How to become an Ironman age-group champion: 9 tips for success

At Ironman UK 2017 age grouper Brian Fogarty not only won his age-group, but was the fastest overall age-grouper AND had the quickest bike split (04:50:42) out of everyone - pros and age groupers alike. Not bad for an insurance salesman who has to combine his training with a full time job. His tri coach Matt Bottrill shares the secrets behind Brian's phenomenal performance


The Swim


Don’t be overambitious on your weakest discipline in 226km racing. And try to draft on the feet of faster swimmers

1.Train as a group

Injuries cut short Brian’s football career, so the challenge of Ironman appealed. We looked at his strengths and weaknesses and he’d a lot of power that needed refinement. The swim is his weakness so mentally it can be tough, so training as part of a group motivates him. His swim coach, Tanya Slater, pushes him harder than if he swam alone. Brian has three sessions per week in a structured coached environment and this gives him a good mix of endurance and speed sets.

2. Limit the damages

“The swim is always a case of damage limitation for me,” says Fogarty. “As a weaker swimmer, it’s important that I stay relaxed and try and swim as efficiently as possible. I’ve made gains this season, which have helped me hold on and swim on the feet of faster swimmers. This was my plan at Ironman UK in Bolton and it worked well.” Brian’s 1:01:43 split put him in 90th place in T1 and we made up more places with a swift transition time of 3:16mins, the 11th fastest T1 in the field of 2,000.

3. Be ready for open water

Before the race, swim in the open water to prepare yourself mentally and physically for the race.


Dry land, inc. arm swings.

Main set

4x 500m laps as: 1st lap Max effort just like the start of a race, sighting every four strokes. 2nd lap Steady swim recovery. 3rd lap 10 strokes hard after every buoy, aiming to breathe bilaterally. 4th lap Breathe every four strokes and sight every six. Swim steady to last buoy, then max effort to finish.


3 x 100m easy.

The Bike

Analysing every detail of the bike led Fogarty to a 4:50:43 split that was faster than all the elites in Bolton. Here’s how he did it..

4. Look at every detail

Optimising speed, power and aerodynamics is critical to going faster. We set about making Brian a much stronger cyclist and getting consistency within the training. First we used power profiling to see what his strength and weaknesses were. We use TrainingPeaks to look at his data to see how he adapts to training. Then we worked out his CDA (drag coefficient) and broke down every key component of the bike, from the bearings to the rider position itself. The rider is 80% of the drag so we looked at the best clothing and helmet selection. We also had to make sure Brian could hold the optimum time trial position in racing, so we made sure we did 80% of our riding in that position.

5. Quality over volume

Everything we do is based on training stress (TSS) rather than looking at the volume of hours. We base everything on the amount of time Brian spends in each training zone so we can work out the chronic training load (CTL) that he can take. Every week is based on variety and different paces. Pacing in order to ride fast isn’t just about how much power you have. It’s also knowing how to pace into headwinds, tailwinds, up and downhills, with lots of race simulation efforts. It’s not just getting the miles in! That’s the key element where most athletes go wrong.

6. Mix up your long bike sets

We aim for 6-10 hrs on the bike a week. A key set is:


10mins: high cadence

Main Set

20mins: 65% of functional threshold power (FTP, the max power you can sustain for 1hr), cadence 90-100. Include 3x10secs maximal sprints.

30mins: 90% of FTP, cadence 80-90. Focus on aero position.

15mins: 65% of FTP, cadence 90-100, refuel.

30mins: 90% of FTP, cadence 80-90, focus on aero position.

15mins. 65% of FTP, cadence @90-100, refuel.

30mins: 90% of FTP, cadence @80-90, focus on aero position.

20mins: 65% of FTP, high cadence recovery.


10mins: 50% of FTP, really easy.

7. Pace your race

For his Bolton pacing, on the bike the key was optimising speed, power and aerodynamics. Our goal was to start quite hard and hit the front, but then to back off the gas to leave energy for the run. The magic intensity factor for Ironman is 0.80. Brian was in good shape and went beyond this and raced at 0.85. His target run pace was 6:40-7mins per mile. “My biggest piece of advice is don’t set off to fast even if you feel good,” says Brian. “Have a realistic target pace in mind and stick to it; you’ll be glad you did by the 20-mile mark.”

8. Find the balance

We’ve learnt a lot from Brian’s success but also from his failings; that’s how you get to build the perfect programme. So the communication between a coach and athlete is key; it’s not just the training, but an athlete feeding back on how they’re feeling. This is the winning combination. “Balancing my full-time job and training can be tough,” states Brian. “Managing time is vital; I combine certain sessions as and when I can, like riding or running to my swim sessions.”

The Run

Variety in your strength training will pay dividends on the run come Ironman race day, says Reece. Here’s why…

9. Racing mindset

“My race day mindset is to relax and enjoy the atmosphere! It’s so easy to get overwhelmed with everything in the build up to the race. Sometimes I have to remind myself why I do this. I had a good opportunity at Bolton to really try and push that bit harder than I might usually have done. I’d already qualified for Kona earlier in the year at Lanzarote so I’d no pressure in that regard. I know the course very well so I wanted to make that count and make up good ground on the pro’s. I felt good on the bike and was confident with my recent form I could run a really strong marathon. This was the case and I was very happy with my overall result.”

Future targets

At the moment we firmly have our sights set on Kona and are looking at an age-group podium. We’re also looking at riding one of the fastest bike splits and then it’s weighing up if turning pro is the right thing to do. The problem for a lot of pro’s is they’re just getting by rather than making a living. With Brian having a mortgage and plans for a family in the future, it’s a matter of making sure that there’s good sponsorship in place.

I firmly believe that Brian is more than capable of turning professional and I also know that Brian could be one of the world’s best cyclists in triathlon. He just needs the right support to get him there.

Failing turning pro, our next target will be to win one of the Ironman races. I’m really keen for him to look at Challenge Roth in the next few years. That course would work to his strengths. Whatever happens, I’ll do everything I can to make Brian into the best athlete he can be. He’s so motivated and dedicated. I’d say we’ve just seen a glimmer of what he’s capable of so watch this space!

You can follow Brian on Twitter @foggi8

Find out more about Matt Bottrill at his website