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When you hear “Ironman”, you’re probably thinking of the Marvel superhero. And you may be up to something… This is because completing the Ironman Triathlon requires tremendous strength and extraordinary willpower. This article will help you prepare for the Ironman Triathlon if you think that you have what it takes.
Ironman Triathlon 101
In the sporting world, there are some extremely popular sporting events. I’m sure you’ve heard about the Boston Marathon. The Boston Marathon is one of the world’s oldest running events that started in 1897. In the world of cycling, there’s the Tour de France. If you want to see the best swimmers in the world, all you have to do is watch the Olympics. If you want to see all these sports performed by just one person, watch a triathlon.
Those who join triathlons must showcase their strength, endurance, and stamina. This is because common triathlons include a swim of 0.93 miles, a cycle of 24.8 miles and a run of 6.2 miles. If you find a common triathlon amazing, you’ll find the Ironman Triathlon even more amazing.
The Ironman Triathlon is the most famous triathlon in the world. Participants must swim for 2.4 miles, ride a bike for 112 miles and run a 26.2-mile long marathon.
Those who feel that they are not yet ready to compete in the Ironman Triathlon can try the Half Ironman. A Half Ironman covers a shorter distance. The swim covers 1.2 miles followed by a 56-mile bike ride and a run of 13 miles. This is a great event to test one’s capabilities and gauge if they’re ready for the Ironman Triathlon.
How it all got started
The first ever Ironman Triathlon was held in Oahu Hawaii in 1978. It is now being held in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii and is called the Ironman World Championship. Every year, 1900 participants join this ultra-endurance event.
Triathlons usually follow a particular pattern. It starts with a swimming part followed by biking and then running. There are some triathlons though that implemented several changes in order to accommodate participants of different ages and levels of fitness.
We now have aquathons that combine running and swimming. A duathlon, on the other hand, has a run/bike/run sequence of events. Some triathlons were created to suit cold-weather sports like mountain biking and cross-country skiing.
Also, there are other races that cover the same distance as an Ironman Triathlon. Examples are the Challenge Family Series’ Challenge Roth and the Norseman Triathlon. Although they cover the same distance and uses the same format, these races are not produced, owned, or licensed by the World Triathlon Corporation.
If you’re really keen on joining an Ironman Triathlon, there are some things that you should know. These are things that can help you determine if you can handle the grueling tasks that you will have to take on should if you join this race.
The first thing that you need to do is to evaluate your capabilities. Since this race has three parts, you need to make sure that you are capable of completing all three stages. Unlike marathons that just require a participant to run long distances, you also need to swim and ride a bike in this race.
This means that if you cannot swim or ride a bike, you might be biting off more than you can chew. Just being able to ride a bike or swim will not cut it.
You need to make sure that you can do them in the most extreme conditions. The race conditions will depend on the location where it is being held. You won’t be riding on a smooth surface, there are parts where you will need to ride through rough terrains.
On top of that, you need to be an excellent swimmer. Some races will require participants to swim across the open seas or through lakes. Swimming in an indoor pool is something, swimming in a deep body of water with waves is a completely different challenge that you need to prepare for.
Which race should I join?
As I mentioned earlier, there are different races with different lengths. The decision on which one to join will depend on your own physical condition. You need to have the stamina required to complete a race. If you’ve never joined a marathon before, I strongly suggest that you join one as preparation.
This is a good way of gauging if you can join an Ironman Triathlon. You can even start out with a Half Ironman so you can determine if you can complete an entire Ironman Triathlon. By the way, this is a pretty common practice amongst runners who want to take on a tougher challenge. Think of it as taking baby steps before walking on your own.
Since these triathlons require the participants to be physically fit, getting yourself evaluated against typical benchmarks is a great idea.
Besides that, going to a doctor for an evaluation is a great idea as well. Your doctor can tell you if you have the physical strength required for such a race. This is also a great way of avoiding strenuous activities that might aggravate any existing physical condition that you have.
Aside from a physically fit body, these kinds of endurance races also require a sound state of mind. Participants need to mentally prepare themselves if they want to complete a triathlon.
It may sound like a cliché but joining an Ironman Triathlon is also a mental battle. When your body wants to throw in the towel and give up, willpower will make it count and give the power to get you to that finish line.
You also need to prepare for the sacrifices that you need to make in joining a triathlon of this size and effort. Participants allot months in preparing for these races.
