Training for a Half Ironman; One Athlete’s Insight and Her Tips to get in the Best Shape of Your Life

Ever wonder what it’d be like to train for a half ironman? 2 years ago when I began working as a personal trainer, I met Ali Furrs and taught her how to box. Since then, she’s been training with me every week and has become a great friend to me. Ali has been working as a Doctor of Physical Therapy for 3 years now at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore. Ali is one of the most bad ass, hard-working women I know and is not only a great fitness role model but is also a truly authentic and fun-loving person. In this article, Ali goes into detail about what it’s like to prepare for a half ironman, the ups and downs of such a time-consuming training schedule and advice on how to be in your best shape ever. Read on to hear Ali’s awesome story and follow her on Instagram @alijoy_f to see more of her fitness inspo.

Ali’s Story

The sport of triathlon is not new to me. I’ve done several sprint and Olympic distant triathlons but this year I decided to take on the half ironman. Back in January, I signed up for the Eagleman 70.3 in Cambridge, MD which takes place on June 9, 2019 (this weekend!). Over the last 5-6 months, I’ve dedicated my time and energy training to complete 1.2 miles of swimming, 56 miles of biking, and 13.1 miles of running in one race.

Her Training Regimen

I followed a “simple half ironman training guide” but improvised with some of my own workouts. I organized and reorganized my training schedule depending on work or other commitments but for the most part I stuck to the plan.  Here is what a typical training week looked like for me…

Monday: REST

Tuesday: BIKE

Wednesday: SWIM & RUN

Thursday: BIKE

Friday: SWIM & RUN

Saturday: LONG BIKE

Sunday: LONG SWIM & RUN

During the days that I biked (Tues/Thurs) I also did strength training. That included upper body strengthening, lower body strengthening, stability training, and cross training (boxing & basketball). As the race approached I did some running after by bike rides as well to get used to the transition as I would on race day.

Her Favorite Workout

My favorite workouts to do, not because they’re easy and I like them but because they challenged me and made me feel like I was accomplishing something, were single leg stability strengthening (i.e. single leg deadlifts, split squats, balance on a BOSU, anti-rotation drills, etc.). Single leg strengthening workouts involve the entire leg up to the hip including the core and foot. Hip and ankle stability become essential with endurance training as fatigue sets in and can apply to all three aspects of the sport (swim, bike, run).

How Boxing Shaped Her Training

Boxing was also a fundamental part of my cross training thanks to Diana. At first I thought I’d stop boxing for a while so I could focus on my training but I found that boxing provided a great outlet for stress in addition to serving as a huge foundation builder. It requires hip and core stability to absorb force and provide a solid foundation from which to throw and dodge a punch. But it also requires shoulder stability for maintaining position and preventing injury with impact after delivering a punch. I incorporated this into my strength training days once a week (i.e bike in the morning before work, box with Diana after work). Cross training is so important to work on different muscle groups, prevent overuse injuries, and to prevent burnout.

Her Tremendous Sacrifice

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s easy to talk rainbows and butterflies about the aspects of training as I believe my training has been successful. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say it came with a cost. The time commitment necessary for training was probably the most challenging part of this mighty endeavor. I work 40 hours a week, have a dog and a home to help my husband care for, a husband to put first, and a social life that I like to be involved in. Without my husband this would have been impossible. He was a tremendous help and took on all the morning dog walks as well as some evening walks so I could get to the gym or on the road to train. He maintained the cleanliness and sanity of the house and relinquished the cooking to me. He was also supportive when I was gone most weekend mornings on long training rides or in the gym for hours (yes, hours). He truly held strong to his commitment to helping me be successful in achieving my goals.

The Ultimate Reward: Best Shape Ever

As for the most rewarding part of training, you’ll have to ask me again after the race but right now I feel like my best most bad ass self. I’m probably in the best shape of my life and feel like I can accomplish anything. Not only am I in great physical condition but I’m also more disciplined, efficient, and make the most of my time available.

Strength in Numbers and Positive Self Talk

I have an amazing team of supporters from friends to family to friends of friends and coworkers alike. You need support to be successful, to build you up, give you encouragement, and to hold you accountable. It’s easy to receive support, it feels good. What holds people back the most, especially in long endurance races, are mental blocks and lack of mental toughness. Think about it, you’re with yourself and your thoughts for several hours day in and day out; negative self talk is bound to make its way in there at some point. Mental blocks are hard, so what I do is set achievable goals even within a session. Small wins make you feel accomplished and ready to tackle the next goal. And positive self-talk and self-reflection go a long way. There is also no shame in taking a few days to a week off of training to reset and prevent burnout.

Try a Triathlon out for Yourself

Don’t let my wallowing in lack of free time get in your way from trying this out though! Triathlons are so fun and very doable with the right training! My advice to those who are interested in triathlon is to just sign up for one or start with a relay. The atmosphere of a relay race alone will get you hooked but knowing you don’t have to do the whole thing is a good way to start. The great thing about triathlons is that if you’ve never done one you HAVE to train to finish it. By signing up, you have committed yourself to training and are less likely to back out. They are usually expensive enough where you won’t consider backing out either. There are plenty of online resources for coaches, training plans, podcasts for tips and tricks etc., and there are races all over the world.

Triathlon or Not; Ali’s Advice

For those of you that I have just convinced to never do one of these but want to stay fit and active, my advice to you is the following…

  1. Find a friend to work out with
  2. Join a group
  3. Take fitness classes
  4. Hire a personal trainer
  5. Sign up for an event (race)
  6. By new workout clothes or shoes
  7. Follow fitness bloggers/influencers on social media
  8. MOST IMPORTANTLY: set achievable goals

Everyone has their own interests and own fitness journey but it has to start somewhere and that’s with YOU saying YES.

She Found a lot to Like About Herself

As I’ve said before, I’m not new to triathlon, but this experience has been completely different than any other I’ve had (including marathon training). I’ve never spent so much time in my own head and the longer I stayed there, the more I found to like about myself. I’ve learned to be humble as I’m not the fastest in any of the three sports. I’ve learned to be selfless as I reflect on the sacrifices my husband has made to help me succeed as well as the ones I have made to keep him number one. I’ve learned to set goals, stay positive and take pride in the goals I have achieved. And I learned that I am loved and people are rooting for me to succeed. Triathlon is a new happy place for me and I’m excited to see what is in store for me on June 9, 2019.

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