Case Study – What it takes to qualify for Kona

Updated: Aug 22, 2018

The coach intro note on Aaro Järvinen case study:

I remember when Aaro first shared with me his wish to qualify for the Ironman World Championship. I told him that he has what it takes but that we will need to forge the path to align the stars to make it happen, which meant that it could take 2-3years of dedication and consistency in training, picking the right qualifying course for him according to his strengths, having a great day and of course a pinch of luck!

He succeeded faster than expected, had a great day on a course than fitted his athletic profile, luck was on our side but his preparation was all but not a matter of luck.

Before moving to San Diego, Aaro was a member of our local training team in Helsinki, so over the years, we developed a strong coach-athlete relationship.

When he decided to leave Finland, I was not worry at all on his ability to follow distant training, firstly we started together back in the days our collaboration this way and Aaro is not the type of guy you need to keep a close monitoring to make sure things are going on track or to keep motivation high, you can trust him with blind faith that he gets the work done.

When your athlete work field is "Boundary Plasma Physics in Magnetic Confinement Fusion Devices" and his the author of a thesis on "Radiative divertor studies in JET high confinement mode plasmas", you can be pretty confident than he won’t have issues to follow the numbers down to the last decimal point. He is outrageously smart, hard working and highly disciplined.

Training wise the 3 main points that made the qualification possible:

- Consistency and discipline in training and in race pacing.

- The application of the 80/20 polarised training principal

- An understanding that recovery is as important as training

One the keys in the success of Aaro on his road to Kona was to assimilate the importance of keeping the easy workouts easy enough. Where most of the age groupers restrained themselves by pushing always too hard, his additional “Kona qualifier” volume compare to our group training plan was mainly focus on greasing the grooves more than adding hard stressful sessions. Our Ironman training program is firstly design with in mind time crunched age groupers who want to balance a busy life style, family and work with training to get their personal best on their next race. To qualify to Kona, you need to add an extra notch as you just not competing for yourself but against competitors for a very limited numbers of slots.

By keeping the easy workouts easy enough, spreading smartly the workload through the week, he was able to have these 1-2% extra stamina during the hard intervals to have room for improvement and avoiding the trap of becoming a single gear athlete or an overtrained one.

When you look at Aaro’s preparation the take away is that you don’t need 25-30h every week to get there, his average weeks were 16hours. It’s not easy but it’s possible. You don’t need to be a PHD in physics, you just need to be consistent, to do the job training wise and recovery wise. Unlike many age groupers, Aaro was smart enough to put is ego on the side when it came to training and racing pacing and kept it according to the plan and it payed of! Inspiring isn’t it? So will you be the next one on the road to Kona?

Yan Busset


Head Coach at Tri Coaching Finland

and owner of the Triathlon Corner, Vallila, Helsinki"

Case Study – What it takes to qualify for Kona
by Aaro Järvinen
Coached by Yan Busset & Tricoaching Finland since Spring 2014

In Autumn 2015, after a rather successful season (Barcelona marathon 3.11, Joroinen 70.3 4.44, IM Kalmar 10.42), we discussed with Yan that maybe Kona could be possible within the next few years if I can find space in my life for a ‘Kona level’ training season. I was just about to move to San Diego to do a postdoc, so we realized that it might take a few seasons before I actually have life space to do this. Encouraged by decent performance in 2017 (12th in AG 30 – 34 in IM Coeur d’Alene) on moderate training load (season peak Chronic Training Load CTL about 110), we decided that 2018 is the time for the ‘Kona level’ training push. This report aims to describe what that ‘Kona level’ training push actually means in numbers and lifestyleJ :)

We agreed to approach the training with a fairly high volume, following polarized intensity ratio of 80/20 (80% ‘easy’ aerobic Z1 – 2, 20% ‘hard’ Z3 – 5). In practice this was implemented by following the TCF IM training program for the high intensity quality session and adding enough ‘easy’ aerobic volume to hit the Kona level volume and CTL ramps. For the goal CTL values of the season, we took 150 as a reasonable target of qualifying level CTL (

For those that are not familiar with Performance Management chart, CTL is an exponentially weighted average of daily Training Stress Score (TSS) with a decay time of 40 days. TSS is a stress score for the training session proportional to IF2×time. 1 hour session at IF=0.75 (about upper end of Z2) gives roughly 50 TSS and 1 hour session at IF=1.00 (1 hour at FTP!) gives 100 TSS. So CTL of 150 means on average 3 hours of higher end of Z2 level training every day! Reaching 150 CTL means a lot of training and I did not quite reach it due to life stuff and getting sick in the final build. Anyway let’s get started with the numbers.

