The Busselton Blueprint

The Sunsmart Busselton Half Ironman is undoubtedly an iconic endurance event that sits on the bucket list or annual list of many West Australians. Each year it attracts hundreds of new athletes and even more returning athletes to the pristine waters of Georgraphe Bay for the first Sunday in May.

A significant test of strength and endurance, training for your first or fastest Half Ironman can be a physically and mentally demanding process. Juggling family, work and social commitments with your training and lead up races can be a very difficult task so early planning, clear communication with other stakeholders (partners, work colleagues and friends) and a structured plan will help align your preparation towards the big day.

The purpose of this blog is to outline the macro-plan we use at Front Runner Sports to help athletes of all levels prepare for the Sunsmart Busselton Half Ironman. Over the past 10 years our team have personally coached over 150 athletes of various levels for the event all the way from beginners, PB hunters, multiple age group winners and even an overall fastest time when Rachael Smiths went 4.17 in 2013.

Each season, our accredited coaching team gain more experience which gives more insights and allows more consistent success in planning. In 2016, 27 of our 28 Front Runner athletes on personally tailored plans for the event achieved PB times. The other athlete was previously second overall in the event in his early 30’s.

The principles discussed represent a broad overview while specifics differ for individuals based on their personal targets (ie Busselton May be a B race for someone racing Cairns Ironman) and training/injury history.

As a general rule, we would look to start the plan after the crazy festive season sometime in January. From there, the plan will then be divided into the following 5 phases that total 15-16 weeks

  1. Framework – Duration 2-3 weeks: Goal establish SMART goal, routine and schedule
  2. Base Endurance – Duration 4-6 weeks: Goal build endurance volume
  3. Strength Endurance – Duration 4 weeks: Build strength on endurance volume
  4. Race Preparation – Duration 3 weeks: Conversion to race specific fitness and testing
  5. Peaking – 2 weeks
  • 1. Framework

Setting a SMART goal and building a balanced and sustainable training week is the key foundation of your preparation. This involves understanding your lifestyle and ensuring consideration is made to family, work and social commitments when aiming to establish a sustainable routine. Being able to “lock and load”set days and times and communicating these to your partner, work mates and self will galvanise your commitment and set up a structure to maximise consistency. As an example, you may swim with a squad Mon and Wed at 6am and do an Open Water Swim Sat afternoon at 3pm. By locking in these set times, the specific goals of each training block can be adjusted but the timing of sessions can be consistent.

  • 2. Base Endurance

When training for the Half Ironman, it is important to understand that enough muscular endurance (strength) and fuel (energy) to cover the distance is the most likely limiter and hence needs to be the most specific component of your preparation. Speed is really only relevant when considered in relation to how well it can be sustainably maintained for the duration of the event. As such, this block will aim to increase the overall distance of your weekly easy/steady volume and the longest individual session each week in each discipline. In our plan, endurance is usually developed in isolation in this phase as each discipline requires specific muscular endurance and movement patterns. Combining them at this early stage often limits the specific endurance adaptations in each discipline .

In terms of intervals, we find that once weekly Anaerobic Threshold work (AT- see Zone 4 in table below. Approx 85-88% of your Max Heart Rate) is ideally completed in each discipline to maintain or improve biomechanics, boost sustainable speed and add variety and group engagement. We find that higher intensity work at or above Vo2 max (>AT) represents a significant risk of injury per unit of training time, requires increased recovery duration and has less direct correlation with performance at this distance relative to training at AT. Ideally, in this phase, frequent racing is avoided as to not interrupt the base building of endurance.

If gym work is incorporated, then phasing should reflect the phase of preparation and aim to improve movement quality and fatigue resistance.

  • 3. Strength Endurance (SE)

This block is both the most pivotal and least glamorous. The goal is to build fatigue resistance around the endurance you have built. Long story short, in this block we love hills and really love the timing of the Karri Valley Tri if athletes can fit it into their schedule. Hills are awesome for recruiting more specific muscle fibres and building fatigue resistance as an insurance policy for maintaining form under fatigue. As many would have heard before, hills are also “speed work in disguise” as the cardio and muscular systems both get a great workout even though speed is slower. This allows for excellent conversion to race specific speed in the next block – Race Preparation . The way SE is built will vary from athlete to athlete depending on a range of factors but the gold standard is to complete long rides in the hills using a heavier resistance and slower cadence, whilst incorporating hills into longer run is also desirable.

Aerobic Brick sessions are usually introduced after long rides as Karri Valley draws closer. Karri Valley is timed perfectly in the calendar to start to convert general into specific preparation and also to gauge physical and mental toughness. The course is longish, old school hard and it never feels great regardless of how fit you are! As a result you will work through tough patches in the race where you wonder why you signed up (this is normal and good in endurance events). Ultimately though, the coach will be better informed on your SE after doing it and you will feel more prepared for Busso having done it.

If gym work is incorporated it can be endurance based and targeted to individual needs of the athlete.

  • 4. Race Preparation

As the race draws closer the hills disappear, disciplines combine and speed increases. The Sunsmart Busselton Half Ironman is flat and while this means more speed, it also means very little variation in movement patterns resulting in same tissues being loaded throughout the bike and run. In this block, we will use specific brick sessions (combined bike/run) and races (or simulations). Training prescription becomes more targeted and specifically prescribed based on HR or power to reproduce data expected on race day. These are completed in various locations such as Shelley, Wandi or the Freeway that closely mirror race terrain and ensure bike position and movement patterns are habitually exposed at race intensity for specificity.

In this block, 4 weeks before race day we conduct a race simulation in Busselton/Dunsborough to test race strategy, including nutrition and pacing to ensure suitability and workshop any issues that need to be tweaked or adjusted. This simulation is typically a 2k swim/60-80k bike and 12-15k run at exact target race pace so as to specifically gauge conditioning and planning. Athletes always get more nervous here and this important because race day will create a similar (or greater)  increase in nervous energy which needs to controlled and harnessed to have the race day you wish to have. By rehearsing and re-inforcing your strategy, confidence increases and focus becomes clearer. A routine and ritual for preparing equipment, final meals and race day nutrition is then consolidated.

If gym work is incorporated it can be more power based and targeted to individual needs of the athlete.

  • 5. Peaking

This is a really interesting time in preparation. Over the years, we often found that as athletes got deep into April, the cumulative fatigue from the training really set in and that co-inciding with shrinking daylight hours and possibly the first rain for the year created a cocktail for some athletes to lose focus and miss sessions. Like anything, data and numbers have helped us reduce variability and give clear focus to our athletes. The race simulation described in Phase 4 was added to our plans in 2015 and has allowed us to provide much clearer race plans for individual athletes and as a result, created much more consistent and enjoyable performances.

Finally, we refer to this phase as “Peaking” as we expect great outcomes. In a well planned, consistently executed preparation, it should be expected that on race day you should be excited and ready to achieve your SMART goal.

Team Front Runner welcome you to book a free meeting to discuss your goals with Triathlon Consultants Derek Cross and Thomas Bruins or High Performance Director Raf Baugh. Book online at or call 0478841104

Best of luck with your preparation

Team Front Runner