Training for the Ironman

By Max Wunderle

Video Article

How do you train for an Ironman competition? According to Brian MacKenzie of CrossFit Endurance, it doesn’t have to take long distances or long time commitments.

CrossFit Endurance is trying to create a different kind of endurance athlete. While traditional long-distance training is effective, it is not the only way to train for endurance events. Short, intense workouts can also influence endurance performance. For example, CrossFit Endurance weekly training totals 7-10 times less distance than traditional training, but athletes are still finishing strong and making personal records in competition. Through CrossFit Endurance training protocols, more athletes can train for endurance events, and the sport becomes more accessible to those unable to make time for traditional training.

Find out how from Ironman athletes coached by Max Wunderle performed at the Ford Ironman Lake Placid.

Video by Again Faster.

11min 30sec

Additional reading: New World Order for Endurance Training by Brian MacKenzie, published Nov. 1, 2007.

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24 Comments on “Training for the Ironman”


wrote …



wrote …

Without all of the LD training,how does the body acclimate to the one day of mega distances?

As a triathlete, I believe in the Crossfit methaodology and next season I wish to compete in an Ironman but I am still apprehensive to exclusively place my training in the CF Endurance program. Does anybody have available a tried and true training protocol or do I just follow CFE? Do you also follow CF main page?

Great video and thank you!


replied to comment from Richard Edwards

Ha, Richard, seriously. You just watched that video and you still need a tried and true training protocol. Just follow CFE. Do their strength and met cons and then do their endurance WOD's. I am trying to get Brian to come to St George UT because there are so many endurance athletes at our box and all around town for that matter, that just will not buy into the program. I have athletes that want to do CrossFit 4-5 times a week, but they also want to ride 50 miles two days a week and run 3-4 hours two days a week and they can't do both. Eventually they break down. Coach Glassman said it best in his observations- "Sprinters can match the cardiovascular performance of endurance athletes – even at extended efforts."
Richard, try it, test it, it works, you just watched 5 people tell their stories. Good Luck


wrote …

Is there a list available of competitors who have used Crossfit style endurance training and what they ranked in their age group and overall in competitions?


wrote …

I apologize for the long-winded response, but I'm about to testify!


I don't have a list of CF endurance athletes, but I can briefly describe my personal experience. I've been following CFE for about a year and I've seen significant increases in strength and speed. I just completed a 10-miler 5 minutes faster than my previous PR from a year ago and I rarely run longer than 10k at a time or more than 10 miles in a single week. I placed 296th overall out of 1082 runners, so I'm not going to be competing with the Kenyans anytime soon, but I'm satisfied with my performance because I'm very competitive among my peers in age/weight categorization. I'm 76" tall, 230 pounds, and 41 years old, but I'm regularly outrunning people that are younger and lighter. Just as the video says, there are many ways to train and I'm sold on CFE because it gives me the opportunity to have a life and run well on race day. I have much room for improvement and look forward to more PR's in the future.


As far as the body recovery after a single day of extreme competition: I ran three 50k trail races in the Spring of this year on the same CFE program with one long run a month between 10-13 miles. After each of my races, I had a little leg muscle soreness for about two days and I was back to 100% in 4-5 days. I played pick-up basketball full speed and full court with my buddies 3 days after one 50k and outran everyone on the court. That's the beauty of this program, the constantly varied workouts and diversity leads to improved performance across many sports as well as accelerated recovery. I'm much more smoked by some of the CFE WoDs than I've been by any of my races. I'm running another 50k next weekend, but stepping on the treadmill for an all-out balls to the wall kamikaze tabata scares me a lot more than going out for a little 30 mile run in the woods.



wrote …


If you doubt what the video is telling you, please watch the video again and listen carefully to Brian's introduction in the beginning. He broke it down:

over 50,000 people do an Ironman every year. only 2-3% qualify for the IronMan Kona, World Championships.

For the 97-98% that do not, he is interested in exposing them to a different and a better way to train. A way that is "more holistic", more time with family and friends, more well-rounded development of fitness. He didn't say I want to show them the way to qualify for Kona.

From the video, average Weekly Training, traditional method:

7 Miles swimming
225 miles biking
48 miles running

CrossFit Endurance method:

1 mile swimming
21 miles biking
6 miles running
+ squats, push ups, and other fun stuff that makes you more capable as a human being.

The people he highlighted in the video actually FINISHED the Ironman using the CrossFit Endurance method. That in itself would just seem impossible. If you have been training with the traditional method, the cognitive dissonance created by this seemingly impossible turn of events could almost cause a brain tumor.

Summary, while only doing 12-15% of the training distance and time of the traditional method, you have athletes 1) finishing the Iron Man 2) finishing well (PRs, placing high in their age group).

Will CrossFit Endurance get someone to qualify for Kona? time will tell.


wrote …

Awesome video!!!

