Am I doing this right : ) ?

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    Good day,
    I think a large portion of this query is coming from uncertainty, anxiety, and a touch of “did I do this right?” This is going to kind of be an all about me post, and for that I apologize for the selfishness, I do hope someone else has similar questions!

    I’ve been following the level 3 Ironman Plan very consistently (with the exception of the 4x swim because its really hard to reserve a lane right now (I usually get 3x at 45 minutes which ends up being fairly close to the total swim time for the week))- Overall, not counting those swims, I think I have maybe missed a total of 5 workouts and some of those were the optional strength workouts because I just couldn’t add another hour to a 19 hour workout week : ) So, I wanted to establish that I’ve been dedicated…

    Anyhow, I’m using run power, bike power and swim pace. I’ve stayed somewhat stagnant on the bike power (and/or tested really poorly) over the last 3 test opportunities, so on the last one, I just bumped it up 4 watts to make it an even 230. It’s been completely doable, though 4 weeks out from IM, I am starting to feel the fatigue and the load. Last week, when I was out on the road, it was very difficult to maintain the proper output – not only because of stop signs, cars, hills, etc.,. but because of…me, no matter how much I tried to sweet talk my legs, I just couldn’t give them the energy same for the week prior (though I twas 34 degrees when I started and I don’t think I ever got warm enough to stop shivering). My avg power was 143, my NP was 168, and my TSS was 244 (it was supposed to be 284). My avg speed was nowhere where it has been in the past. This does worry me – but, I keep reminding myself that this is a completely new training method – where in the past it was fast fast fast, intense intense intense, high watts. I have been having to move the long weekend brick to Saturday (so that intense bike is on Friday), but, it’s only an hour ish bike – would it make that much of a difference in how I feel? I don’t think my nutrition is an issue – I do work with a dietician.

    Another thing that I’m worried about is my run – prior to 80/20 I was able to pull off an 8:15- 8:30 pace for 16 miles ~ 1200 feet of elevation when training for my last IM (2019 when racing happened). Since I’m using watts now it is hard to compare pace (but when I look at my average pace using the watts I’m supposed to be running at, it is significantly slower – which I get – I had probably been training in that dreaded “X” zone since I was 14), but it’s still such a change from what I’m used to. Same thing for those brick runs (I’ve been doing them in my designated power but I just feel like a slug moving in mud, and then wonder how I could ever race in “high zone 2 or X” if I’m finding 6 miles to be difficult when I still have 20 more to go.

    I know feelings and science are two different things, and since I’ve been able to do the workout correctly – should I just keep plugging along and reminding myself that its the process and to ignore all of that doubt? Or am I really just doing it wrong, hahah. While it’s nice that I’ve been finishing the runs with enough energy to finish my day (and I’ve stayed relatively injury free – it’s a miracle!,” I can’t help but wonder if I did it right. I have been loving the autonomy the plans give me, and thought that I would do well since I am a stickler for following a given plan : )

    I know that I’m training for an IM, so I’m not complaining about the fatigue (and I do love the process of the training), it just feels so much different than it has in the past (and my training times are so much slower – I know – that’s the point, but it’s hard to wrap my brain around!!!) that it’s starting to make me really question everything I’ve done to now… Anyhow, I’m not looking for any sort of accolades or “rah rah rah, you can do it,” but, would appreciate a heads up to fix something if I’m doing it wrong : ) also kind of wondering if this is common thought process in people who have completely switched training methodologies? Thank you for any insight you might have!

    David Warden


    Your question is totally normal and common. Really glad you posted it here for all of us to share. My answer was a bit tough to write.

    Unless you are an advanced cyclist, I would expect FTP gains over 3 testing cycles (representing 12 weeks in the Level 3 plan). Yes, with 80/20 training you are going to spend much more time slower than you were before. But, the whole point is that your fastest should be faster. FTP should absolutely increase over 12 weeks of compliance with 80/20 training.

    Same with the run. While your long runs will be slower, your top end rFTP and speed and endurance should be high after 12+ weeks of effective training.

    Your move of the long brick is not enough of an issue to cause these issues, that’s a common change and is fine.

    I don’t believe that you are doing something wrong, but something is wrong. Your report of not being able to get your legs going is a red flag. One of the benefits of 80/20 training should be less fatigue. Why are you experiencing more fatigue with less intensity?

    If you were 4 weeks into the plan without improvement, I’d laugh and say keep going. At 6 weeks I’d say give it 3 more weeks. At 9 weeks I’m concerned, at 12 weeks it’s not working and something needs to change. You’re right that “feelings and science are two different things” but an FTP is not feelings, that’s data (science) and that should be improving.

