So You Want To Do An Ironman?

First, let me please preface this post by stating that I am by no means an expert at triathlons or Ironman competitions. Full disclosure: I’ve done ONE Ironman.{Hope to go for #2 next year!}

But I’ve received a number of emails and comments asking various questions regarding choosing a race, training for one, time commitment and so on that I wanted to share my experience and “beginner” thoughts (not training tips) in hopes that it might help you if you are toying with the idea of one. AND, since the Ironman World Championship is next weekend (!!), I thought this was a great time for this post. I’ve watched Kona on TV for years – and each year, I would tell my husband that I wanted that to be me.

{Note: most of these are not exclusive to Ironman competitions or even triathlons…many can be used in regards to your first running race as well!}

  • You have to be all in. Training for an Ironman isn’t something you can fake or get by on with sporadic or little training. If you aren’t completely on board with wanting to do one, then you will slack on your training when things get tough.
  • Course Selection.  Decide what is most important to you and then pick your race from that: location, time of year, swim start, and course profile are some of the main factors that might come into play when deciding your first. If you despise hills, don’t pick Lake Placid or CDA.  If you want your family and friends to support you along the course, pick a race that is close to home or one they could/would travel to.  If you hate training in the cold, don’t pick an early spring Ironman. Obviously there may be a few that fit for you and then you can further rank your priorities. For me, I really only had one choice. I wanted a race close by so that my family could be there. The only Ironman within 5-6 hours of me was/is Ironman Lake Placid. I wasn’t entirely thrilled about the hilly course, but I was willing to deal with the hills in order to have my family there.
    • Timex has created the “Top 6 Ironman Races for Beginners where they rank: Arizona, Florida, Wisconsin, Louisville, Lake Placid, and Texas as the top 6 (from #1 to #6)

      family5

      The best cheering crew ever! My parents, sons, niece and nephew!

  • Be aware of the time commitment. Regardless of what training plan you follow, you will be training for 3 different sports – any way you slice it, that takes time. Some days you will be doing multiple sports. A couple of days a week will be longer to fit in your long ride, swim, and run. By the end of my training, I was biking/running from 5am-12pm on Saturdays and swimming/running from 6am-12pm on Sundays – it made it hard to do a ton on the weekends because most of the day was spent with me working out or recovering (shower, stretch, ice bath). The further you get into your training, the longer your days will become. My social life became almost nonexistent the last 4-5 weeks before the Ironman because I was either training or too exhausted to stay up late.
  • Ensure your spouse/significant other is aware and supportive of time commitment. This is, in my opinion, one of the toughest parts of Ironman training. It was a struggle at times to juggle time with my husband. As I talked about here, it was often a strain on my marriage because my husband and I were like two strangers passing in the night.  Thankfully, he was 100% (okay, maybe 98%) supportive of me doing it (and was actually the one that gave me that little nudge I needed to sign up for my first). I would recommend that you and your significant other sit down and look at the training plan before you sign up so that you are both aware of the time commitment.

    My best friend and greatest supporter

    My best friend and greatest supporter

  • Use a training plan that is consistent with the time you have (or are willing to dedicate): If I were single and childless, I would have opted for a  more intense training plan.  I intially started with a plan that called for 3 more workouts a week but after 2 very long, tiring weeks, I decided to drop down to an “easier” plan so that I could have a bit more time with my family in the mornings/evenings.
  • Know what’s ahead but don’t get pysched out. On the first day of school each year, I would always flip ahead to the end of my textbooks (mostly math and science) to see what I would be learning by the end of the year. Without fail, I would get freaked out when I saw how hard the material looked. I did the same thing when I saw my training plan – how the heck am I going to be able to ride for 6 hours and then run for 3 hours the next day? But that’s why it’s at the end of the training cycle. Focus on what you are doing this weekend. Don’t worry about what’s in 12, 16, 18 weeks.
  • Have a budget. Triathlons are not cheap. Bikes, watches, shoes, helmets, wetsuit, wheels, power meters, pool access…never ending list and they are all expensive. And that’s not even factoring in the cost of an Ironman competition (upwards of $600 for registration) + transportation (if you need to ship your bike that could easily be another few hundred) + lodging. Set aside a budget that you want to spend and then stick to it. Determine what’s “essential” for you to make it to the start line and finish line – everything else can be borrowed or purchased if you decide to do subsequent Ironmans.

    My new bike (w/ rented race wheels)

    My new bike (w/ rented race wheels)

  • Seek out Ironman veterans for advice. This was one of the smartest things I did. My husband’s classmate and former roommate is a sub-10 Ironman finisher. My friend, Lindsey’s husband, is a professional triathlete.  These are the people I emailed when I had questions about nutrition, pacing, training.  It’s good to have websites, but it’s better to have someone real to talk to – they can give you guidance pertaining to you, your body and your training.
  • Nutrition is a different ballgame. Since my background is running, I am used to fueling just for running – a few gels and water during a marathon and I am good to go. The first time I realized the importance of fueling was my first Sunday long swim/long run. I swam 1.5 miles, ate a few energy blasts and started my run. I typically never fuel on runs less than 16 miles. I was *only* running 14 miles so didn’t think I would need to bring fuel with me. By mile 4, I felt like I was ready to bonk and had to run home to refuel (and carry some with me).  Lesson learned.  I would recommend trying several types of nutrition (especially during the long rides) to find what works best for you and your body. I’ve really only begun to scratch the surface of nutrition – I am sure that Ironman #2’s nutrition plan will look completely different from what I did for Lake Placid.