Such a good point RE: 97-98% of people do it to participate....

Why would you train 20-30hrs a week when you've got CFE and CF?

Who really has time to literally 'waste'?

Makes me want to get out and race long!!!

Good work CrossFit Endurance ;-)


replied to comment from Kade Boyer

Kade, Thank you for your response, please excuse my inquisitive instinct but as as a 35 year endurance athlete I find a bit difficult to change everything because I watched a video of 5 people. 2 of the 5 are wearing Trimax Fitness shirts and their websites does not even mention CFE.

My purpose here is not to discredit or give ya'll a hard time, but to give it a try. When I started CF main page 2 1/2 years agao, I gave up 33 years of traditional strength training protocol, to which I am now stronger, leaner and in overall much better condition. I haven't done a bicep curl nor lat pulldown since my switch and I will never go back.

Is the strength work that the athletes do come from CF main page or from the strangth portion on the CFE page?

I will give the CFE my all out effort for the next nine months, where I will compete in a few 5k's over the next few months, a January marathon and the whole next trialtlon season.

I do eat primarily Paleo, I stay clear of processed foods.

Any last tips or pointers.

Thank you!


wrote …

I use the CFE S&C WoDs combined with the CFE running WoDs as my program. I tried following the main page WoDs at first, but the two programs aren't programmed to go together so this didn't work for me because my primary goal is to improve my training for one sport (running). I hope your experience with the program is a good as mine has been. Good luck with your training!


wrote …

Thank you Tony,
Earlier this morning I did my 8 mile TT (on page) on my tri bike and I just completed the strength component on the CFE page.

I will dedicate 9 months to this method then review after my Iron Man.

Thanks again and good luck on your run.


wrote …

Great story. Traditional athletes and programs don't want to hear it, but INTENSITY is the single most important variable in training. And it doesnt matter what the sport is. Practice/train at high intensities for the best results, period.


wrote …

Great video. I think it is important to note the differences in the athletes featured. You have people coming from an LSD training history with previous ironman experience that are setting incredible PRs to people that have never done an ironman before, to some that even lost an incredible amount of weight. The bottom line is it worked for all of them.


wrote …

Richard, the owner and head coach at Trimax Fitness, Max Wunderle, is one of the CrossFit Endurance head coaches and he trains his athletes using exclusively CF and CFE.


Max Wunderle wrote …

Hey guys.

I thought I'd drop a note here to answer some questions as the video is a bit misleading on the athlete's protocols and coaching. Just for the record, these athletes were coached by me, not Brian MacKenzie. I say this to ensure any criticisms or questions are directed at me, not him. I am a CrossFit Endurance head coach and work on the CrossFit Endurance team.

Although the video highlights the stories of about 5 of our athletes, we actually had 9 competing at the 2010 Ford Ironman Lake Placid event. The following is a quick wrap up we had originally posted in a CFE forum thread:

What a day for CrossFit, CrossFit Endurance and all the TriMax athletes at Ironman Lake Placid this weekend. When the day started, we had 2 Ironman veterans (Swift, Rutter) and 7 first timers toe the line in tackling the 140.6 miles that lay ahead. Let's just throw down the numbers to cut to the chase:

Jay Swift 10:49 (lifetime PR by 25 mins)
Brittanny Rutter 11:46 (fastest IM since 2003, PR run)
Dave Carbone 12:51 (first timer)
Sue Grigely 12:52 (first timer)
Christina Wunderle 13:14 (first timer)
Ariel Legassa 13:23 (first timer)
Colleen Healy 13:27 (first timer)
Melanie Melocowsky 13:28
Martin Henry 13:29 (first timer)
Erica Diner 15:43 (first timer)

All in all, this was a 100% success. From my perspective, DNFing was simply not an option as this group of athletes is too strong for that to even be a thought. So, when I review all the times and performances, I would characterize all performances as successful. The only stories that the numbers don't illustrate are the races of Rutter and Melocowsky. Rutter is an absolute Kona threat who let the race get to her (this was her 6th IM) and failed to hydrate as needed on the second half of the bike and throughout the run. Even though she posted the 2nd fastest IM of her life on less than 4 months of CrossFitting, she PR'd her run--but then spent 2 hours in the med tent taking 2 IV bags. This is quiite a lot of fluid for a woman who can't weigh 135lbs! As for Melanie, we have been working with her for over a year in trying to create a nutrition solution that she can manage. Without going into too much detail, she has a medical condition in her GI that causes her vomit and defecate in large quantities after 2+ hours running. This condition is so bad that she literally stops at every toilet stop and even has blood in her stool. We have recruited the help of several medical professionals and have tried every fueling strategy known. We have even created a race kit with ice bladders on her chest and back to keep her core temperature down--we need more work here. What's even more incredible, is that she won't stop trying and signed up for next year's race! This coming from a working mother of 3!