Figure 1. Performance management chart

Figure 1 shows the Performance Management Chart starting 1st of January and extending until the qualifying even IM Canada. The peak CTL (blue curve) was 141, reached 9th of June. The first drop after the peak was caused by a major international conference and this drop was planned. The second massive drop was caused by getting sick right after the conference. Getting sick at this point, I was pretty sure that I lost the Kona slot. The CTL dropped down to 100 before I was able to train again. At this point there was only about 3 weeks to go until the event. So we agreed with Yan that my taper will be only 1 week and I’ll hammer it really hard until 1 week before the race. 3 weeks before the race I was hitting 28 hours and 1454 TSS (Figs. 2, 3). 2 weeks before the numbers were about 23.5h and 1283 TSS. The actual peak CTL right before the race was 130. I increased CTL by 30 points in two weeks! The average weekly hours from January to July were about 16h. 20h of weekly training was exceed 8 times during the season and 22h only twice. The average IF was 0.7 and the average weekly TSS 858.

One of the key challenges in this season was to get all that training volume done within the other constraints of life. For bike volume I did a lot of commuting to work to add bike volume in endurance zones. For those high volume weeks the key is to get enough training ‘burn’ done during the week. If the weekly hours approach 20+, you just cant be a ‘weekend warrior’ anymore, but there are several 2 – 3 h training days during the week. You have to do ‘long training’ during the week. A rule that I used in planning my training weeks was to aim to get half of the training hours and TSS done during the week and the other half during the weekend. For that 20h example week this means on average 2h of training every day during the week and 6 + 4h during the weekend. The problem in loading the weekends too much is that it (1) stresses the body too much, (2) the quality of the training drops, (3) you’ll have to take a lot of recovery in the beginning of the next week, and (4) consistency is compromised. Also at those high training volumes, the need for sleep becomes really obvious! Another rule that I followed throughout the season is that consistent, high quality sleep has a higher priority than training sessions. In practice this meant that I did not train after 9pm. If the day got long and I did not have time to do the session before 9pm, the session got either canceled or moved to another day if possible. By doing this, I was able to maintain consistent sleep rhythm to make sure that I will actually obtain useful physical adaptations from the training that I did.

Figure 2. Weekly training hours (average 16 h)

Nutrition I tried to keep simple. A lot of fruits and vegetables. High quality protein and carbs after training session to make sure that the body stays fuelled and ready for the next session. Mainly focus of high quality nutrition limiting low nutrient density carbs between sessions. Although during those high training volume weeks you are nearly constantly either recovering from a session or getting ready for a next oneJ.

A few words about race selection: I’m a short guy (165 cm, 64kg). As a result, I have pretty good power to weight ratio, while my absolute power is low compared to bigger guys (NP in IM Canada was 194 W, close to 3W/kg). I’m also able to deal with heat (interesting to see how this works out in Kona :)). Therefore, we agreed that a hilly route with hot conditions is what I need for qualifying. Well IM Canada has about 2200 m of climbing and the weather that day was 35C with blue sky! Sure enough, I was able to bike the hills quite fast (but not too fast) and deliver a solid run in these conditions. I used a lot of ice from the aid stations to make sure that I don’t overheat during the run. I could see my competitors starting to walk during the marathon, as it got just too hot for them.

It is also important to get buying in from people around you. There are times when you will have to be a bit selfish to get the job done and it is better to discuss that through with people around you so that they know to expect it. During some weeks there is not much time for anything else than working, sleeping, eating, and training. For my family this was ‘our Kona project’ rather than ‘my Kona project’. My wife was always making sure that I’ll go out and get my training done, so that we’ll get to have our Hawaii vacation in October.

Figure 3. Weekly TSS and IF

Aaro Järvinen, In March 2018, 3rd overall and winner of his age group at the Bayshore 70.4 triathlon

Hopefully this short report is inspiring for other TCF athletes to give Kona a tryJ. It surely takes a lot of hard work, but it is not impossible. And the TCF training program gives you a solid foundation on which you can do a Kona level training ramp.

Aaro Järvinen