Tackling your first Ironman? 10 tips from a novice..

It started with a 5k run..
When I turned 30 I set myself a goal to complete a half-marathon, starting with 5 k and 10k mini challenges. 5 years later, I had completed several half marathons, the NYC Marathon, 6 half Ironman events and a full Ironman among other endurance challenges. It was somewhat addictive and infectious — before I knew it friends and family were undertaking similar challenges, and coming to me for some tips on getting started. Hence this blog….

Top 10 pieces of advice

There is a lot to learn in all three disciplines, as well as working out the logistics. But here are the top 10 I think a first timer should be aware of:

1.Clearly define your goals
As with many aspects of life, the goals you set will drive the plan you need to develop and implement to get there. If you are aiming for a faster time, you’ll need to invest more in training, preparation, and equipment. For me, this was simply a personal challenge just to see if I could finish it, without injury under the cutoff time of 17 hours. This was helpful in pacing and reducing the risk of injury or a dreaded DNF (did not finish).

2. Give yourself enough prep time
I would say 12 months minimum for most people tackling their first Ironman. As well as the time to get your body in shape, you’ll need time to learn the considerable logistics involved with an Ironman. Also, as many of the Ironman events sell out quickly, you’ll likely need to register early on just to gain an entry. At the start of my 12 months I had never been on a road bike or swam a long distance, but 12 months was adequate to pick this up.

3. Commit to practice races
You should plan to complete a minimum of one Olympic Distance Triathlon, and a Half Ironman event at least 6 weeks out from the Full Ironman. These are critical not to only test out the body and the stomach but also the logistics of travel, and the transition stations.

4. Study the race course — inside out
Each course is different, and the conditions between each year can vary dramatically. Adequate homework here is critical. Watch videos and reviews of others who have finished the same race to get a feel for it. Try to drive or ride around the course the days before the event. Some of the important aspects you should research and be prepared for:

  • Swim
    - the expected water temperature — impacts what wet suit you can wear
    - mass start vs waved start — mass starts can be very rough
    - fresh water lake vs ocean swim — swells and/or salt swim vary to still lake swim
  • Bike
    - Elevation gain and profile — prep for any steep or long climb
    - Altitude and expected wind — commonly underestimated factors
    - Expected temperature and humidity — inform your hydration plan
  • Run
    - All of the same factors as the bike
    - Hayfever allergens — no-one had mentioned this to me, but when I undertook a half Ironman at Boulder — this completely wiped me out. Be prepared!
  • Transitions
    - Is it a two station or a one station race? Two station races have separate transition zones and require more logistical attention to detail. Also Transport to and from the event.

5. Learn about your body and develop a nutrition plan
It is critical build an understanding of your own body. Each person is different in terms of how many calories they can absorb with an elevated heart rate. Also the types of foods that suit your stomach may be very specific to you. The best way to learn about this is trial and error combined with an understanding of the fueling basics.

6. Talk to others who have done an Ironman
If possible train with others who have done an triathlon, or join a triathlon club. The comradery, knowledge will go a long way.

7. Invest in a decent bike
I didn’t really do this ahead of the Ironman and it was a lesson learned the hard way. You don’t need a top of range 10k+ bike, but you should have something with a stiff pedal, half decent wheels but most importantly the correct size and fitting. I would say you should be prepared to spend $1k-2k on a bike as a baseline.

8. Utilize Youtube
Youtube has ton of good easy to find videos for learning basics with technique — especially useful for swimming. But also helpful for running technique, and some biking basics. Some fantastic websites for general information and tips include www.beginnertriathlete.com and www.runnersworld.com.

9. Have a detailed race day plan
Everything mapped out. Visualize how you want the whole day to go, from waking early, getting fuel in the body, transport to and from the event, and every leg of the event. This will dramatically increase your chances of success even if everything doesn’t go according to plan.

10. Be mentally fixated on your goal
For most people, doing your first Ironman is a pretty extreme thing for the body and mind to handle. I learned from a failed Half Ironman attempt in Australia, if you don’t have your mind stubbornly fixated on your goal, all the little things that didn’t go well with your prep, or other mishaps or niggles on the day can all become potentially race ending events.

Have you recently tackled an Ironman or other endurance event? What did I miss in this blog? Let me know in the comments! And happy training.