Over the past couple of months I have written a series of posts where I shared my method of planning out a triathlon season.  Today’s will take another step down the rabbit hole and provide some insight on my thoughts on the general preparation period for an Ironman, a follow-up to this article will be my thoughts on the specific preparation period for an Ironman.

A couple things to keep in mind: these articles represent my current thought process of preparing for an Ironman.  My thoughts are constantly evolving based on what I read, learn, and experience “ my thoughts may any combination of right, wrong, popular, unpopular, intelligent, dumb, or probably a dozen other adjectives.  With that out of the way here are links to the series of articles thus far that may be helpful in understanding where this article fits into the process.





I consider training to fall into 3 different phases of training.

  • General Prep, training to train.
  • Race Prep, training for an event
  • Recovery Period, training to recover from an event

This differs significantly from the traditional Friel approach of training, which has 5 different phases of training (Preparation, Base, Build, Peak/Race, and Transition).  For now, you’ll have to accept that my way is œbest “ supporting my claim is beyond the scope of this current series of articles “ though you should be able to infer much of my beliefs if you are a frequent reader of my blog.

So beyond the pithy phrase œtraining to train what is the purpose of the General Prep period, what type of training should you be doing, how long is it, and when should you do it?

How long should a General Prep period be?

This is really a simple question to answer “ as long as you can possibly make it.  The length of your general prep period should be as long as your motivation and schedule allows for.

When should you place your General Prep period?

The answer to this is a bit cryptic, and you’ll have to read the third article in this series to get the full answer, but immediately following your Recovery Period up to 8 to 12 weeks our from your target event (A-Race).  If you have planned a season with multiple peaks, you’ll have to wait until the fourth article in this arc to get the full answer.

What is the purpose of the General Prep Period?

Unlike the Race Prep period, whose purpose is to prepare you for the specific demands of your target event, the general prep period, is intended to give you time to address weaknesses, dive into a single sport focus, build fitness.  Something important about the general prep period that may or may not be evident given its name “ is that this is a good time to race; in fact it’s a perfect time to race.  Cycling races, running races, sprint triathlons, Olympic distance triathlons, even a half ironman or three (assuming your main event is an Ironman).  This is a good time to œget the racing out of your system, so that when the Specific Prep period comes you are able to concentrate on training, with the occasional race.  I guess that’s a long way of saying “ if you have the desire and the ability – race as often as possible during the General Prep period.

What type of training should be done in the General Prep period?

Now this is a tricky question.  First, it depends on the athlete, their background, their strength and weaknesses, their goals, and what they eat for breakfast.  While I jest (only slightly), you have to remember that the General Prep period has two goals: The primary goal is to prepare the athlete for the Specific Prep period, and the secondary goal is to address the athlete’s limiters.

This brings me to the chicken and the egg portion of the program “ do I talk about the Specific Prep period so that we can deduce the needs of the athlete to begin that phase of training? Do I go into a discussion of all the possible limiters an athlete may have, how to determine them and how to close the gap, or do I give advice that may or may not be meaningful to you.  In truth none of those are really helpful, and some of them are beyond the scope of which I feel comfortable tackling.  I’ll just stick with talking about the periods the way they fall in the calendar and you can puzzle it out.

It’s difficult to provide advice on what exactly to include in a period of training like this “ because my actual recommendations would vary from athlete to athlete based on things like experience, goals, mental and physical durability, schedule and a host of other things.  What I chose to do personally is different than what I would recommend for someone else.  The concepts are the same, but what I’ve puzzled out for myself may break that person or may not stress them enough.

As I mentioned earlier “ the primary goal of the general prep period is to prepare you for the demands of the specific prep period.  You don’t need to be able to ride 5 hours @ X watts, or run 2 hours @ Y pace at the end of the general prep “ you simply need to be fit to ramp to that level of work in a short period of time without suffering setbacks.  Basically this amounts to being fit “ to me this means being able to get on the bike and survive a moderately stiff 3 to 3 and a half hour ride and/or a 90 minute run.  If you follow the guidelines below “ and the time constraints laid out in this blog post “ you’ll be prepared for both of those items without having to commit to more than 90 minutes a session on the bike and about 60 minutes per session on the run.

The secondary goal of the general prep period is addressing your weaker sports.  If you’ve been doing your homework, you should know what those are.  If you haven’t, go to athlinks and figure it out!  It’s beyond the scope of this post on workouts to address different types of limiters “ perhaps in the future “ in the mean time there is plenty of good info out there.  In place of specific workouts or plans “ here are some guidelines.  As I write, I am assuming a basic level of understanding of Functional Threshold for all three sports and how to calculate appropriate training zones from that.

Key Workouts

Phase 1

As a safe starting point “ focus on three key workouts each week, with a down day in between.  These key workouts should be focused on your two weak sports.  My suggestion is to alternate them on a weekly basis.  Week 1: 2 sport A/1 sport B.  Week 2: 1 Sport A/2 Sport B.

At the beginning of the period all of these key workouts should be Functional Threshold based workouts.


Start with something like 2×8′ and over the course of a few weeks build to 2×20′ (or longer) at FTP.   The goal should be regular completion of 40 to 60 minutes of FTP work per session.  Feel free to break this up into intervals to keep the training from getting stale.  Intervals less than 8 minutes are basically worthless, and you start getting into the prime zone at around 13 minutes.  Take 1 minute of rest for each portion of 5 minutes of work.


Start with 2×1 mile @ Daniels T-pace (or equivalent) and like cycling build from there.  The goal should be at least 20 minutes of T-pace per session, with a maximum of about 40 minutes.  Again feel free to do intervals to break it up.  For running the minimum interval is 5 minutes.  Take one minute rest for each portion of 5 minutes of work.  If you decide to do efforts over 20 minutes “ you should adjust your pace downward slightly.


Swimming is a bit trickier to give good guidelines as it’s really dependent upon the swimmer and their abilities “ since Jeff suggested it, I’ll dive deeper into this in a future post.  As a general guideline though I would recommend doing repeats of the longest distance you can swim on a 90 second interval while keeping about 10 to 15 seconds rest.  Start with 10 intervals.  The goal should be to build up to 25 of them by adding 2 or 3 a week.

Phase 2

After you’ve been in the general prep period long enough to build your key sessions to the goals listed above “ it’s time to do some suffering and work on the VO2max.  My guess would be that this should take you at least 8 weeks to reach those goals.   My general recommendation would be to keep the same pattern of 2/1, but the composition would shift from all threshold to: Week1: 1 Sport A Threshold/1 Sport A VO2/1 Sport B VO2.  Week 2: 1 Sport A VO2/1 Sport B VO2/1 Sport B Threshold.

For the threshold workouts in this œphase I would recommend doing the same workouts you had been doing before, and possible shortening them slightly.  So if you were doing 2×20′ on the bike “ keep that, or maybe drop down to 2×15′.  The reason for this is that VO2 work is demanding, and you’re doing the threshold work just to keep those sensations alive “ it’s not the focus.


The goal is to be able to complete 6×5′ several times.  5 minutes at VO2 max is a punishing workout, feel free to dive right in, but my recommendation is to build into it.  Try this progression:

  • Week 1: 18×1′ (40 rest)
  • Week 2: 10×2′ (1′ rest)
  • Week 3: 6×3′ (2.5′ rest)
  • Week 4: 6×4′ (3′ rest)
  • Week 5: 6×5′ (4′ rest)

Once you’ve built to 6×5′, do that every week.


Same caveats as before “ it really depends.  Essentially, I recommend the exact same workouts as before “ you just have to swim FASTER and you get more rest.  Basically “ swim the same distance you were swimming before, but instead of going every 90 seconds, you go every 2 minutes.  This additional rest should allow you to swim about 5 to 10 seconds faster per work bout.  Start with 2 sets of 5, then 1 set of 10, than 15, than 20 “ with the Holy Grail being 30¦My best is 24.

I wouldn’t spend more than 8 or 9 weeks total in Phase 2, it’s really tough.  In a perfect world, you’d cycle back to Phase 1 of general prep for a few weeks before moving into the Specific prep period, but sometimes that isn’t possible.  When you shift back to Phase 1, you skip all the build into the intervals that you did the first time, and go straight to the full volume goal per session.  In a super perfect world, you could even cycle back to Phase 2 again “ also without the build into it.  Personally, if you get back to Phase 2 a second time, I’d limit it to 6 weeks.

Other than those 3 key sessions a week “ you should be looking to get in as much training time as you can manage, at an easy effort.  A sample week might be, assuming a bike/run focus:

Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Sun
AM Swim Swim Swim Key Bike Easy Brick
PM Easy Run Key Bike Easy Run Key Run Easy Run

Onto some closing thoughts “ I mentioned before that the General Prep period is a great time to race.  If you decide to does a race in this period “ simply swap out one of the key workouts for the race.  No need for special adjustments.  Another thing you may have noticed is that there is no mention of rest weeks “ it’s because it’s a waste of training time!  You are best served managing your workload such that you don’t need them “ it also means that because of the demands of the work you are doing “ it’s likely that your overall volume will (should) be pretty low “ that’s OK, the Specific Prep period will fix that.