Racing a 70.3-mile triathlon, or a half-Ironman distance, is an investment of time and money. You'll need to commit to hours of swimming, biking and running weekly to successfully finish the 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run before the eight-and-a-half-hour cut-off time. Once you've budgeted for a wetsuit, racing bike, new running shoes, tri kit, water bottles, helmet, sun glasses and goggles, you may not have enough left over to pay a full-time coach. You can find free half-Ironman training plans on the internet and in books -- some of which may work for you. When evaluating these plans, consider the source, your schedule, your fitness level, your desire, your experience and your ability to recover.
Selecting a Plan
Your friend who has successfully raced a half Ironman may offer to put together a plan for free, but if he isn't a coach with a knowledge of periodization, intensity and volume, take a pass. Look for plans from credible sources, such as U.S.A. Triathlon, respected magazines and books and certified and renowned coaches' blogs and websites. Narrow down your goals for the race and choose a plan that helps you meet this goal. Half-Ironman plans, even free ones, will usually say whether they intend to help you to simply finish, to come in under a specific time or to earn a personal best. No plan guarantees that you will reach that goal, however.
Free half-Ironman plans can give you as much as a year's worth of prep or as little as a dozen weeks. The choice you make depends on your experience level. If you are already in good shape and have raced several triathlons, you can get away with a shorter plan. Beginners usually need a longer prep time. You should also evaluate the training load each week. Determine if your life schedule and body can handle the demands of a particular plan. Some plans call for over a dozen hours a week of training, while others call for under 10. If you have a demanding job and a busy family life, you might need to settle for a lower-volume plan. Training more doesn't always translate into a better performance. Some bodies thrive on shorter, intense training sessions. You have to know your body and what is best for you.
When you do select a free training plan, realize that you don't have to follow it verbatim. You may have to make small changes so the plan will fit your personal needs and schedule. For example, if a plan calls for you to do a long run on Saturdays, but you work weekends, you may switch things around so you can do a long run on a weekday when you have more time. Avoid making huge changes to a plan, however, such as skipping entire weeks -- unless you are injured -- or doing 25 percent more work in a given week. If you feel the plan needs a lot of tweaking, then it probably isn't the right one for you or you need to reassess your goals and aim for a different race. Avoid jumping into plans midstream -- such as starting a 20-week plan at week six. You may cause yourself injury by increasing your volume of training suddenly. If, however, you've been training on your own at a level and volume similar to the first few weeks of the plan you jump into -- you can probably get away with following it, says USA Olympic Triathlon and World Championship coach Gale Bernhardt in her book "Training Plans for Multisport Athletes."
Before racing your 70.3, consider training for and completing some shorter distance triathlons. These shorter distances will help you learn your body's strengths and weaknesses so you can choose a free plan that is more tailored to your particular needs. You'd also benefit from joining a local triathlon club for advice and assistance in tweaking your training plan so it works for you.