From Beginner to Ironman

The first time I entered a Sprint Triathlon I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I spent the 5 weeks prior to the race frantically trying to prepare for the big day, all the time worrying about my ability to complete the swim section of the event. Just three years later, I crossed the finish line of my first Ironman.

For those of you who are interested in taking on the challenging and rewarding journey to becoming an Ironman, here are some tips to help you along the way!

Build up your Race Distances

No matter how fit you are, it’s important to build up your race distances over two or more seasons so that your body can adapt to the stresses of training and racing. This period will also allow you to gain a valuable understanding of how to manage your race nutrition needs and any injuries you may be prone to. If your considering competing in an Ironman event then we’d recommend racing at least two races at each distance (Sprint, Olympic) as well as completing at least one Half-Ironman before tackling the Ironman distance.  This will greatly increase your chances of success and also your enjoyment on the big day!

Buy a Decent Bike & get it Fitted

If you’re planning on competing in Triathlons (especially at longer distances) it’s vital that you have a bike which is safe, reliable and the correct size to fit your body. I’m not suggesting that you should blow your life savings on an expensive Time-Trial bike, but you should at least purchase a good quality road bike. Check online and locally for the options which may suit your budget and make sure that you’re professionally measured up for your bike fit. Cycling a bike which is the wrong size can not only lead to a loss of power but also greatly increase the risk of injury. For those watching their wallets it’s possible to pick up a decent road bike for as little as a €1,000, but quality and reliability are very important. It’s also worth noting that if your bike has a decent frame you can continue to improve it when you can afford to i.e.: adding better wheels etc…

Joined Coached Swim Sessions

Coached swim sessions are an excellent way to improve your technique and become a stronger swimmer. In these sessions you’ll be graded according to your ability (or lack of!) and then provided with the coaching and encouragement you need to improve. I know from my own experience that learning to swim can be a challenge, but don’t let the pool environment intimidate you. Contact your local Masters’ squad or Community swimming pool and let them know you’d like to join. If you’re willing to commit and put in the hard work, you’ll discover another world of enjoyment in the water!

Do your Research & Manage Expectations

An Ironman race requires athletes to swim 3.8Km before next biking 180Km and then finally running 42Km. Training typically involves 15 to 20 hours of training a week during the peak phase and as such, be prepared for the Ironman to dominate a large part of your life. You may find that instead of socialising you’ll want to rest during the spare time you have after training and this can strain relationships with both friends and family. Make sure and assess the impact that training for an Ironman may have on your life and if you’re in a relationship, have an honest and understanding conversation with your partner. The Ironman journey will affect their life as well so it’s important that you have their support and appreciate their concerns.

Join a Triathlon Club

Triathlon clubs are always looking for new members and are usually very supportive and friendly. The members of most clubs can vary from complete novices to semi-professionals and as such are an excellent place to share knowledge and ask questions. Being a member of a Triathlon club will also usually give you access to subsidised training sessions and an excellent support network that will make your journey to Ironman much more enjoyable.

Choosing your ‘Iron Distance’ Event

Choosing your Ironman event is very much a personal process. Most races under the ‘Ironman’ brand tend to sell out in a matter of hours or days so be prepared to book a year in advance and be sitting at your PC at the moment that entries are released online. There is also a second organisation which also runs ‘Iron-Distance’ races called the ‘Challenge’ group (two race examples would be Challenge Barcelona and Challenge Copenhagen). These races are identical to the ‘Ironman Corp’ races in distances and only differ in the branding of the event and the fact they charge a cheaper entry fee.

 A number of factors to consider when selecting your Iron Distance race include:

  • Location – remember you will have to travel and also transport your bike and equipment.
  • Climate – Is the race location a lot hotter or colder than the climate you will have trained in?
  • The Time of year – Will you be able to take holidays from work or does it clash/compliment the school calendar? (for those with children.)
  • Time to prepare – Are you giving yourself enough time to adequately prepare for the race?
  • The Race Course Profile – some Iron Distance races can have tougher courses than others. It can be a wise move to ensure that your first ‘Iron Distance’ race has a course which will compliment your strengths as a Triathlete (hilly bike etc..)

More than anything, remember to have fun and enjoy the training and experiences that you have on the way to becoming an Ironman. The journey is tough and will test your commitment, but may also be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life!


2 thoughts on “From Beginner to Ironman

  • February 20, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    That’s a really good article about stepping up to iron distance. Apart from WTC’s Ironman Series and the Challenge Series there are also a lot of other iron distance organisers. Rev3, Altriman, 03 and Samui Triathlon all spring to mind.

    A key thing to remember about chosing a race is your psychology. I thrive on hills – The Hellvellyn long course tri in England is very hilly and has a climb of almost Savageman proportions. Great fun for me – but when you put me on the pancake flat Ironman Western Australia I became so demotivated and bored that I totally under performed.

    Finally when you chose an Iron distance race it’s worth considering the wife and family. Lots of races book up a year in advance – they can sell out in a couple of hours. As you are going to be really stressing your relationship with all the training time why not take the plunge and get a holiday out of it at the far end. So instead of doing Ironman UK go for Ironman Lanzarotte, or if you are American look south towards Puchon, St Croix or Cancun for great Ironman races there

  • February 20, 2011 at 10:57 pm

    Thanks Denis!

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