So you think you want to do an Ironman? 140.6 miles of swimming, cycling, and running with a 17 hour deadline sounds kind of intriguing. You may be asking yourself what all does this entail? Am I fast enough, do I have the time to train, or, what I think the main question most people considering an Ironman ask themselves (or should), do I have what it takes to cross the finish line before midnight? I don’t know you, but I am pretty sure that you are either fast enough now, or can get there by race day, and that you can carve the time out of your schedule to train if you want to badly enough.
But what does it really take to cross the finish line before midnight? Keep reading and I will take you through the 6 T’s of preparing for an Ironman.
Endurance event consisting of swimming, cycling, and running. ~Concise Encyclopedia
Okay, this might seem like a no brainer, but just to make sure everyone is on the same page, let’s go over the basics. A triathlon is a three sport event that includes a swim leg, a bike leg and a run leg, almost always in that order. There are two transitions during the event, one between the swim and the bike legs and then a second one between the bike and run legs. During the transition you change out your gear from one leg for the next leg. For example, when you complete the swim leg, you exit the water and run into a large area called the transition area. You have a designated spot on a rack where you have your bike and the rest of your equipment for the bike and run legs. You will remove your swim gear, i.e. wetsuit, cap, and goggles, and put on your shoes and bike helmet. Then you will take your bike and leave the transition area to start the bike leg of the race. The transitions are timed and contribute to your overall time for the race.
Triathlons usually fall into four different categories based mainly on the total distance of the race. The categories, listed in increasing length of distance are Sprint, Olympic, Half-Iron distance also known by its mileage total of 70.3 and Full-Iron distance races of 140.6 miles. All of these are made up of the three disciplines, swim, bike, and run. I know I have already mentioned it, but I just really want to bring home the point that if you think that you want to be an Ironman, you need to be able to swim, bike and run, or, if disabled, able to complete the leg in an approved manner.
You love to bike, but you have never been able to float on your back, much less dog paddle across a pool? Unless you learn to swim, you aren’t going to make it to the bike leg. Notice that I didn’t say you couldn’t do it? I just said that you need to learn to swim. You don’t have to be a particularly stellar athlete in any of the three disciplines (although having at least one that you excel in helps) to make the 17 hour cutoff, you just have to be fast enough to complete each leg before the cutoff times.
Finally, while you don’t have to have completed triathlons prior to an Ironman, it certainly helps. Each race will help you prepare both mentally and physically for a longer distance event. A race highlights deficits in your overall training and your weaknesses in the disciplines that a training day can’t. If you are considering an Ironman length event I strongly recommend that you complete a sprint, olympic and half-iron distance race, if not before signing up for the big event, in the year leading up to the event.
This leads us into the next T of Triathlon – Tender.
To offer, as money or goods, in payment of a debt or other obligation, especially in exact accordance with the terms of the law and of the obligation. ~Dictionary.com
Money, dinero, dollars, rubles, or moola. Here are some key terms to review in the Triathlon section above – wetsuit, cap, googles, shoes, helmet, bike, gear, and the advice to complete several races before your Ironman. This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of equipment, race fees, and other expenses. This sport ain’t cheap people. While hearing “insert your name here>, you are an Ironman” may be priceless, it definitely doesn’t come at zero dollars.
The Ironman race entry fee alone costs in the neighborhood of $700.00. While the price for the races usually are lower based on shorter distances, they still pack quite a punch. If you plan on completing a sprint, olympic, Half-Iron and Ironman within a year, expect to pay in the ballpark of $500-600. A trip to the ballpark would definitely be cheaper.
In addition to race fees you have to take into account pool and gym fees, coaching fees, and training club dues. While you might can avoid the gym fees if you don’t want to train at a gym, the pool fees are hard to get around. Unless you live in a tropical climate and have access to a shark free beach, you will want to invest in joining a gym or club with a good pool. It is a personal decision on whether or not you want a coach or to belong to a triathlon group. The good things about a coach and a team are that they hold you accountable, you are surrounded by people with the same goals and you have a built in base of knowledge around you. The downside is that you are constantly surrounded by people with better or, at least, more expensive gear.
That brings us back to the cost of gear. While you don’t have to have the top of the line everything, you will have to invest in some decent equipment. It isn’t just for race day. You will be spending a lot of time in and on these items. You will become more intimate with your bike during the year prior to your race than with the hottest personal relationship you have ever had. A comfortable seat that doesn’t crush your privates to oblivian is expensive. So is the bike for that matter. While you can easily complete a sprint, olympic, and maybe even a half on your Huffy hybrid, I don’t recommend trying it on an Ironman. The other gear is equally expensive and necessary. I don’t consider myself an equipment snob, but you are really going to have to invest in quality shoes, goggles, swim wear, and a top notch helmet. Odds are you will go down at least once on your bike during training, or worse yet, get tagged by a car. Protect your noggin.
Right now you may be a little overwhelmed at how much this is going to cost you. But you are still holding tight to that Ironman dream. Maybe you are telling yourself, I can pick up a few hours of overtime, to cover some of the costs. Or maybe a part-time second job to pay for all my new toys and races. That takes us into the next T of Ironman – time.
Something of which there is never enough of. ~ Ima Mosier
So you think you are crunched for time now. You work forty hours a week, maybe a few more if it is a busy week, lose some more time to your commute, then some time with your family and friends, and finally carve out some workout time either in the early morning or late in the evening. Because of the upcoming tender shortage you are wondering if you can squeeze in a few extra work hours to earn a little extra moola for all the cool stuff you HAVE to get as soon as possible to do an Ironman (or at least to be able to pay the entry fee.) Umm, well, sorry, but you are really going to need that time to train. That is okay, surely a person can survive on Ramen (5 for a dollar) and they are loaded with carbs. An Ironman in training, or let’s just call you an Ironman Larvae – IL, needs carbs, right?