    Trying to figure this out via forums or e-mail is not possible, I’m confident you’ll need a specialist(s). It could be one or more of the following.

    – Overall Plan compliance. With only 5 missed workouts, this is not the issue.
    – Individual workout compliance. Maybe an issue if you have the…
    – …wrong thresholds (how did you identify your thresholds?)
    – Too advanced of a level
    – Nutrition
    – Underlying issue, like anemia

    This last one has real potential. It’s one thing to report that your FTP output has not improved, but the report of increased fatigue with decreased intensity is the paradox. It tells me there is something else going on.

    This is a difficult and painful post for me to write, but I have an obligation to give you the best advise possible. With the limited information I have available, and accepting that your plan compliance is spot on there are only three possibilities I can see: 1) 80/20 training does not work for you or 2) There is an underlying issue that is preventing you from improving and maybe 3) you’ve bitten off more than you can chew with the Level 3 plan.

    I recommend several options: 1) hire a coach to do a complete review of training and results to look at the first four potential issues listed above. 2) Get some bloodwork done to eliminate any underlying issues, I recommend 3) hire a nutritionist

    I recognize that you are in a difficult situation, you’re so close to the IM and I’m recommending a complete (and expensive) about-face. However, I’m glad you wrote as the sooner you make the change the better.



    Hi there,

    I wanted to follow up on this thread with a thank you for such an honest reply and valuable information moving forward. Plus some follow up questions….

    The first thing I did was schedule an earlier appointment with my dietician (I’m also followed for an endocrinology d|o). We added magnesium, and I reordered iron pills, which was something I had let slip, not realizing how important they were). I started to feel better within 2 weeks with those small changes. Thank you!

    I also removed the add on strength training program from the level 3. I think the volume was just over whelming in addition to a highly physical and emotionally demanding job. Mentally, I started to feel better as well. I also realized that nearly every time I took a “test” it happened to be on the day of a highly emotionally charged work related issue, or sick dog… So, next time, I’ll just move the test of it happens again.

    Unfortunately, given the expense of traveling for the race, I couldn’t move forward with the blood test. I was also hesitant to work with a coach again and was not quite ready to go back down that road. I might be coachable in another year 😃.

    Anyhow, the reason I picked the level 3 plan was based on the goals and time I had. I wanted to PR qualify for Kona and I had the time (2020 was basically do nothing, see noone, and go nowhere), so what else was I going to do except train? haha. The volume was honestly manageable, and I enjoyed the process. Even though I didn’t see significant gains, I wasn’t injured for the first time in 3 years. And I started to enjoy running again…And I think that was really important.

    Anyhow, cutting to the race. Once I realized that the race was going to reach record breaking highs, I revised my approach to just using perceived effort. I dropped my expectations from one of a PR and KQ to survival (my lungs operate at 70 percent and even though I’m on medication, it’s still a concern). I try to be careful, even if it means I might have to take a step or two back.

    I tried to keep my perceived effort under 5 (5|10 scale). Looking at the numbers after the race, this put me mainly in high zones 1, low to mid zone 2. I honestly felt really good (my stomache was the biggest issue even with a solid fueling plan), and despite 102 degree weather, and pavement readings of 135, I felt pretty steady through the whole thing.

    While I did not get a personal best, I was surprisingly able to get a Kona slot. I don’t think this race is fair to judge the 80 20 plan, given it’s brutal “out of control elements.” And my choice to switch to perceived effort. But, I controlled what I could, and think the plan was able to get me to the finish line.

    Ide like to try it again for Kona. Would you recommend using the level 2 plan, with strength training? Or, sticking with the level 3. My plan was going to train in higher ranges of the zones to try to push the ceilings and the bases a little more.

    When would you recommend I start to train again to prepare for Kona, and what week should I jump into it? Ide be happy to pay extra for a little consult, or “plus” plan if you have something like that….I’m just a little burnt out from full on coaching.

    For references, here are my previous efforts.. I would love to try to get to get a sub 6 bike and sub 4 marathon… Do you think this is even possible to cut that much time off (about 15 minutes) using the level 2 plan?

    Previous efforts…
    2015 imlp 13:35 (don’t even ask about the transitions… But I ate a sandwich, brushed my teeth, and took a small shower 😃)
    2017 immt 12:25
    2018 imchoo 10:05
    (swim cancelled, but longer bike, near record high temp)

    2019 immd 11:49 (20 minute bike mechanical)
    2021 imcda 12:14 (hotter than the actual sun)

    Thank you again, for everything. I’m looking forward to hearing from you, and like I said, more than happy to pay extra for a little more in depth consult, but not quite full on coaching. I’m a very committed person and can easily follow a plan.

