So you want to be an Ironman? Maybe you were sat down the pub with your mates after a few beers and thought “I’ll show them” (believe me I have seen quite a few of these!), or its been your life long goal after watching either this year’s Ironman World Championships in Kona. Maybe, like me, you watched some grainy footage of the first few Ironman’s held on Oahu, combining the Waikiki rough water swim, the Round Oahu Bike Race and Honolulu Marathon and were just in awe of these athletes! Whatever the draw was, now you are seriously considering it. So what does it take to “Be an Ironman” and how much training does it take?
Ironman is a journey, it’s a lifestyle, it’s an addiction, it’s a challenge, it’s mad. It can break you, it can make you, it will help you discover yourself. This gruelling event is all of these things and more and it’s why it’s probably one of the fastest (still) growing sports worldwide.
I am sure you all know what the race encompasses:
The 3.8km (2.4m) swim
Then a 180km (112mile) bike ride
Followed by the small matter of the Marathon… that leads to those immortal words… “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”.
How much training do you need to do for an Ironman?
Everybody’s goal from the race will differ. Many of you will just want to finish, others will be improving previous PB’s and some will be aiming to qualify for the World Championships in Kona. This can and will inform what that ‘ideal’ volume is. It can be from as little as 10hrs to over 30hrs a week.
The beauty of it, is that it can made to fit around your lifestyle, your family and work and your goals.
So, you have the dream. But where do you go from here?
BEFORE you click ‘enter now’ on the glitzy Ironman website and part with probably $500 + (and that’s before the kit, travel, accommodation, food etc), step back and really think this through.
- Am I committed to 10+ hours a week of training, in all weathers?
- Will it truly fit it into my lifestyle?
- How much kit do I really have to buy (see a suggested checklist below)
- Can I afford it?
- Do I want to spend this much?
- Where will I put it all?!
- Are you prepared to make the sacrifice, the early nights, the diet, the focus?
- Have my family really understood what it entails?
Okay. So is it still a yes?
Then how do I do it?
There is so much literature available online, so many forums with the ‘answers’ for Ironman training that it can actually be quite overwhelming. When I started Triathlon, (too many years ago now to mention!) it was a much younger sport. There was much less available knowledge fountains to drink from. The ‘accepted’ approach was to either hook up with a triathlon club and the seniors there, or get a coach. However, this is still probably two of the soundest pieces of starting advice now.
Before you go too far, really think about what the journey will look like. Depending on how much you train, or participate in sport you could be making quite large lifestyle changes. Consequently the importance of a supportive partner or family is critical. You will be training and out of the house maybe more than they are used to. You will be buying many pieces of kit to support your goals, you will be probably tired and grumpy at stages and then you’ll be asking them to follow you to weird and (usually!) wonderful places to watch a race.
The Ironman Training Plan
- Ensure loved ones buy into the journey. Do they know what it will involve? Probably training 5-6+ days a week, sometimes twice a day and sometimes for maybe 6hrs +
- Know your key race
- What are you build up races?
- Your kit
- Watches / bike computers
- Training gear
- Where you will train?
- When can you swim? Where will you swim?
- Are you able to open water swim as you approach race day?
- Can you cycle train all year round? (Ideally you will have an indoor and outdoor set up)
- Do you have access to roads / trails and maybe a treadmill for run sessions?
- When can you swim? Where will you swim?
The successful age group triathlete is the epitome of organisation, to ensure they fit the numerous Ironman training sessions into a hectic week. Therefore, you will become a master of packing the car / training bag in the dark, late at night and early morning. You will be self deprecating when asked at work, “what did you do this weekend?”. It may have been a 6hr bike and 2hr run, then 4k in the pool – you will just say, “Oh, a bit of swim / bike run, not much!”.
The Ironman Training process
Whether a first time Ironman, or a successful age grouper, a training plan is critical. It’s important to break the build-up into manageable chunks, with key focusses throughout each phase. Above all, managing a careful, steady increase in volume is critical. There are a number of reasons for this:
- It builds fitness slowly and a foundation of endurance
- Prevents injuries and over training
- Helps prevent mental fatigue and burn out
- Builds to one or maybe 2 key seasonal peaks to ensure the best form at the time of the race.
So many athletes in November / December / January are so keen to crack on that they can lose sight of the end goal. Ironman fitness in March is pretty useless (unless you are racing down under!) and it’s unlikely you will be able to ‘hang onto’ this fitness through a long season.
Getting support for Ironman
Firstly, as we have said above, a supportive family and / or friends network behind you is key in Ironman training. Without it you will have a massively challenging time. Secondly, an independent sporting support via a coach or Triathlon club is equally important. ‘Off the shelf Ironman plans’ can and do work, of course, BUT:
- Are you disciplined enough to follow everything in the plan?
- If you have to rejig your week / month due to ‘life’, can you do this in the most productive way?
- Have to miss a session (we all do!)? Would you know which is the one to miss (least important)?
- Can you measure your own progress?
- Being objective. Can you look in the mirror and be honest about your progress, strengths and weaknesses?
- Analysing your sessions? Do you know what is good? Where is the opportunity? How do I get better?
- Approaching target races – can you objectively choose ones that fit your goal, or strengths?
The above points are not easy. Of course it can be done, but it’s hard! Therefore, setting up a support network around you that can can manage these points for you is very important.
I could write reams on planning, preparation and the next stages of Ironman training and race builds and will do in due course. But for now, reflect on the above BEFORE you click ‘ENTER RACE’!
If you’d like to discuss more about how you can hear those immortal words ‘YOU ARE AN IRONMAN’ get in touch! And if you’d like some inspiration, have a read of one of my athletes case studies. Roy Bailey (who features in a lot of these pictures) came to me one year and uttered the words “I want to be an Ironman”. He succeeded.
I’ve included a suggested ‘starter’ kit list below. This has been honed over many years, so please learn from my experience!