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A Fitness Guide for People With No Free Time (And Who Want to Run an Ironman)

This installment of The Normal Person’s Workout sees a guy with a bad knee (and family obligations) try to get ready for the ultimate endurance test

Don’t have three hours a day to spend at the gym? Not interested in bulging like a bodybuilder? Unmoved by promises of “fat-blasting, ab-chiseling monster workouts”? This is the column for you, fellow regular human with very little free time.

The Man

Name: John F., London, England
Age: 37
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 184 pounds
Goal: To compete in the Kona Ironman

His Time Commitment (Or Lack Thereof): “I work a full-time job and have a three-year-old daughter, which is a full-time job in itself,” says John. “Finding time to work out becomes tough, especially for what I want to achieve. I do work out for 45 minutes each lunch time, and I cycle to and from work, which is pretty good considering, but I’m struggling to get to my goal.”

Exercise He’s Actually Willing To Do: “Whatever works! I don’t like resting — that’s my problem. I injured my knee a while back, and I’m still recovering. It’s been seven weeks of rest, and I now have just 15 weeks to get fit enough for a 70.3 Ironman [a half-Ironman]. My ambition is to compete in a full Ironman, but my job and family just take up too much of my time at the moment.”

What He Wants: “I need to get in shape for the 70.3 without injury, but then I want to qualify for the Kona Ironman — that’s my dream. But where do I find the time to do that? How do I train smarter? Help me!”

The Plan

Get Up Earlier: “If you’ve done Ironmans in the past, you’ll agree that training for any of these events requires an extensive amount of time that you don’t have at this stage of your life,” says personal trainer Lalo Fuentes. “As of now, you’re doing roughly four hours of training per week, aside from your bike-to-work routine. The minimum training time required to get ready for an Ironman is eight to twelve hours per week, and that’s training smart and being super precise about your workouts. So the question is: Is there a way you can find at least an extra hour per day to train?”

Get it Right: “Here are my suggestions regarding the exercise: Firstly, focus on what’s critical instead of trying to fit in everything. For example:

  • Swims: Concentrate more on endurance instead of technique.
  • Bike: Since you’re already biking to work, I’d add one day during the weekend for longer rides at a constant speed.
  • Run: Use one day of the weekend for a long run, and when you’re short on time during the week, choose running as your activity for the day. Forget about speed work and instead be mindful of efficient running.”

Try Starting Smaller: “My suggestion for you on the matter as a whole is to participate in basic triathlons, instead. I know this isn’t the type of advice you were trying to get, but sometimes it’s the best advice. By focusing on triathlons, you’re going to stay competitive and healthy, while still being able to have a regular life and extra time to spend with your daughter and wife. Not only that, but from experience, I can tell you that when people try to cram in their workouts so that they can achieve a certain amount of distance per week to reach their training goals, they tend to injure themselves. At 37, I’d say an injury isn’t worth it.

“So not doing this Ironman wouldn’t be a failure, but a much wiser decision. After all, it’s a tough decision that you have to make: Either accomplish your ‘dream’ with no injuries, or spend time with your family.

“Now, if you have done Ironmans or similar races before, I wouldn’t consider this a ‘once in a lifetime’ activity, but just an extra one for your checklist.”

But Keep Doing What You’re Doing: “Working out 45 minutes every day and cycling to work is great exercise and is keeping you in good shape. And since you’re an athlete, I’m guessing your nutrition is good, too. Needless to say then, there’s no reason to stop either.”

The Reaction

Have You Done An Ironman Before? “I haven’t done an Ironman before, but I can already complete the swim comfortably,” says John. “I’ve run a half marathon plenty of times, just not after a 56-mile cycle.”

Do You Have A Spare Hour to Train Every Day? Or Is That Completely Out? “Yeah, I can train for an hour at lunch or in the morning!”

What Do You Think About Focusing on Triathlons Instead of Going for the Ironman? “I’ve done a few Olympic triathlons, so I still want to push myself and do the Ironman.”