    David Warden


    I can’t tell you how relived I am to hear from you. Your issue kept me up at night for a few days, and it’s a great sense of closure to have you report back. It’s not usually hard for me to be brutally honest, but that one hurt for some reasons. Thank you for continuing to trust me and the 80/20 system. I’m glad to hear there has been some progress, and nutrition is being worked on.

    I can get you 25% off an InsideTracker blood test. It’s still expensive, and it may come back as all clear. But, that’s money well spent to either confirm there are no issues, and it’s priceless information if it comes back with an issue that can be acted on.

    You finish at IMCDA is an incredible based on those conditions. The fact that you still got a Kona slot says that although your actual performance was not a PR, your relative performance was outstanding. You still have to kill it to get a Kona slot.

    I recommend you back off to the Level 2 plan from the Level 3, maybe even Level 1. Since you already have qualified for Kona, why kill yourself? Take this opportunity to recover, reduce training and give yourself a wide berth to figure out the underlying issue.

    Of course, if you have a hard line on that sub 6 bike and 4 hour marathon, you’ll need at least the Level 2, and probably the Level 3.

    I just have this nagging suspicion that you may have sports anemia. If you do, continuing to train at high levels if just going to continue a spiral of performance and energy issues.

    Here’s what insidious about sports anemia. When we exercise, we destroy red blood cells. No problem, we manufacture them and replenish the supply. In a given season of training, most athletes can replace what was destroyed. But, in some athletes, they run a deficit of maybe 1-2%.

    So, over Season 1, 2, and 3, you lose 5% of your red blood cells. You may not even notice because your VO2 and raw FTP has improved so much that it makes up for that loss. You’re essentially compensating for the loss in red blood cells through a variety of other physiological improvements.

    Season 4, and 5 your performance gains start to plateau, which is normal, but your red blood cell loss continues to increase to 9%.

    Season 6, you start to feel that something is wrong. Same training, same person, but performance is going no where. That drop in red blood cell count is now more than you can compensate for through your other fitness gains.

    The point is that sports anemia is never acute, it is always chronic, taking place over years and years. It sneaks up on you, and the only way to verify is a blood test.

    That’s also way I hesitate to recommend the Level 3 plan to you until we can rule that issue out.

    I regret I’m not able to provide any supplemental paid coaching, I just had to draw a hard line. If I’m coaching an individual, I’m not growing the business. If I coach one, then I have to coach hundreds and I’m back to 2015 as a coach instead of a world-dominating endurance behemoth. I hope you’ll find me pretty flexible here in the forums with coaching advise, as that does let me scale to thousands of athletes with one post.



    Thanks so much David,

    I do trust this plan and you! I completely understand about having to draw that hard line regarding coaching – since I view you as the supreme and omniscient ruler of all things endurance related, I just wanted to make sure that I wasn’t taking advantage of your generosity or the forum by asking too many questions : ).

    I am going to move forward with the test – the 25 % off will be very helpful – thank you! I suspect the same thing you do – Esp because I have been doing endurance sports since I was 14. Started marathoning at 18, then moved into IM distance in 2016… I’m no spring chicken, so these legs have some compounding red blood cell loss : ) Should I reach out to your e-mail for more details?


    1. I have the level 2 plan from 2019 – has this been updated? I was just going to use this one, but, if it’s been updated, will just get the latest and greatest. If it’s too much volume, then I’ll just drop down to the level 1 – NBD

    2. I was going to give myself 2 weeks off before training again- it feels weird – is this too much time not doing anything? Should I at least walk, or swim, or bike (crap – see what happens!!??)

    3. When should I start the IM training again (if the two weeks off is ok then I think the plan will put me somewhere around 13 weeks from Kona – can I just jump straight in do you think?

    Thank you for all of your guidance!

    David Warden


    Yes, please reach out to me via e-mail at and I’ll get you that code for InsideTracker.

    1. If you load your plan and it says 2021 Edition, you have the latest version. We update our plans in real time, think of it like cloud software. You always have our most recent edition.

    2. NOT too much time, particularly with your symptoms. Be prepared that your fitness will drop with that two weeks off, but I think it is worth the time. Also, “off” does not and should not mean completely off. 3-6 hours of light cycling and swimming is great over those two weeks.

    3. If you are going to just jump into the Level 1 or 2 plan, yes, just go with starting the plan at Week ~9ish (whatever week you fall in with an end date of Kona). If you are jumping into the Level 3 plan, come back to me after your first week off and we’ll reassess.


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