For triathletes, completing an IRONMAN is the Holy Grail of racing. Ask anyone who’s finished one and they’ll tell you how life-changing and rewarding it is to run down the iconic red carpet and hear the words “You are an IRONMAN!”
If you think you’re ready to step up to IRONMAN, get the expert insight from coach Jon Goodege. Coach Jon is an experienced multiple IRONMAN finisher and has helped countless athletes achieve their racing goals.
How long should a beginner train for an IRONMAN?
Once you’ve set your heart on completing an IRONMAN, your first port of call will be deciding on a race with a suitable course and event date so that you have enough time to train. Training for an IRONMAN takes a lot more time, dedication and effort than your standard local triathlon and you’ll need to make sure you’re fully prepared. Even if you’re an experienced athlete with a good level of fitness, this is a challenge that is not to be underestimated.
The minimum amount of time you should spend training for an IRONMAN is 16 weeks. However, the longer you train, the better your chances of not just finishing but thriving and putting in a competitive performance. You’ll find that the most popular training plans will last from 6 months to an entire year. This will help you not only prepare physically, but mentally too.
Best international IRONMAN races for first-timers
Not all IRONMAN races are created equally, and some are much tougher than others. Depending on where you decide to race, you could be facing an unusually hilly bike route or a swim in the open ocean. For British athletes, European races tend to be the most popular, as the climate and terrain are not too far removed from what we’re used to. Going further afield to Oceania or America may not only be a culture shock, but it’ll take longer to acclimatise and get over the jet lag.
Coach Jon has the following suggestions, “IRONMAN Frankfurt is a wonderful course and perfect for athletes who submerge themselves in their training. IRONMAN Vitoria-Gasteiz in Spain has a calm, flat lake for the swim and is a wonderful way for a beginner to experience some IRONMAN pleasure. Mallorca 70.3 is the largest 70.3 in the world, starting with a swim in the calm waters of Alcúdia, with a challenging hill climb on the bike followed by an equally thrilling descent, and then out into the Mallorca countryside before finishing off in Alcúdia with amazing crowds and weather.”
How to choose an IRONMAN race
Racing an IRONMAN - especially abroad - is a big undertaking and will require a lot of logistics, planning and consideration. Below are some factors to think about:
- How long will it take you to get there? Will you need to stay for a few weeks to get over jet lag and acclimatise?
- What’s the swim like? Is it a calm lake or wild ocean?
- How hilly is the bike course?
- How difficult is the terrain?
- How extreme is the climate? Will you be facing fierce cross-winds on the bike, for example.
Coach Jon advises, “The swim type is immensely influential, especially rough sea swims with a mass start.”
IRONMAN races often feature notoriously difficult bike cut-off times, with many athletes finding their race cut short, leading to immense disappointment. To ensure you at least complete the race, research the cut-off times for each leg of the race you’re considering. Coach Jon says, “IRONMAN Wales, UK, and Lanzarote have exceptionally challenging bike courses. However, even the less experienced athletes should be able to finish if this aspect is considered in advance.”
Coach Jon goes on to explain, “I didn’t do a reconnaissance of the Lanzarote bike course on a bike, instead I drove it in a car. What this meant was that I didn’t realise the impact that the wind would have on my progress. I would encourage everyone, where possible, to do a reconnaissance of the bike course on their bike before race day.”
What makes IRONMAN so special - and so challenging
IRONMAN race courses are notoriously difficult, with tough cycles, brutal swims, and epic runs. The sheer distance of a full IRONMAN may seem like a big undertaking (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run), but once you factor in all of the other aspects as well - like unpredictable weather, harsh terrain, and your fellow competitors - it becomes clear why completing an IRONMAN is such a remarkable feat.
But IRONMAN races aren’t just brutally difficult - they can be life-changingly inspiring and magical, too. Coach Jon says, “Walk around Tenby, Bolton, or Frankfurt during race week and everyone knows what's going on. IRONMAN races have a huge influence on the local community.”
Jon goes on to say, “The competitiveness of IRONMAN is equally challenging and rewarding. For those gifted enough to qualify for the World Championships, that stepping stone is available to take the feeling even further. Once other triathlon races are over, the sense of post-race elation is lost. Whereas IRONMAN has a legacy programme as well as IRONMAN global tourism as a motivator.”
Training for an IRONMAN
Once you’ve chosen your race, it’s time to start training. You’ll need to be consistent in your approach and it will help immensely if you have a device like the INCUS CLOUD | TRIATHLON to make sure you’re making good progress in your training. INCUS has unique and cutting-edge training metrics to help you perform at your very best. Learn how to recognise imbalances to improve your running form and reduce your risk of injury. Perfect your running technique with stride phases and get plenty of practice for open water swimming.
IRONMAN Advice For First-Timers
Coach Jon has the following advice for triathletes looking to step up to IRONMAN for the first time.
- Challenge yourself! IRONMAN is you versus yourself. It’s the ultimate one-day endurance event and not only will it challenge you mentally and physically, it will change your life.
- Training and planning will take over your life. Making sure your kit is washed and ready for your session, planning social events around training days, and making sure family are on board.
- Nutrition, hydration, rest and recovery all play a huge part in training for an IRONMAN. But remember, you don’t have to drink expensive drinks, eat expensive nutrition, buy expensive watches or power pedals, and everything doesn’t have to be perfect before you start your training journey.
- The first thing to do is just to start! Book early because popular races sell-out fast and having your race booked and paid for will help with training motivation.
- Hire a coach. Accountability, education, and pre-planned training programmes can really help you stay on track.
About the author: Alex Parren is a Freelance Health & Fitness writer as well as a qualified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist.