Road to Kona Quali: Multi-year Plan

So it’s the world championships this week. Qualifying for the event is obviously an enormous achievement, particularly for the busy age groups.

While I acknowledge that every athlete may have different paths, I’m interested to hear your opinions - how do you set a multi-year plan to qualify? Do you base it on limiter development? Do you race 1-2 IM per year with gradual improvements ?

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While I have not qualified, I have come agonisingly close (within 60s and one place in my age group last year!)

  1. Get saving your £$¥€ - kona is expensive
  2. Pick your qualifying race
    A) remember that some races qualify you for kona the same year and others for the following year. I’d suggest qualifying one year and then racing kona the following - avoids having to engineer a double peak - but there are cons to this too
    B) pick a qualifying race that You can probably pre ride - depending on here you live you will want to pre ride the course as much as possible
    C) pick a course that plays to your strengths - if your a good climber then a hilly or rolling course should suit you better then a pan flat one
    D) as above but for the run
    E) look at the previous slot allocation and times - tells you what you need to aim for. There are very few ‘soft’ qualifying races these days
  1. nail your nutrition - trail and error is probably the only way
  2. get long rides in the legs - each time I have done an IM i have wished I had done more longer rides
  3. don’t over bike it - a marathon is a bloody long run so save your buscuits. So many good triathletes detonate on the run

That would be my top 5, but there are probably more


Great suggestions from @TriathlonTom ! Especially number 1 and 2! I am aiming for 2021 and 2023 (The 45th year) so a multi year plan like you. 2021 will be to test the waters, get my feet wet, have fun, and recon the course, then 2023 will be racing it. Here is what the long term plan looks like:

  1. Save money
  2. Get used to racing long course
  3. max out my speed on HIM distance
  4. Build volume conservatively and slowly
  5. Learn how to race for 9 hours

This year ('18-'19) will be dedicated to experiencing and enjoying IM distance training and racing, 19-20 will be toning it back a bit and focusing on HIM distances again to get that speed with a late season qualification, 20-21 focus on Kona if I qualify or another IM distance race, 21-22 back to HIM training with a late year qualifier, 22-23 back to Kona focus to qualify OR to get ready to race for a year. (For reference, all years begin the day after Kona–it’s like New Years for me).

It’s too early to focus on Kona limiters so each year will go from general fitness/strength/high end endurance–> speed–> IM focus, rinse, wash, repeat

Just my two watts :slight_smile:

Thank you for the post!

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Just interested in what your times are like now at 70.3 and 140.6 if you have ever raced that and what sort of time and wattage you are looking to put out in order to get there?

@schmidt I had a five year plan to qualify which I missed by one year and qualified for the first time last year, raced Kona in 2017 and was lucky enough to win my AG at Maryland a couple of weeks ago and all being well will be back in Kona in 2019.

Endurance gains come over a year by year basis - people talk about building a base and at a macro level really you do this all the time, each year building on the previous years. For me I have averaged around 12 hours training per week over multiple years which include all the zero and recovery weeks. More regularly I hit 18-20 hours consistently in the build to races.

For what it’s worth my tips are.

  1. Consistency is key. You don’t need ‘hero’ or breakthrough workouts. If you finish hard sessions (especially running) with a little left in the tank you’ll still get the progression while reducing the risk of injury.

  2. You’re absolutely right about building volume slowly. A few years ago due to circumstances I had the ability to train pretty much full time for a period. I had the time to go straight into 20hr weeks of training but physically it turned out my body didn’t have the capability. That was a hard lesson learned.

  3. A few judicious race choices are better than racing a lot and should be enough to practice race nutrition and the like. Consistent training is often better than tapering and recovering multiple times.

  4. Time trial if you can. There’s not a lot better for finding out exactly how hard you can ride without falling off. You might get a few comments if you run off the bike after a TT but they are just jealous!

  5. If you able, a job with flexible working hours can make a massive difference as well as getting family involved and on board.

  6. Consider a Championship race which have more slots especially if you’re a middle aged bloke. I qualified for 2017 in South Africa and irrc my AG ended up with 12 slots. Along the same lines I tried to qualify the first time as I aged up and was one of the youngest in the AG

  7. Never give up. Whatever happens in your chosen races remember Ironman is a long day and a lot can happen. I punctured in the first 10 miles at Maryland and lost around 8 minutes. One of the things I am proudest of is that I kept my head in the game when in reality I thought the day was gone but still raced well.

  8. Agree entirely with the comments about saving your cash. I’ve had some great experiences in triathlon but it’s cost me a bloody fortune!


