Now that you have decided that you want to do an Ironman, you
crazy, crazy, brave, brave, sole, how do you go about selecting which one to do? If you are like me, a friend or training buddy says “I think I am going to do an Ironman” and you say “Cool! Me too!
I really don’t recommend this method. If you want a more thought out approach to selecting your 140.6 miles of fun, continue reading my second post in my Year to an Ironman series. You can catch up on the first post, The 6 Ts of an Ironman here.
Let me just start out by saying that all 140.6 events are not created equal. In fact, depending on the terrain, weather, and levels of support 140.6 could feel either closer to 100.6 or more like 1000.6. So the most important thing when selecting an Ironman is to play to your strengths. While you read this post, continue to ask yourself what type of athlete are you? Do you race better in the heat or the cold? Or you a strong swimmer in rough open water conditions or do you need to look for an event with a sheltered swim? Are you a strong hill climber on the bike or do you need to look for a flat course. Finally, what type of run do you hope to have. If you are counting on your run being your strongest leg what type of course will lend to you having the freshest legs under you when you transition to the run portion of the race?
Events – Ironman versus Iron Distance Event
Ironman is a copyrighted term by the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC). WTC produced races are the full Ironman (140.6) and Half Ironman (70.3). Because Ironman races, the full distance ones, usually sell out 9-12 months in advance and are very expensive other companies have started putting on Iron distance races. They are the same distances as Ironman races, but they can’t call themselves Ironman events.
So one of the first things that you have to decide is if you want that specific Ironman designation, or if you are okay doing an Iron distance event. Because I wanted to get the M-Dot tattoo, also copyrighted by WTC, it was important, in my mind, to do a WTC affiliated event. If you don’t care about the Ironman hype and you just want to get the distance in, then you have a lot more race options to choose from.
There are several benefits to doing an Iron distance race as opposed to an Ironman race. The number one reason is cost with less chance of early sell outs\ and smaller racing fields being close runner ups. Let’s use Ironman Florida and HITS Iron Distance Lake Havasu City races as our examples.
General Entry fee – $725.00
General Entries were sold out within one week of the race registration opening in November 2014
Race field – 2000-2500 of me and my closest friends
General Entry fee – $200-$600 based on the date you register.
As of this writing on February 3, 2015 the price is $400 and will remain so until 8/7/15
Race field – 46 athletes completed the 140.6 in the 2014 race -however a half Iron distance race also took place on the same day that 144 athletes participated in. Obviously a lot different experience than racing with 2000 other athletes on a course.
At the beginning of the post I talked about playing to your strengths. Nowhere else will that come more into play than when choosing the course. IM is considered a considerably easier race due to its flat course than IM Wisconsin with its extremely hilly bike leg. However, if you are a stronger biker than you are a swimmer, IM Moo (the pet name for IM Wisconsin) with its lake swim might be a better fit for you than IM Florida’s ocean swim.
Do your research. Each race has maps of each leg. In addition to the regular maps, there are elevation maps of the course like the one above. Look at how many hills are on the course and the total elevation gain that takes place during the leg. Also consider the elevation the race takes place at. Ironman Boulder is at a 5200 foot elevation. It is very difficult to acclimatize to that type of elevation in just the few days you will be there before the race.
The Race Location – choosing a local or destination race
I am a big believer in the idea that if I am going to put myself through the pain and misery of months of training and a long event, I am going to get a cool trip out of it. Although the number of Ironman and Iron distance races seem to increase almost daily, you may still have to travel to do one. I live in Dallas, Texas and the closest Ironman is in Houston, Texas and the closest full distance race is in Marble Falls. The Ironman takes place in May and, no offense to my Houston peeps, Houston in May is not my idea of a cool trip. If I am going to have to drive 4 hours to Houston I might as well drive 14 to Florida and get a few days on a real beach out of it.
The upsides to picking an Ironman in a location that makes it a destination race is that it becomes a reward for reaching your goal, you turn it into a vacation for family and friends who are going along to support you, and it gives you an opportunity to select a course that plays to your strengths. Houston is fairly flat, but it is hot and humid in May. I don’t race well in the heat. Completely flat Florida with its normally mild temperatures in November works more to my
pitiful biking ability strengths.
The downsides to making your Ironman a destination race is the burden of transporting all of your gear either by car or plane which definitely adds to your pre-race stress level, and the added costs of hotels and travel on top of all of the other moola you have laid out on the race and triathlon gear. Finally, the friends and family, or your team as covered in The 6 Ts of Ironman, may not have the time or money to travel with you.
The Time of Year
When you are trying to find the right race, you have to take into account not only the date of the race, but the months leading up to it. Just because the weather will be in the perfect temperature range for you during the race, it doesn’t make the temperatures during your training perfect. The bulk of your training will take place in the 3 to 4 months leading up to the race. If you pick an early Fall race you could be doing your long rides and runs in August, during the hottest time of the year. Likewise, if you pick a race too early in the season your training could take place in 6 inches of snow depending on where you live.
In addition to weather concerns, unless you are independently wealthy (want to adopt a daughter?) you probably also have career dates to consider. The first triathlon I signed up for was Ironman Wisconsin in 2011. Unfortunately it fell on a date that causes a lot of concern in my chosen career field. Less than a month before the race I was told that I couldn’t have the time off due to work issues. That was poor planning on my part and I have no one to blame for that happening except for moi. If you are an accountant an April or May race probably wouldn’t be a good choice for you. April is a busy time for most accountants and even if the race is in May after the all of the bustle, some of your crucial training should take place in late March and early April. If you can’t get the time away from work, or are just to exhausted, to train it will make that May race very hard.
When selecting an 140.6 race, look at the type of race you want to do, how far in advance you need to sign up for it, the cost involved, the course challenges, the race location and the time of year the race will occur. In addition to scouring the race websites for information, read race recaps from regular athletes before you make your final race selection. Racers’ reports will be a great source of information on areas that race producers and local businesses hoping to attract IM dollars won’t comment on. Will you be swimming through a herd of jelly fish, are there no hotels besides the host hotel within 50 miles of the race start, do the locals hate the race and throw bottles at the cyclists when they pass them on roads that aren’t closed to vehicle traffic? Racers will gladly fill you in on all of the aspects of the race that I could never even begin to cover here. When you read the recaps look for information on how well the race was produced (i.e. did they run out of water before all of the racers finished), did they give out a lot of penalties, and, most importantly, how good was the race swag?
Or you can just ignore this advice and sign up for the race your friend signed up for. That works too.