How Train For Your First Ironman

rick harper

Rick Harper is a member of the CAF, fitness coach and 4 time Ironman and in this episode, you’re going to learn the basic framework of how to train for your first Ironman.


How far is an Ironman you ask?

3.9km swim

180.2km bike

42.4km run

Goal Setting

You can’t fake an Ironman! This is the most important tenant. You can’t just phone this in. This is the world’s premier, most demanding endurance benchmark. If you don’t commit to the process, you will have a bad day in Baghdad on race day, know what I’m saying?

So, before you even decide to register for one of these, ask yourself these important questions:

  1. Am I willing to put in 12 hrs of training a week?
  2. Can I run a marathon?
  3. Can I swim at least 1km without stopping?
  4. Does my partner support me?

Be honest, since each of these answers will establish your timeline for completing an Ironman.

In my case, I made my goal clear in Afghanistan in 2011.

If I get out of here alive, even if I’m missing some pieces, I’m doing the Ironman before I’m 40!

This was written down in my journal and I will honour that commitment to all those didn’t make it home from my tour. However, as you can tell, it’s been 10 years of lead up. For a better description of how to set up your SMART goals, head over to my other blog post, here.

Where to Start

For me, I had to clear up my injuries. This has taken me nearly 5 years of consistent BHW (Bloody Hard Work) to now be in a position to even consider the Ironman. Now that my back and knees are stable, I’ve been able to complete 2 sprint and one Olympic triathlon and one marathon. Find out more about my injury recovery journey in this post I did a few years back.

Next, was to build in some benchmarks. The first was strength. I needed a strong base of midline stability and leg strength before I began my serious lead up training for my marathon. Learn about the basics of squat mechanics from my Keeping Our Warfighters Fighting series.

Once that was set, I spent a solid 4 months last year, working with my coach and current HRD2KILL Performance specialist, LP Boudreault to get ready for my first marathon. I knew that I had to have this in the bag before this year so that I had the psychological confidence that I could handle the distance. My marathon journey is found on an earlier post I did and you can follow along with it here.

Swimming was my jam in high school and is not a major focus of mine since I’m really buoyant and still a strong swimmer but if you suck at it, this will be your main effort. Make sure to get a coach, immediately or you will waste far too much time and never get to the 3.9km distance required of you.

Training Basics

Rick described the Maximal Aerobic Function (MAF) test to us. It’s essentially ensuring that your training sessions don’t go too hard since you need to be able to recover. This is a simple training zone calculated as:

180bpm – Your Age = MAH.

MAF test
Max Aerobic Function

The goal is to not exceed this heart rate zone so that you’re constantly in fat burning mode and not over taxing your system. The goal is to perform 80% of your weekly volume in this chilled out zone and the other 20% with higher intensity shit. This could include some Crossfit style WODs or sprints. The simple reason for not going out and smashing a PR everyday can be explained in depth in this article.

When at full training capacity so approximately 3-4 months out from race day, you should be getting in 2 swims, 3 bikes and 3 runs plus at least one weight session in too. You should be aiming for approximately 12 hrs a week of training as stated above.

Don’t Get Fat

So a funny thing happened to both me and Rick and is the basis for Rick’s whole fitness business. During his lead up trainings for his first two Ironmans, he noticed that he wasn’t losing body fat and was constantly cramping and having gastro-intestinal distress during race day. This was caused by constant carb feeding.

He decided that he was going to start his journey down the keto diet rabbit hole and he hasn’t turned back since.

I’ve recently started my keto journey and I’m liking what I’m seeing, both in the mirror and on the road. Weight is going down along with my times. More to follow on this for sure.

Have a listen to the episode to find out more about Rick’s next Ironman this summer.


Find Rick at:


Train Hard, Fight Easy

dave morrowDave is a retired infantry officer and Afghanistan war veteran. He’s the creator of the HRD2KILL training program that was built on the principles that got him from not being able to get out of bed to competing in the Crossfit Open, Spartan Races and the Montreal Gaelic Athletics Association. You can find more mobility based exercises in his new book, “The Nimble Warrior”, now available on Apple Books and Amazon or tune into his new HRD2KILL Podcast


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