike/run) for 63 days.


Gordo is the founder of Endurance Corner. You can find his personal blog here.

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