…or any long course triathlon. I’ve said many times that my Ironman races are some of the single most memorable positive days in my entire life, right up there with my (second) wedding day and the birth of my children. They required about as much preparation and effort as well. I would never deter anyone from signing up and get great satisfaction from helping people achieve this goal. That said, if you’re thinking of signing up for an Ironman, here are some things to think about.
We tell people to view Ironman training as a part time job for the four to six months prior to your race. A well-structured plan includes regular rest weeks and taper, so the part time job does have some vacation time. A well-structured plan will also increase in volume (and time commitment) gradually. Whatever plan you are considering using, take a look at the maximum six weeks of training time and see if that’s possible in your schedule. Be realistic and leave yourself some buffer. It may require some creativity and using some of your real job vacation time.
Before signing up, make sure your family and significant other are on board with your training. Not only the hours away, but the training process can be a transformative event both physically and mentally. Pre-kids, Coach Seth and I had an identical race schedule (boy was our house a mess by rest week) and it was fantastic to be so aligned with someone else in every aspect of my life (though confusing to figure out whose race t-shirt was whose). Post-kids, we have to trade on whose races gets priority each season. These discussions should happen in advance of you signing up.
Ironman training does not need to eclipse the rest of your life. We have seen some extremely excessive plans for the first time Ironman, which puts you under tremendous physical and mental stress and increases your chance of injury (thus jeopardizing at a minimum your race if not your long term health). Long course racing is a progression. Don’t let fear dictate your training load. Pick a plan (and a coach) that follows a sane progression of volume, intensity, and time commitment. If this leaves you short of what you need to be doing by race day, then pick a race date further in the future.
Love Your Bike
The key to your Ironman bike and your Ironman marathon is your peripheral strength. “Peripheral strength” is just coach-speak for “time on your feet” and “miles in the saddle.” Also, the bike is also the largest proportion of your racing day time-wise so being good at it is the biggest impact to your day. You can be the strongest runner in the world, but if you don’t have the peripheral strength on the bike, you’ll never get to show it off during your Ironman. There are definitely training plans for “time crunched” athletes (aka “bike haters”), but if you genuinely don’t like your bike, commit yourself to the fact you’ll be doing a lot of training that you don’t enjoy.
Previous Race Experience
Back in the old days, you used to be able to sign up for an Ironman with just a few months to go. It may have cost you an extra bit of coin, but you didn’t have to have the planning skills you need today. Because most Ironman races these days require a year of advanced notice, it’s tougher to know when you’re ready for the next step. We have seen people go from no triathlon experience to being an Ironman in a year. It’s perfectly feasible with the right athlete, right coach, right plan, and a lot of effort. However, it’s not necessarily the most enjoyable process and leaves very little margin for error (aka “real life”). Remember, it’s supposed to be fun, so adding time pressure takes some of the fun out of it.
Ironman is one of the few races with a hard and fast cut-off time. We’re all about odds and statistics. When going from a half ironman to full ironman, it’s rare to get faster in the process without significant skills acquisition (via technique changes) or body composition changes. Although everyone is different, a good rule of thumb is to take a half ironman race on a similar course, then double the time and add 10%. If that adds up to more than 17 hours, you may want to wait on signing up.
Triathlon can be an expensive sport. Without planning, it’s easy to spend a lot more money than you really need to. Besides your initial equipment and clothing, there’s recurring costs for sport nutrition (for your long rides and runs), bike tubes, bike maintenance, goggles, and swim suits. There are race fees for “B” races leading to your big event. There are pool access fees (and if you don’t have a lifting protocol you can do at home, potentially a gym membership). If your race isn’t local, add travel, bike shipping, and hotels to that. Also, other potential costs like the support services of a bike fitter, a nutritionist, a masseuse, a sports doc, and of course, a coach. I’m not listing these to be daunting, just to help with planning and budgeting. Leave yourself with some buffer. Do you really need that 10th bike jersey? Are you at a level that training with power makes sense just because a buddy does? There is no worse feeling than having to prioritize last minute expenses that may significantly impact your race experience.
There is a lot of knowledge required in triathlon. It’s one of the things I love about the sport, since there’s always something new to work on including cycling skills, run gait, swim technique, workout fueling, pacing, transitions, bike maintenance, mental skills, and day to day nutrition. Don’t forget the time it takes to figure out your effing watch too. Some of the best time you can spend training is acquiring and improving these skills. If you are lacking in any of these areas, then plan some time and money on improving them. Realize there’s only so much information you can absorb each month. We see people drop a lot of money on excessive equipment and race fees, then skimp significantly on their skills acquisition (including coaching). Budget for it. It’s the best money you can spend and beats beating your head against a wall, especially if you’re time constrained.
If you haven’t thought about why you want to do an Ironman prior to signing up, never fear, you will have many long rides and runs on the weekend to think about it. It may change and evolve over the course of your training. However, it’s a good idea to write your initial reasons down on a piece of paper (or something equally flammable) before you start training so you can pull them out later when you need them (and tape them to your top tube). We see a lot of reasons for signing up including wanting to do something epic, wanting to see what you’re capable of, having friends that are all doing it, and wanting a goal to help achieve a healthy lifestyle. There’s a long list of reasons for wanting to do Ironman and all of them are valid, but you should know yours. The process of training for an Ironman is transformative and nothing can beat the feeling of crossing the finish line.