18 – 22 hours a week is the estimated time cost to get in the kind of shape that would make amateurs competitive in their respective age-group categories at the Ironman World Championships in Kona. When I heard that, I audibly gasped. Not only is the Ironman triathlon gruelling enough to finish, but to be competitive, I was imagined that you need to spend upwards of 30 hours a week on training. Basically training like a pseudo-professional.
I decided to look further into the person making the claim: Dr. Dan Plews. I soon discovered he had the long laundry list of credentials I’ve seen on just about anyone. He won the Ironman World Championships at Kona in 2018 for the non-professionals or age-groupers in a course record time of 8 hours and 24 minutes. Not only that, but he’s a renowned sport scientist with a PhD in Physiology and is a hot-ticket item for high performance sports organisations. The most impressive thing is that he’s coached athletes to a cumulative total of 25 medals across Olympic games and World championships.
To say he is an expert in endurance sports is an understatement. Coaching aside, the fact that he himself is probably good enough to become a professional triathlete while juggling the pressures of his work and family is mightily impressive. If he says 18 – 22 hours is all you need, I believe him.
In the interview I listened to, Dr. Plews did go on to emphasise that while the total time may seem lower than expected, the quality of the training had to be high. By this he mean’t that every training session should have intent behind it. Long story short, easy days easy, hard days hard. As simple as that sounds, it’s much harder to execute in practice, especially if one his self-coached. For example, Dr. Plews mentioned that the most valuable thing any endurance athlete can do is go into a lab to get their training zones measured. Something that most non-professionals would just think overkill yet are happy to drop $300 on a pair of shoes or $3k on a bike.
So what can we take away from this? Provided one has good guidance and is equipped with the right information, becoming a sub-elite endurance athlete is eminently achievable for the everyman and everywoman. That is just such a motivating thought, and perhaps it may inspire more to pursue this.