One iron distance and a grand total of 7 triathlons does not an expert make and I am certainly no expert. You all know I did not ease into the iron distance but rather took the cannonball approach and just went for it, sprint to iron in six months. I am definitely an impulsive person. You know, “oh that sounds fun AND I get a free shirt too?”. I never stand a chance against a gift with purchase. I always make it seem rational in my head. Kind of like I did with Beach 2 Battleship. “Well, I am already training for the 70.3 plus a marathon a few weeks later, how hard can it be to add on a few more miles of biking?” Yeah. I can justify anything.
If you prefer to mull things over before you act, here are some things I came to realize over the past few months of training and some things that might give you food for thought if you are considering tossing your name into the hat for an iron distance race. (Honestly, you could use most of these same thoughts if you are considering a triathlon of any distance).
1. You have to BELIEVE somewhere deep down inside that YOU CAN DO IT. You may not be able to do it tomorrow but you have the confidence that with the right training it is possible. Confidence is key. If you have any inkling in your head that you might be able to finish an ironman, then you absolutely can. Do not allow fear (or even – God forbid – rational thinking) hold you back. If you can dream it, you can do it (for the most part…. See bullet 2).
2. BE REALISTIC. Even if you believe with all your heart that you have iron running through your veins, you still have to make the time cutoffs. They vary from race to race, if that is a concern for you check before you sign up. You don’t have to be an olympic superstar but you don’t want to get picked up by the sag wagon or pulled off the course after putting in 9 months of training. I can’t think of anything much more heartbreaking. Generally speaking, if you have a decent base of overall fitness and after training can make the swim in 2 hours, the bike in 8 hours (~ 14 mph) and the run in 5.5 hours ( ~ 13 min / mile), you theoretically should be able to do it. Keep in mind this leaves very little cushion for a flat tire or other unplanned emergencies. Obviously, the more time cushion the better. (Disclaimer, these times are just MY line in the sand, see sentence #1 – I am not a trained expert).
If you have done a half-iron distance, the general rule of thumb is to multiple your finish time by two and add an hour. In my case, that theory was just about spot on. My half time was 6:07, my full was 13:25.
3. If you are worried about cutting it close to the finish, there are courses that lend themselves better to PRs and thus might help you make cutoffs. If you can shave some time with a current assisted swim or a flat ride and run, why not seek out those situations? B2B is known for its fast swims. The bike ride is advertised as pancake flat. My pancake had some lumps in the batter and a whole lot of wind. The run is anything but flat. Do some race recon and FIND A RACE THAT FEELS LIKE A GOOD FIT FOR YOU. I am a strong swimmer and train on hills when I run so my concern was finding a race with a bike leg that appealed to me. If the swim and run were fast too, well that was a bonus.
Keep in mind that the weather on any given day can change the “speed” of a course dramatically. Set yourself up for success as much as you can with the ideal course but realize that weather always plays a factor.
Outside of the course itself, if having cheering family and friends will help you on race day, you might want to consider a race closer to home that would be easy to get to for family and friends. Giving up a flat bike course for a little moral support on the course might be worth it.
4. Find a training plan and STICK TO IT. You can’t phone this training in. I am obsessive about sticking to my training schedules. Probably 90% of my training for past races has been done on my own. If you are someone who needs another person to keep you motivated, talk a friend into racing with you, hire a coach to give you that accountability factor or try to find a tri group in your area. Even if you have to make a bit of a drive to get to the group training sessions, it might help you stick with the plan.
You can move training days around on your training plan. Mondays were the best day for me to be off so I rearranged my training plan to make that happen. Rearranging is OK. Skipping workouts, generally not.. Your best chance for completing the race and experiencing an easy post race recovery has everything to do with how you trained. Make it happen.
5. It is a HUGE time commitment. Training plans can begin as many as 9 months out from race day. Very early on in the plan, you will be doing either 2+ hour workouts or two a day workouts. I work a Monday through Friday, 9 to 5 type job. My training schedule was generally 12 to 15 hours a week (which is on the low end as far as these things go). My typical training week was something like this: Tuesday – swim/bike, Wednesday – Bike/run, Thursday – Swim/bike, Friday – Swim, Saturday – Bike/run/swim, Sunday – Run/Bike.
Up until the last few months, the weekend sessions are essentially half day or even morning sessions. The last couple of months, training tends to take up most of your days. You leave the house at 6 AM and get home at 4 PM. The last six weeks will test your mental willpower. You will desperately wish for a morning to sleep in. Fig newtons, GU gels, gatorade or your race nutrition of choice will become like another food group for you. By the time taper rolls around the thought of logging one more mile may make you want to cry.
6. It can be quite the FINANCIAL COMMITMENT. The registration fee for Ironman is around $600. If you go with an off brand race (Rev 3, Set Up Events, HITS, Great Floridian), expect to pay about half that amount. The cost does not end there. If you are planning to fly to the race, you will have travel expenses not only for yourself but also your bike. You should also factor in coaching (if you go that route), gym or pool membership, tires, bike tune up, wetsuit, and other random expenses right down to GU Gels or other nutrition. It all adds up.
7. Find some MENTAL TOUGHNESS. Things may not go your way on race day. You may have a flat tire, you may bonk on the run, you may want to give up. You need to be able to self motivate enough to keep moving forward. Do you have that little voice inside of you that helps you to regroup and keep going? I have said it before and I will say it again. I am no triathlon or running superstar. I only podium finish in races with low participation (if that). I have the ability to push myself and the ability to endure which goes a long way in a sport in which you are primarily racing yourself. How bad do you want it?
8. Have FAITH. When you get to the end of your training, you may question how this will all come together. If you are a runner, you generally run 20 or 22 miles before a marathon. Mentally, you have basically done the race at that point. With this race, you won’t get that close to replicating the full 140.6 miles prior to the big day. If you put in the time in training, it all comes together in the most amazing way on race day. Race day, I focused on one leg at a time. While I was swimming, I just focused on swimming. Once I clipped in to the bike pedals, it was all about the bike for 112 miles. As I stepped off the bike and laced up my running shoes, I just counted down to the finish.
Yes, it is hard. Yes, you will wonder at one point or another if you are actually going to finish this thing. Once it is all over, you will have a runner’s high that lasts for a couple of weeks. It still seems surreal to me and it has been over two weeks.
If all that sounds good to you, I say shake off the fear and hesitation and go click that REGISTER button! I am pretty sure they will give you a shirt and a medal with purchase :)