Given where we are I probably should add… use TrainerRoad a lot!

I have used TR since the original beta a long time ago which coincided with me starting out in triathlon and beginning to think about Kona.

Aside from racing I ride almost exclusively indoors using TR and I credit that with the vast majority of bike improvements I’ve made.


When you got there was it everything you hoped? What was the time of your first IM compared to the time that got you to Kona?

Right now I am a 4:15 HIM guy and am doing IMLP next year as my first full. No time expectation next year because its my first and I want to enjoy it to the fullest :slight_smile: Based on Best Bike Split and workouts that I have done on the course, I could currently (at least on paper–key term there) do a 5:00 bike at 75% intensity and 240 watts. I hope to get that to sub 5 but with a stronger run off the bike so build my FTP this offseason and running volume and speed.

In order to get to Kona I will most likely need a 60min swim (definitely in the ball park of that already), 4:50 bike, and 3:15 run. In order to do well in Kona so 2023 goals, I would like to do that in the heat and humidity which is why I’m giving myself ample time to prep


Yes, it was a great experience and I was intending it to be a one and done but in the end I didn’t feel I really did myself justice on the day. Next year is obviously a long way away but having experienced it once I looking forward to it more than last year. Fingers crossed I have a good years training and get to the start line fit.

My first IM in 2010 The Outlaw was 11:36 (1:06; 6:06; 4:11)
First KQ IM South Africa 2017 9:27 (1:07; 4:54; 3:17) 3rd in AG
Second KQ IM Maryland 2018 9:09 (1:04; 4:46 ride time was 4:38 without the puncture; 3:12) 1st in AG

Inbetween times there was

2011 Challenge Vichy 12:15
2013 Midnight Man (UK race 9:36 - it was a bit short so realistically would have been around 9:50)
2014 IM Mallorca 10:04
2016 The Outlaw 9:49


Nearly an hour off your run and bike in 7 years.
What’s the secret?
I know there isn’t one but would love to know how you went about this?
Time spent in disciplines training?
Training plan %?

You’re right - no secret just consistent training!

I’ve never had a coach but have read and absorbed a lot over the past few years, have a real interest in the training process and have had both successful and less successful periods of racing.

I started running about 11 years ago and got into triathlon when I got bored of just running. I bought a bike, learned to swim properly and did my first Ironman inside six months which isn’t probably what I’d advise anyone else to do!

I think my improvement has been largely through consistent training, particularly on the bike. I’ve only run 3 open marathons, the last one being in 2013 with my PB the year before that. My PB from 2012 is 2:51 and while I am pretty sure I’m a better runner now if I were to run another open marathon I’m not sure I’d do much better than 2:45 so not a huge improvement.

What has got much better have been my bike times which I think has allowed me to run better off the bike. I’ve used TR since it was a beta, and it’s existence coincided with me starting to ride more seriously. Aside from racing the vast majority of my riding is indoors and I’m almost always following one of the TR plans or one I’ve cobbled together using the plans as a base.

The other thing that has helped my riding has been Time Trialling regularly which I’ve done for the past few years. You learn just how hard you can push on the bike and still be capable of running off those races (as long as you can put up with the stick from most of the TT’ers who think that running after a bike race is just stupid!)

I also pay a lot of attention to the aero details of bike riding. I’m fairly small, race weight is around 60-61kg and don’t have huge power to play with so the details are important to maximise my abilities. I don’t ride a superbike but build my own which is currently based around an ADR Nero frame. I do my own aero testing and have learned a lot from Time Trialists about bike position and setup. Triathletes in general could learn a lot from TT riders I think.

I’ve got my TT times down to a decent level although nowhere near the top amateur UK TT’ers, I’ve ridden 3:44 for 100 miles and 1:47 for 50 this year and I think this as much as anything has helped me to run well. I think to run an IM marathon well, durability is more important than speed. Most people can already run the pace they want to achieve during a race but it’s years of consistency that builds the durability needed to express it.

This year I’ve averaged 10k a week swimming, I’ve had a few weeks off with running injuries this year but tend to average around 45-50km a week when fit and around 9-10 hours on the bike.

As I said there are no secrets, all my training is on Strava so feel free to dig around or follow to see what I’ve done.


Hi Julian,
I think that’s absolutely the secret. I’m slightly bigger than you LOL currently 90kg but 6’3" so not overly “big” and the run has always been my weakness, so for me, it’s all about getting strong on the bike in order to save something for a good run. To be honest 4hr marathon would be good. I did Roth last year, had a great bike but then a 5hr (walk)!!
How are you fitting everything in?
Thanks for the reply, have a great season.
It’s Outlaw for me next year. Sub 11 is the plan.

Good luck with the Outlaw. The first Outlaw was my first triathlon in 2010 and I’ve raced it 4 times although only finished twice. If I wasn’t going to Kona I’d definitely be doing the 10th one again next year. If you want any advice about the course just ask! A 4hr IM run is solid. Looking at race results it’s something most don’t achieve and is a good goal to have.

Ironically I only entered Maryland after I had a mechanical DNF in the Outlaw this year about 3/4 of the way through the bike, after the first 2 loops. I was in decent shape, gutted not to have been able to show it and entered Maryland in a fit of pique!

In terms of fitting it all in as I said above, flexible working hours make a huge difference and I’m very luck to have an understanding (and reasonably well paid) wife who has let me essentially work part time for a couple of years and I’ve taken full advantage. That’s changing next year though :frowning_face:

How was Roth? I had a couple of friends race there last year and they said it was the best race they’d done.

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A 2:45 open is nothing to sneeze at… very solid run times you’ve got coming off the bike.

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Thank you.

I guess my main point is that while on the face of if my running and riding has improved pretty equally in terms of time I’m not sure that’s actually true. My running has improved somewhat over the last 5 years but it’s the huge improvement in my riding and the 5 years extra ‘base’ that has allowed the run times to come through.

Averaging 12hrs per week including all zero weeks, over multiple years …that’s serious commitment.

What is it do you think that drives you, allows you, to achieve that volume and consistency?

Mentally I tend towards going all in on most things, be it work, training or anything else. I jumped into triathlon before I knew anything about it really, After a couple of years of improvement I began to think that Kona could be realistic and as the title of the thread is, made a 5 year plan to try to get there.

The volume has needed to build over time, I definitely trained too much a few years ago when I wasn’t ready for it but am pretty comfortable with 13-14hrs a week most weeks and peaking around 20 or over in the peak build to races. It’s the running that batters me more than anything.

Practically it’s building a framework of training and sticking to it. I tend to roll the same week plan every week year round, albeit with a different focus at different times of the year, but I’ve found what works for me on which days of the week and I stick to it. Getting a training room sorted was big as well. It’s ready to go all the time and just cuts out any excuses not to use it. Obviously i didn’t know it at the time but it has also helped that my wife and I had our son early - I’m in my mid 40’s and my son is 24 and hasn’t lived at home since he was 18, so I don’t have any of the childcare/ferrying around to do that a lot of my friends have to contend with.

My goals have changed as well over the years and keep my motivation going - the two goals I’ve got for long distance racing now are to race to my potential in Kona and to do a sub 9 hour IM on a fair course without going to somewhere that is known for drafting, current assisted swims and the like.

On the right day and course I think I am capable of the sub 9 nine time now, realistically I was only a minute or so off that this year without the puncture and with a swim that was fairly slow because it was in a tidal river. As for Kona it’s a bit more of a lottery, so much can happen in the in the heat and humidity on the day, there’s pretty fine line between the race of your life and a very long walk which is much easier to cross in those conditions - fingers crossed it will go well. That’s what is driving me at the moment…but I’ve got to make it to the start line first!


Man I love hearing your stories, pls keep them going. Also a triathlete, although I’m only 2 years into the sport at age 36 and currently doing sprint and Olympic distance races. But yes the long term goal is just completing full distance Ironman races, let alone qualify for Kona. I have a mate who qualified and raced this year in the 30-34 group and came 79th, including a 16th for age bike split. What an amazing effort. But anyway, thanks for your honesty and great detail about your training and mindset, I truly do appreciate it!


Roth was a nightmare…….lost my luggage on the way out so raced with new trisuit, wetsuit etc etc. Luckily went out with RaceForce so bike and other key pieces were there…ended up walking the marathon (5 hrs) not bad for a walk LOL hence want to try and deliver a decent race. I think I could probably hit close to 5hrs on the bike, 4 hr marathon and then with a swim of 1.15 plus transitions I could go under 11 which I would probably then leave full distance tris and race 70.3’s. All looks good on paper…but I’ve dropped some weight, started strength training (glutes and hip flexors) and training currently just short of 7 hours a week.

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LOL! I get the same looks at mountain bike races! Come in fully gassed … wife hands me running shoes and shoves me out on a run. The looks while I try to not die are priceless.