Ironman training plan, Crossfit Endurance style

A comprehensive look at the training logs, resources and thought processes behind my first Ironman triathlon

Double unders

About a year ago, I not only showed up and committed to taking on my first Ironman triathlon, but I also pledged to use an unconventional training program that focused on strength training and shorter distances at higher intensities.

The program is called Crossfit Endurance (CFE), and now that I’ve got my first Ironman in the books, I can say to you without a shred of doubt that it works.

But back then, I didn’t know it was going to work, so I spent hours researching CFE Ironman training plans to make sure I was headed in the right direction.

I found a lot of helpful resources and great advice – which you’ll read about later on – but I was never able to find a comprehensive, detailed training plan that didn’t require some form of payment or subscription.

To remedy that, for anyone in the same position I was in, I’m going to share my complete training logs, workout routines and resources, for free.

In this article, you’ll also read why I decided to go the CFE route (rather than the more conventional Long Slow Distance (LSD) approach), see what resources I used to help formulate my program and learn key tips to keep in mind when following CFE.

To begin, let’s take a look at the main reasons I opted for a Crossfit Endurance program, rather than LSD.

Why Crossfit Endurance for Ironman?

  • To get stronger
  • To reduce the toll of training on my tendons and joints
  • To use time efficiently

Secondary factors include: saving money by not hiring a coach, and feeling cool for going against the grain.

Notice anything missing from that list?

If you answered something like, “Uh, yeah. You didn’t say anything about trying to get a faster Ironman race time,” then you are correct sir (or madame, or omnipotent Google Internet-crawler-bot).

Since this was my first attempt at an Ironman, and I didn’t have much experience at anything close to that distance, I didn’t include a finish time in my goal for the race. Just finish strong.

I bring that up so you can see that strength, health and efficiency took priority over finish time, for me in this race. From what I’ve read, I imagine that if I was shooting to win my age group, or go pro, with a super fast time, I’d probably need to take a more LSD-based approach to training.

Also, keep in mind that many athletes – including my sister – have found success using the LSD strategy. This article isn’t an attack on those folks, their coaches or that strategy.

Instead, it’s a shining personal endorsement of CFE, a case study of my successful experience and an attempt to show how, if your goals are similar to mine, to make it work for you.

Now that my goals are laid out, and you can see the context around my decision to follow the CFE protocol for Ironman, the next step is to hit the books.

Resources, articles and testimonials that cemented my CFE route

Before I turned to endurance sports in 2011, I had been following the crossfit.com workouts on and off for about three years. I subscribe to the program’s core philosophies and like the focus on strength, efficiency, health and intensity.

On the other hand, these days the Crossfit culture, brand and sprawl have taken on lives of their own, and often turn me off.

None the less, I’m still a believer. And when you use CFE to train for Ironman distances – you find out just how strong your faith is.

Going the CFE route is as much a test of faith and mental fortitude as it is of physical ability, because in CFE training, you never go close to the distances of the race. Therefore, you have to believe in the program and trust in yourself that all of those shorter workouts and intense lifting sessions are going to get the job done.

To fortify the foundation of my CFE faith, I spent hours combing through articles, reading blogs and trying to find as many testimonials as I could from people who have completed Ironman triathlons by following the CFE protocol. Here are the top resources I found:

The plan

bike

Alright then. You have goals, a solid foundation and you’re ready to dominate.

But you still need a plan. A detailed plan. A plan that will tell you when to train, when to rest, how far and fast to swim, bike and run, how much to lift, the best way to stretch, the right shoes to buy, what to eat, and so on and so forth.

Well, I have some good news and some bad news.

Good news is I’m going to give you a copy – free of charge – of my detailed training logs and complete CFE Ironman program.

Bad news is you still need to spend a bunch of time picking apart the plan and crafting one that meets your needs. This isn’t a one-size fits all type of a program.

By reading through my training logs, you’ll have more information than I did at the beginning, and I hope it gives you some insight to help formulate your own planning process.

A couple quick notes on my training journal before we get to the link:

  • The first tab shows the entire year of training, in chronological order, on one sheet
  • The tabs that follow show the training logs, broken out month by month
  • Each row is one workout session; when you see two rows with the same date, that indicates two workouts were performed that day
  • Workouts are categorized into four areas: Swim, Bike, Run, WOD and Mobility
  • Most of these workouts were copied and pasted from crossfitendurance.com

Ok. Have at it. Click here to view my Ironman CFE Training Logs: IMAZ 2013

Fun facts from my Ironman training plan:
I completed a total of 352 workouts, comprised of:

  • 102 WODs (strength and conditioning workouts)
  • 74 Swims
  • 62 Mobility workouts: (25 of which were yoga classes)
  • 59 Runs
  • 52 Bike rides (23 of which were spin classes)
  • 2 practice races (Boulder IM70.3, and Lifetime Olympic Tri)

