How to train for a triple Ironman when you don’t want to.

“If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.” Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, This Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa's First Woman President.


Next year, I'll be aiming to complete one of my biggest challenges ever; finishing a triple ironman. But what’s a triple-Ironman I hear you ask?

Well, the ironman triathlon is an ultra-distance triathlon and as near ubiquitous today as the marathon is - many people have completed one. Even an Italian nun of 86 years old - Madonna Buder aka the Iron-nun - has finished over 40 of them. And she completed her first when she was 65!

The challenge will be to complete triple the distance of the 3 disciplines in the normal order.

 That’s a 7.1-mile swim, a 348-mile cycle ride and then 78.6 miles of running. And this isn’t just any ordinary ultra-triathlon; the run will climb the 1085 metres of mount Snowdon. Yes, you read that correctly; a triple marathon to the summit of Snowdon.

 These are the 7 principles I’ll use to make to the finishing line.


 1. Training has to be fun.

 We’re all busy. If you don't enjoy running, cycling, swimming or whatever discipline you're doing – you won’t break free of the sofa when it's raining, cold or your friends are in the bar.

 Whilst I was training to set a world record for carrying a 100-lb backpack at the London marathon this year - my programme became incredibly dull. I would develop my legs and core in the gym twice per week and do one heavy walk for conditioning every Sunday. Any remaining time outside my job, was spent in recovery.

A few months in, I was yearning for some interesting training and decided that a Brazilian Ju-Jitsu (BJJ) session would be fun. Frustratingly, I got a little too enthusiastic during a sparring round and tore my pectoral muscle - that was the end of that idea. From then on,  I went mountain biking more often - something fun, that would get me outdoors.

For the triple Ironman, I'll mix in touch rugby, mountain biking and BJJ sessions (with tempered sparring this time) around the swimming, cycling and running.

2. Sign up to it – then figure out the rest.

 Back in 2006, an Army friend of mine completed his first Ironman. He’d been putting it off for 2 years due to the unpredictable and frenetic nature of his job in the military. Finally, in a moment of frustration – he signed up and paid the £450 to enter. From then on, his focus was on the event. The added pressure of a guaranteed race place (and threat of lost money) meant that he couldn’t put it off or allow it to fall so low down the priority list any longer.

By signing up to it, you have added incentive to actually prepare. There is a good reason why event organisers’ entry fee is non-refundable (besides all the hard work and effort they have to put in to make it possible). It means when you face the inevitable moment of doubt - you won't pull out.


3. Tell (a few) people about it.

 But only those closest around you to give support and make you get out to train. Research suggests that we actually feel like we've achieved it if we tell too many people. This psychosocial phenomenon around ‘identity goals’ is believed to fool the brain into thinking it’s closer to achieving the goal even when the work hasn’t been put in. I believe you can nullify the effects of this issue by using forms of fitness that you actually enjoy doing (thereby not seeing it as actual training).


4. Draw a roadmap of stepping-stones.

By designing a number of smaller challenges into your training strategy, you’ll increase your confidence come challenge day. It seems like the most obvious advice of all, but I’m absolutely convinced of its power.  

8 years ago, I decided I wanted to run a marathon - so I started running 10 km races until I felt comfortable I could do that distance. Then I felt ready to move up to a half marathon. After that, I started seeing the full marathon as just 4 x 10 km runs (with a 2.2 km cool down). It slowly broke down the size of the challenge, brick by brick.

 As I’ve never even done the three distances I’ll face, I have a plan to get me ready:

Firstly, I’ll run a triple marathon at this year's London marathon to prepare me for the run distance.

Next, I'll build up to ride from London to Paris (taking the scenic route to add up to 348 miles).

Finally, I’ll swim 7.1 miles in a outdoor swimming lake.

All in all, these small steps will build my fitness but also confidence that I can conquer the distance.

PC: Simon Clarke @Bagpuss photos.

 5. Do it for a good cause.

You'll be surprised at how seriously you take it when you’re doing it for a good cause. It's a small nudge in the right direction when you don't feel like training or eating right. Building a community of other fundraisers allows you to share information, knowledge, experiences and also mutually support each other.


6. Celebrate your training achievements.

 Once you've done a big conditioning, endurance or strength session - give yourself a treat. By rewarding yourself - you build up a mind-set that makes you value the hard work that has to come before you can treat yourself. After every conditioning walk I did in preparation for the world record attempt, I’d sit in a hot bath with a cold beer and allow myself to relax for at least 30 minutes. The habit of earning a reward made sure I completed the full distance every Sunday.

 7. Make it competitive.

By adding in healthy competition, your mind becomes focussed on beating others as opposed to how much it hurts. When I tore my pectoral in the BJJ session, I did so because I’d not had any good competitive training – it was always me in the gym or out walking with a heavy bag on. By including competitive sessions (touch rugby and BJJ) into my triple IM training plan; I’ll be working at the highest intensity, for longer; but still enjoying it.


Make your world bigger.