Training for a Half Ironman Race

Ever wonder what those 70.3 oval stickers you occasionally see adhered to a bumper refer to? That’s the total distance of a Half Ironman race, which consists of a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1-mile run. Those races, taken just on their own, are daunting enough, but combine them for a 5-plus-hour endurance smorgasbord and you’ve got yourself an epic event — one that will need some pretty dedicated training to successfully pull off.

But triathlons aren’t just for superheroes. Justin Mazzone was a beginner not that long ago and relied on information from online videos and training programs for guidance. But after his first tri, he realized he wanted a coach if he was going to make big gains. In just four months of training under the guidance of Colin Cook from Bedford, he took an hour off his best finish time. If you do go it alone at first, Mazzone recommends working on your transitions and admits to “being like a beauty queen” during his first, taking time to get his socks just right, etc., but learned that quick, seamless transitions are best. Adjusting to biking after the swim and running after the bike — it’s a key component to a good race experience. He also suggests really planning your gear ahead of time; do your homework and lay your stuff out for race day. Know exactly where your bike is to avoid being flustered at the transition. He also recommends trying a sprint distance tri (.47-mile swim, 12-mile bike ride and 3.1-mile run) to see if you think the Half Ironman is something you really want to try.


New Hampshire boasts its own Half Ironman race and festival in August, the 70.3 Timberman, which takes place in Gilford and features beautiful Lake Winnipesaukee as its race course.

Gear Box

Featured in the 2014 "Triathlete Buyer’s Guide," the Pearl Izumi EM Tri 2 shoe ($125) is designed specifically for triathletes and the inner liner is soft enough that many users can run without socks. Designed for racing, but cushioned enough to provide lasting comfort.

Mazzone prefers a one-piece for the cold water temperatures in the Northeast, but a two-piece race kit can also be a great companion during a tri. Worn under a wetsuit, the Louis Garneau Tri Elite Course Kit ($290) fits great and is ideal for mid-race bathroom breaks. It also features a supportive foam pad for the long bike ride.

The Zoot Ultra Tri Bag ($125) featuring a removable wetsuit compartment, the Zoot isn’t just a top-loading bag like most others: it can be stuffed from the top or made to lie flat like a suitcase.

If you can afford the price, the Garmin Forerunner 910XT ($450) is the ultimate sport watch for the triathlete. This GPS-enabled device really has it all — from stroke count, calories burned and every other aspect of the swim, bike and run to give you all the data you need.

Justin Mazzone
courtesy photo

Expert Advice with Justin Mazzone

Justin Mazzone grew up in East Boston and studied at Southern New Hampshire University. He became a permanent NH resident, now calling Manchester home. He played hockey all through college and eventually transitioned to triathlons about three years ago. He is employed at SNHU as the graduate academic advising team lead.

How much training do you put in on a typical week when you are prepping for a race? During a typical week I train between 10-15 hours on the low end and about 15-18 on the high end, depending on where I am in my training cycle/block. For an example, Monday, 3,500-yd. swim (1 hour in total time); Tuesday, 1:30 bike ride followed by a 40-minute run off the bike; Wednesday, 30-minute core strength session followed by a 3,000-yard swim (roughly 50 minutes to an hour depending on suggested pace by coach), then a long speed workout later in the day totaling 50 minutes; Thursday, another long ride that will average about 1:45 in total time on the bike followed by a 20-minute run, then a 35-minute core session. Friday will be a swim set with 3,000 yards (roughly 50 minutes to an hour depending on prescribed pace by coach); Saturday will be a long ride consisting of 2.5-3 hours followed by a 30-minute run off the bike and Sunday is a long run that can land between the 1:50-2-hour mark.

Do you find it hard to keep motivated? I’m not going to lie — you do get exhausted and ask yourself, why do I do this? But when you cross that finish line and nail your goals, you look back and think to yourself that all of that work you put into training was worth it.

Do you have some go-to gear items? During my first race, I was self-coached. I saw a few YouTube videos on Ironman Lake Placid and thought, I’m going to do that and began training using a free online training plan I would recommend for folks who don’t want to go through a coach. All I knew is that I needed a nice pair of tri shorts, goggles and a good pair of running shoes. Well, yikes, was I wrong. You want to make sure that you have a nice, thick-padded tri short, a watch and a heart rate monitor; this way you can keep track of how your running was and where your body truly stands in terms of heart rate, a bike computer and a power meter. You want this to track your efforts on the bike and make sure you’re staying consistent throughout. And a nice transition bag, so you can lug all over gear and water bottles without having to make three trips to the car.

What’s your favorite event that you do each year? My favorite event that I do every other year is IMFL70.3 (Ironman Florida) in April because it gives me the ability to visit my younger brother, parents and grandmother, plus they come and support me on race day down there because they’re unable to make it to other races. An event that I do every year is Pumpkinman Tri Festival, Half Ironman distance up in South Berwick, Maine. The atmosphere is awesome, the temperatures are just right. The course is really,  really fast — not too hilly on the bike or the run, and they have an amazing spread afterwards.

Best advice anyone ever gave you with respect to the Half Ironman? Embrace the suffering. That may be too harsh for folks starting out, but during my first-ever triathlon, when I had not a clue what I was doing, the best advice I was given was to scale things back — don’t bike too fast or run too fast like I was training, as if I took this approach I would blow up.

Categories: Outsider, Summer Sports