There are numerous Ironman plans to choose from, but this one at beginnertriathlete.com ranges from a low of 8 hours per week to a high of 18.5 hours per week over a 20 week period. For Ironman Florida I used the 13 week plan for athletes with limited time, found in Gale Bernhardt’s book Training Plans for MultiSport Athletes. That plan ranges from 6 to 13.5 hours per week.
If you are still thinking that 18 hour training weeks aren’t too bad, please take into account all of the activities related to training, but not actually training that will eat away at your schedule. I will call these items Time Sucks. The following are items I consider to be Time Sucks: driving to the gym, driving to the location where you start your run or bike, changing into your workout clothes, taking your bike for tune-ups, wandering around the bike store looking at all of the gear that you are positive will make you look skinnier, go faster, convince people you are a seriously cool athlete, internet shopping for more cool gear for previously listed reasons, and finally, internet surfing reading race recaps and really cool blogs (hint, hint) about Ironman.
But, even if you have all of the time in the world for Ironman, Time Suck activities and training, time alone won’t get you across the finish line. You must have a good solid training plan and actually get off your duff to do the training.
The process by which an athlete prepares for competition by exercising, practicing, etc. ~Mirriam-Webster.com
To be coached or not to be coached, that is the question. Well, actually the question I get asked the most is did I have a coach. When I respond with a negative, the second question is where did I find a plan.
So above I mentioned the 13 week training plan for the Ironman. The only way that you are going to only train 13 weeks for an Ironman is if you already have a solid swim, bike, run base. The year I completed Ironman Florida in early November, I kicked off my training on January 2nd with a Half Ironman on the schedule for early April. After taking a few weeks of recovery time in May I went right into my training plan for the full distance Ironman. However, before you can begin your training for the Ironman, you need a training plan.
That brings us back to the to be coached or not to be coached decision. It is really a personal question and one that only you can decide for yourself. There are plenty of training plans on the internet both free and that you purchase. You can also purchase a multitude of books containing training plans for all levels of athletes from mosiers to hard core. So, if you are the type of person who likes to do your own research and plan your own schedule, then you can probably get by with information you can obtain online or at a book store.
Conversely, if you want someone who will lay out a training plan for you and hold you accountable, a coach is more than likely the way you want to go. A coach should talk with you about your current abilities and your goals for your Ironman. Then he, or she, should tailor a plan to fit your needs and goals. After that, how much or how little contact you have with your coach will be based on what type of coaching relationship you want and how much tender you have.
At the very least you might want to join a triathlon group that offers coached rides and runs. This still gives you the flexibility to layout your own training plan, but gives you fellow athletes, along with coaches, to train with and bounce ideas off of. A team so to speak.
And, you guessed it, the fifth T in Ironman is Team.
A team comprises a group of people or other animals linked in a common purpose. ~Wikipedia
No, you don’t need an actual team to complete the Ironman event. But you do need your family, friends, training partners, and bosses (in other words, your peeps) to be on board and rooting for you. Ironman is a huge commitment in a lot of different areas. We have talked about the time and money it will cost you, but you also have to consider how it will affect your energy levels, your time away from your family, or if you don’t have an immediate family, how it will cut into your beer drinking time with your buds (I am including both guys and girls in the buds definition.) You will need time away from your job not only to complete the actual race but also to recover from the aforementioned bike wreck you will invariably have sometime during your training.
Before you even sign up for the race you need to discuss this with your family. My husband and I are both very independent. But, before both Ironman registrations, I sat him down and discussed the impact that the race would have on the time we spend together, the time I would be available to work on projects around the house and the travel involved for the actual race. I didn’t need his permission to do an Ironman, but I definitely wanted his blessing. If you don’t have an honest, factual discussion with your spouse before signing up for an event of this magnitude, you will have serious issues sometime during the training period. My husband still got testy on several occasions due to my time away from the home front. However, I could always point out to him that it was something that we had discussed and he had agreed to before I signed up for the race.
You will also need your friends and training partners. One friend, Speedy, met me most mornings to run. Muddy Buddy met me for long training rides. Tri Guy and another friend met me for open water swims and followed me around the lake in kayaks. Muddy Buddy and Tammy traveled with me from Texas to Florida to be sherpas, cheerleaders, psychiatrists, drivers, and drinking buddies when I did Ironman Florida. People often ask me what I learned about myself when doing the Ironman. I always say that I learned that I had amazing friends.
All of these people are linked to the common purpose of you completing your Ironman. They are your team.
Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal. My strength lies solely in my tenacity. ~Louis Pasteur
I saved tenacity for last because I believe it is the most important of the Ts. Without tenacity all of the tender, time, training, and, yes, even the most amazing team, will not get you across the finish line. In fact, without tenacity you will never even make it to the race start. It takes an amazing level of commitment to keep training day after day for a goal that is months in the future. After every bad workout, and there will be many, you will ask yourself “Can I really do this? Do I really have what it takes?” Yes, you do. I know you do, your team knows you do, but you have to believe you do and have the tenacity to keep moving forward even on the days you don’t believe it.
If you have the tenacity learn about triathlon, manage your tender, carve out the time, put in the training, and build your team, you will hear the words “Insert your name here>, you are an Ironman.”
You can read all about my first Ironman here. I am currently training for my second Ironman.