    Nutrition for first 100 mile bike ride

    Some of what I tried out during training

  • Find a coach or training plan. As much as I wanted to use a coach, I felt that the money would be better spent on necessary gear than a coach. The goal for my first Ironman was {mostly} to finish and I felt that a training plan would do that just as well as a coach – and it did. I’m sure that if I used a coach I could have trained a bit smarter and finished faster, but it was a sacrifice I was willing to make. {Note: I am using a coach for Iroman #2 because I have much more ambitious, concrete time goals.}training
  • Don’t train for more than one event at a time. I started training for Ironman Lake Placid in February when I was knee-deep in NJ Marathon training. Despite numerous friends telling me otherwise, I assumed I would be able to successfully juggle both training plans. But truth is, one event will always outweigh the other. I skipped a ton of swim and bike workouts to save my legs for important marathon workouts. I didn’t swim or bike for the two weeks leading up to the NJ marathon. When I was pressed for time, running took precedence since that was the first race on my horizon.  I didn’t dedicate 100% of my attention and focus on the other two disciplines until after the NJ Marathon (May 5) which only gave me 12 weeks until the Ironman. This time around, my plan is to focus 100% of my attention to triathlons beginning in December (this gives me 11 months).
  • Believe in Yourself: I would argue that this is one of the most important. When I decided to do Ironman Lake Placid, I had never done a single triathlon before. I had never swam more than a length of a pool (straight) and the furthest I had ever ridden my bike was 65 miles (4 years ago). On paper, I probably didn’t look like the ideal person to sign up for an Ironman. But I believed in myself. In my discipline and determination. And in my ability. That is what you need to force you out the door at 4am for a long ride or 5am to get into a chilly pool.  I’m not going to tell you that you have to do X, Y and Z before you sign up for your first. I hadn’t done a single triathlon before I signed up for Placid (I did an Olympic and half during training). I’m sure there are loads of theories and formulas of when you are “ready” but I truly believed I was capable despite my inexperience with the sport. Yes, I could have eased into it and probably finished faster if I would have spent time at shorter distances, but I wanted a challenge and this was it for me. quotes1
  • Enjoy the Journey: Training for my first Ironman was the toughest, but most rewarding, athletic endeavor I have done in my life. It’s not going to be easy – but it will definitely be worth it on race day. And just remember: ”Swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, run 26.2 miles- BRAG FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. ”   – John Collins, IRONMAN Founder

Have you done an Ironman? Any other tips for those on the fence?

Have you considered an Ironman? What’s holding you back? 

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I don’t post here every day, but I post all of my workouts (and other happenings) on Instagram on a daily basis {NYCRunningMama}.

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    14 thoughts on “So You Want To Do An Ironman?

    1. I’m toying with the idea of doing 50.5 New Orleans and I loved reading your experience for Ironman

    2. I totally agree with everything you said. It is a HUGE commitment just to train for one of these. Congrats on your accomplishment! I actually just complete my first Ironman as well. And I just wrote about my experience on my site.
      I totally love the “brag for the rest of your life!” So true! We did it girl. We’ve made it in to the Ironman “Club.” haha
      RunLikeKale recently posted..Those 4 Little Words: “You ARE an Ironman…”My Profile

    3. This post was speaking directly to me as I am trying to decide whether or not to take the leap and sign up for an Ironman next year. I will be volunteering with my hubby at IMAZ and he plans to register, so I am considering it too. He thinks I am crazy since I have only done 1 sprint and 1 Olympic tri, but like you, I believe in myself that I could do it. Thanks!
      Beth @ Miles and Trials recently posted..Big Cottonwood Marathon Race RecapMy Profile

    4. AHh Love this post- just what I needed to read. Next year I will be doing my first Ironman and I am ridiculously excited but have many many many questions. I feel at ease with some of it because my Fiance has done one before, and we will be training for this one together (i.e. his 2nd and my first) so I feel like that will be good comfort for me– and he is used to me bombarding him with questions… I have always been a runner but this was my first year in Tri’s and having him there to support me and answer questions was HUGE!
      Laura @losingrace recently posted..Hold on to your hats…and other complete randomnessMy Profile

    5. I’m pretty sure that I will never do an Ironman but this is such great advice. I love watching the Kona race too. We were there on our honeymoon right before the race. It was amazing to be around all those athletes.
      Christine @ Love, Life, Surf recently posted..Coffee TalkMy Profile

    6. I just did my 1st triathlon this past weekend. The LA Triathlon Sprint Distance. My husband & my friend that convinced me to sign up are convinced me that it won’t be my last. I never thought I would do a triathlon – my husband said he expect me to do a 70.3 (quite a few of my training friends did them this past year) and that he won’t be shocked in a few years if I decide to do an ironman. Like you, my goal for the sprint was to finish. I know for my next triathlon I need a new bike so that’s an expense I’m starting to budget for now.

      I’ve also learned that I said that I shouldn’t ever say NEVER when it comes to these things! Good Luck once you start training again and I can’t wait to “follow” your journey again!

    7. This post is very encouraging! My friend asked me to do the half Ironman with him in 2015, but I said I wasn’t sure because I hadn’t even ran my first half marathon yet. I am always amazed by how much our bodies can do with the right training. I never would have thought I could run 13.1 miles, but I can! (I know that’s small beans to someone like you!) Anyways, I may have to consider the half Ironman… :-)
      Jillienne @ ChasingRaspberries recently posted..Double Tomato Quiche with a Spaghetti Squash CrustMy Profile

    8. Love this post! I’m toying with the idea of signing up for a half ironman next year, but there are so many obstacles! I don’t even have a bike and I need to learn how to swim properly.

    9. I LOVE this! I am so glad you did a post on your experiences and tips. I know my husband for sure wants to do one – ONE day, and I’ve considered it. We don’t have the time or money to commit to it right now but maybe years down the road we can!
      Sara @ LovingOnTheRun recently posted..Benefits of a Stronger CoreMy Profile