Tips

bars

  • You gotta give ‘er. For the CFE program to work, you need to go hard, heavy and as fast as you can on most workouts.
  • Don’t injure yourself lifting weights. If you don’t have the proper technique or experience required to perform olympic lifts, don’t force it. Learn good form, study the technique and get some help if you can.
  • Go all in on CFE. When I started out at the beginning of the year, I tried to blend LSD with CFE and ended up burning out. If you decide to go CFE, commit to it entirely and have faith.
  • Stretch and work on mobility every day. At least 15 minutes before and after every workout.
  • Plan out your training every week. Here’s my general weekly training schedule, if it helps:
    • Monday: Rest – Mobility – Yoga
    • Tuesday: Morning Swim, Evening CFE WOD
    • Wednesday: Morning Bike (Spin class), Evening CFE WOD
    • Thursday: Morning Run, Evening CFE WOD
    • Friday: Morning Swim, Evening CFE WOD
    • Saturday: Long Bike
    • Sunday: Long Run

By following this Crossfit Endurance based training plan I completed my first Ironman – Ironman Arizona 2013 – in 13:30:18. See the details and read my race recap here: AF race report: Ironman Arizona.

If you’re going the CFE route for an Ironman race, I hope this post gives you confidence, motivation and information to help you accomplish your goals. Please post your thoughts, experiences or any questions in the comments!

– Live every day –

Adam

P.S. I received great feedback and advice from readers of this blog, with some folks later in the year even sharing their own CFE Ironman training logs with me. I’m paying it forward here as a way to say thanks.

Disclaimer: I’m not certified or formally schooled on Crossfit, endurance training, or any of this stuff. The two injuries I suffered over the course of the year – plus my idiotic burn out – show my plans aren’t bullet proof, and I’m no professional.

  • Carlo

    Adam, im starting training with a local CF coach, but I would like recomendations for a CFE triathlon coach that can help program my coaching for IM Texas 2017. Any suggestions?

    • Carlo – I didn’t train with a coach so I don’t have any personal recommendations. Your best bet might be asking your local CF coach for a referral. Also, check the list of links and resources I laid out above; many of them offer individual coaching and training plans. Good luck!

  • Shelly Sabourin

    This is awesome! I just read the book CFE and had just completed a 90 day crossfit challenge and saw a huge improvement in my running races I just completed compared to spring. I’ve done 2 IM races, including IM AZ 2013 so must have crossed paths with you there! I’ve done traditional training up to this point and have signed up for IM Copenhagen 2017 (crazy I know) but am completely switching training gears and going all CFE this time. I’ve had enough of the LSD type training plans and have not only burnt out but have seemed to have peaked on my speed and power. Thank you for sharing all these resources!!!

  • Angelo

    Hi Adam, Thanks for all the information your provided and you gave me the confidence complete my first 1/2 triathlon. It went so well that I registed for a full next July 2017. Reading though the information, I have a about your training where I need clarification. Could you please explain your Stamina Timeline? It looks like a lot of mileage for the weekend?

    • Hi, Angelo – Congrats on completing your first half, and godspeed on the full next year! My stamina workouts were way too long toward the beginning of the year and I ended up burning out (see the idiotic burn out link in my disclaimer above). I wouldn’t recommend trying to blend CFE and LSD training like I did for a while. I would go all in on CFE and follow their prescribed stamina workouts, not mine.

      • Angelo

        Thanks for the quick response.
        Could you send me a few weeks of your work-out so I have an idea how you trained. I currently training 6 days a week and this what my schedule looks like

        Sunday long bike ride
        Monday weights/core/wod 45 min – tempo run 5 miles ( 1.5 hrs for the day)
        Tuesday, swim, spin class ( 2 hrs for the day)
        Wesdnesay weights/core/wod 45 min- hills run 5 miles ( 1.5 hrs for the day)
        Thusday swim, spin class ( 2 hrs for the day)
        Friday Rest
        Saturday Wod workout – 45 minmax 1.5 hrs race pace or faster.
        Where I get stub on is the long bike ride. My longest run will be 2 hrs, which I’ll do twice and 4 weeks before the race. Other then that 90 min max.

        What do you think?

        Thanks
        Angelo

        • Sure thing, Angelo – I posted a year’s worth of my workouts in the above blog post. Take a look at the link (about halfway up) that says: Click here to view my Ironman CFE Training Logs: IMAZ 2013

  • Rubens Loor

    Great Article, I tried CFE for almost 3 years focus on bike training then go for triathlons shorts distance 2015 and IM70.3 in july 2016 but is this where focus more in sports and less in CF your article give me some tips for go for a CFE again focus in a IM70.3

    Best!!!

  • Mike Bilek

    Adam,

    Thank you for posting the article. I guess I’m a little late finding this post as well. I have been a CrossFitter off and on since 2008. I been dealing with some recurring back issues that have keep me out of the game quite a bit.

    I completed a few Olympic distance triathlons before a discovered CrossFit and have always wanted to tackle the challenge of completing an Ironman 70.3 and 140.6. While I have never fully committed to the CFE training program on the website, I know first hand that CrossFit can train you for anything. I completed my first marathon back in 2010 on CrossFit training alone. My longest run prior to the race was a 5k.

    It’s inspiring to read that you have had success using CFE in your training. My question for you is about your specific training. Did you follow the CFE mainsite WODs or use a different set of programming? I am excited about reintroducing myself to triathlon and want to go about it the efficient way possible. Thanks again!!

    -Mike

    • Great to hear, Mike. I followed the general CFE training strategy and WODs from crossfitendurance.com. I posted all the details and links to my training logs in the article. Have fun, and good luck!

  • Toni N T. Scott

    Sounds like I’m late in finding this little gem. Long story short…you. complete. me. *wink*. I have had an Ironman in my bucket list for 3 years now and for various reasons (keep getting pregnant, hubby deploys, then we move out of country, got pregnant AGAIN)…it’s just been not as easy to plan. I figured out what causes pregnancy and am now ready to do my 1st Ironman in Oct 2016 Louisville. I’ve been a CFE groupie when I did an Olympic in Austin in 2012 and although, it wasn’t pretty, it was attainable. I have to admit, after having 6 kids, the poopy diapers have rotted my brain and I couldn’t find a training program that went along with my way of thinking (when I could form coherent thoughts). It has been very discouraging. You are giving me hope, I’m finally excited again, and think I have a shot at getting this done. Thank you so much for your generosity in sharing this! p.s I see that you wore Vibrams…do you recommend those still? I have several pairs that I mainly use and love. I have the long distance ones, but wondering if this includes the distances that I’ll be covering. Also, how often do you change out your footwear and replace with new?

    • Thanks, and happy to help. I did wear VFF but only got up to about a 10k in them before I stepped on a rock and injured my left metatarsal. This happened about a year before IMAZ. I was fully recovered by race day, but my feet were not ready to take on IMAZ distance in VFF, so I ran in Saucony ProGrid 6s. I still think barefoot running is the way to go, but it’s a long, slow process. Two years later and I’m still working my way back to VFF level. To answer your questions: 1) I have seen people go long distances in minimalist footwear, but that doesn’t mean everyone can/should do it. I’d recommend taking it very slow, and not forcing it if you’re not there yet. 2) I have never replaced my original VFF, and I replace my regular running shoes about every 6-9 months depending on how often I’m running.

  • fjwagner

    Question. My understanding reading the CFE WOD’s is that they also entail running, swimming, and cycling as part of the workout. Did you do that plus the run,bike, swim in the morning also?

    • The workouts generally break down into two categories: 1) a CFE strength WOD, or 2) a swim/bike/run workout. Sometimes the CFE strength WOD included some running or sprints, but for the most part the swim/bike/run categories were separate workouts from the CFE strength workouts. If you haven’t already, check my workout logs for examples.

  • EF

    Awesome info. Looking forward to reading about your IMAZ training and race report in more details. I am meeting with my coach this week and hoping to show him this and that I will still be doing my CF workouts too!

  • Zara Harding

    Thank you for posting this! I DNF’ed Ironman Canada in 2012 because I was burnt out and injured. Last year, I was so sick of swim-bike-run that I completely ignored my training calendar, went to CF as much as possible, and had a great race, smiling all the way to the finish line of a non-IM branded 140.6.

    This year, I am training for IMAZ…I might even have run into you at the finish line last year because I was volunteering as a ‘catcher’. :) I am completely sick of everyone chastising me and saying I can’t WOD 3-5 times per week and also train for IM. I am living proof that I can.

    CF and lifting heavy have made me stronger at running and biking – I can pretty much roll out of bed and PR a 1/2 marathon if I feel like it, and I don’t cry anymore when I have to pedal up monster hills or against a headwind. For IMAZ, I’d like to get faster (my time last year at my 140.6 was just over 16 hours, but it was a hilly race) while still doing lots of CF. I am absolutely going to use your logs and links as a resource and not feel bad about skipping workouts on my LSD-type training calendar! Thank you again for freely sharing your experience and what worked for you.

    • Stay vigilant, Zara! Glad to be a resource and always happy to talk CFE and IM. Best of luck at IMAZ – keep us posted.

  • james0802

    Awesome post–so chock-full of great info! And in looking at your spreadsheets, it’s amazing how you were able to overcome your injuries! The only thing missing: You need to add your blog to the list in that CFE Forum post!!

    • Thanks, James! Hope the info is useful, and best of luck on your CFE journey!