All in all, everyone nailed their nutrition, hydration and salt protocols. I am also very proud of the diversity of this group in that we have age ranges from 34 to 51, male and female, veterans and rookies, former Division I athletes, former weekend warriors and even a "biggest loser" profile of one athlete who lost 80 lbs in the last 12 months!

As you'll note in the results above, many athletes have been hosting blogs chronicling their stories and posted every WOD they did over 6-8 months. I encourage anyone interested in learning more to visit those blogs and review their performances. Good luck and don't hesitate to ask questions!



replied to comment from John Mcbrien

Thank you John, I will check out there site again.

I will need guidance on nutrition throughout an Ironman event.


wrote …

I guess my question as a serious triathlete and a part time crossfiter is, can you be great with the CFE? i understand that CF is all about being ready for anything at anytime it is not specialized towards one thing so that you can be good at all things. what if all you want to do is be a triathlete wouldnt that involve specific training simply towards swimming biking and running? we are talking 8hr ironmans great not just finishing great


Max Wunderle wrote …

Hey Dan.

Considering its never been attempted (an elite level triathlete committing 100% to this protocol) its difficult to say. This protocol has only existed for just over 2 years and it is so different from traditional training that not many traditional endurance athletes are that open to such a change. Having said this, it is amusing that even in endurance circles, the value of intensity is gaining more and more acceptance. Follow this link that outlines a 10 hour plan of 100% intensity in attempting to qualify for Kona



replied to comment from Richard Edwards

Richard, please be sure to read the CrossFit Journal article, "Race-Day Fueling," which was actually written by Max. Having a plan for nutrition and actually putting that plan into practice should be priority number one.


Allard Schmidt wrote …

This is interesting stuff, i have done 5 IM's in the past the last was in 1996. By PB is 10:08.29 but i always had a terrible run (>4 hours) due to muscle fattige and be out of energy. I really wanted to finish below 10 hours but also finish strong on the run. Since i'm just started this year with CF is see there might me an opportunity to go back to IM's and eventually dive below 10:00 hours using the CF and CFE protocols. At the moment i'm interested in more performance data from triathletes to find out if a sub 10 hour IM would be possible?!


Hey Allard.

Before calling my protocol "CrossFit" or "CrossFit Endurance" I used many of this protocol's principles to complete 3 Ironmans in 9:55, 9:55 and 9:45. As for more performance data, I don't know where else we can recruit and share such data as this protocol has not gained widespread acceptance in the endurance community. That changes every weekend, but at the moment there is not a groundswell of support for this type of training in the traditional endurance community circles. What was so special about this year's race at Ironman Lake Placid is that we had 9 athletes who used this protocol exclusively. Such performances are doing wonders to help show the potential of this training and paving the way for more athletes to follow. Good luck in getting back in the game and let us know how we can help!



Allard Schmidt wrote …

Tnx for your reply Max. I'm sure that "lack of stamina" and muscle fatigue stopped my body from running the IM Marathon's strong. To be honest most of those races I was already 'empty' after 160km biking. I'm planning to implement the CFE protocol in my future IM adventures. My CF trainer is CFE certified so he will be able to guide me in right direction.


wrote …

guys,this is all so helpful...where exactly do i find the training routines for endurance training...i use the main page for WODS..but not sure about the endurance training...


replied to comment from Richard Edwards

Richard - thanks for your commitment to trying CFE for an Ironman. I am considering the same and I am really looking fwd to your review.


wrote …

Hi all. Tim here from 'down under' in New Zealand. I've just done my first crossfit session this morning and although I had to have a 'nanna nap' this afternoon, I loved it! I've been looking at cross fit for a while and more, CFE as Ironman is 'my thing'. I'm doing Ironman NZ in March 2012 and going to use CFE to get there. My aim is a sub 10 hour race so it'll be a great experiment for you all as you can watch over your Winter as I race during summer. This'll be IM #5 for me. I'm married (want to stay that way), have 5 children and am MD of an advertising agency + 44 years old so i can see how the CFE protocol 'fits' my life but also how it'll cover my major weakness which is lack of strength/endurance in the last 2 hours of the race. This morning piggy backing a 95kg rugby player up a hill is going to make a hill at 30km into an IM marathon seem 'ok'

If anyone has advanced their IM CFE train since commenting on this thread, I'd be keen to hear how you're going

Max, your sub 10s in IM show it's possible. Not sure if I have your 'pedigree' or lungs or legs, but I'm keen give CFE a go to go for kona qualification. I'll need a 9:55 -10:15 time in my age group which'll be a 45-60 min PB. Big jump, but ya gotta have a challenge! Pretty sure paleo/primal food and CFE will get me there... Happily, strong and with my wife happy too

I'll set up a blog so you can follow. 'Kia Kaha' as we say down here in Maori

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