There will be family gatherings you need to miss or social events you need to skip just so you can fully prepare yourself. This is why it is also important to get your family or friends on board to support you along the way.
How to train for an Ironman Triathlon
Let me be pretty obvious here and tell you that Ironman Triathlon is just like any other triathlon in a sense of it being a multi-sport. You need to train not just in running but in swimming and bike riding as well.
Even if you are already a good swimmer, there still are some things that you need to do in order to prepare for a triathlon. Most of us learn to swim and practice swimming in a swimming pool.
Triathlons, however, require participants to swim in an open body of water. This can be challenging for some. When you swim in a lake or the open sea, you have to worry about waves or water current.
Another difference is the swimming attire. Most of us wear swimsuits or swimming trunks when we’re going for laps in a pool. In a triathlon, participants often have to wear wetsuits. A wetsuit can protect triathletes against the cold weather. However, wetsuits also affect a person’s buoyancy.
If you’ve never worn a wetsuit before, it makes you float. This can affect your swimming technique. I’d recommend swimming in an indoor pool while wearing a wetsuit. You may look funny to others but it can help you prepare for the swim part of the triathlon.
Another difference is the number of people who will be swimming with you. We’re used to swimming in proper pools with just one person per lane. This is not the case with a triathlon. In a triathlon, you will be swimming with hundreds of other participants.
You also need to find a suitable swimming technique that you can use. This means finding a technique that can let you swim fast without getting too tired. Swimming is one of the most physically tiring activities and it is important to still have more than enough energy to use in the other stages once you’re done with the swimming part.
The Cycling section of an Ironman Triathlon is pretty far from your average morning bike commute. The most important piece of advice I can give is to master the terrain you will be riding on. Look up the part of the race where you will be biking.
If the terrain is hilly or mountainous, you need to train in similar terrain. If the place is windy, you need to ride in a windy terrain as well since the presence of wind will definitely affect your riding style.
Ride for at least an hour each day so you can properly prepare yourself. I suggest that you time each ride and try to beat your time the previous day. Remember that you are in a race and not in a leisurely ride.
It is also important that you learn fast in a crowded environment since you will be riding alongside other participants. This means that you need to learn how to maneuver along with other riders while you ride.
Running is probably the most challenging part of the Ironman Triathlon. Probably because you already swam and cycled and your energy reserves are almost depleted.
Running daily on a treadmill can help boost your resistance. You can start with a short distance and you should gradually adjust that distance to match the distance that you need to run during the actual event. Once you are sure that you can complete the distance required in the triathlon, try running the same length straight off a bike.
Because that is exactly what will happen during race day. You will be running immediately after the cycling stage. Make sure that you can complete your run just as fast or even faster.
Find a coach
Most would think that spending money on a coach is just a waste of money. This is not true. A good coach can help you properly prepare for your first Ironman Triathlon. Preparing for this race entails discipline and sticking to a rigid training regimen. A good coach can help make sure that you follow your training schedule.
Coaches know how to prepare for competitions and can help formulate a training plan that will equip you with the needed skills to succeed. You can look for a coach in your area so you can train under his supervision without having to travel. However, make sure that the coach you will get has the right credentials for the job.
A coach who has experience with a marathon is not the same as a coach who has experience in training for an Ironman Triathlon. If you’re spending money for a coach, you might as well spend it on a coach who really knows what he is doing.
What gear do I need for this event?
The gear that you will use can spell the difference between failure and success in your first Ironman Triathlon. No matter how well-trained you are or how physically fit you are, you’re reducing your chances of successful completion if you are not properly equipped. Below is a list of all the gear that you will need when you compete in the Ironman Triathlon.
These are the gear that people often forget about. Most people focus on the actual race but forgets that what happens before the race also affects the outcome.
Bring some training clothes that you can use for your final workouts. Most competitors bring clothes for the actual triathlon but not for their final workouts. Using fresh clothes for the competition can help boost your confidence. You should also bring your favorite pre-race snack so you can get an extra dose of energy during the actual competition.
This can help you avoid eating whatever is sold in the race venue which might not be suitable to your taste. A pre-race snack that is not really to your liking can affect your mood during the actual competition. Eating food that you’re not familiar with might even affect your digestive system and affect your performance.
Other essentials include:
➡Heart-rate monitor strap
Before you pack your swimming gear, do a bit of research. Try to check for the weather condition in the area where you will be swimming. You should pay close attention to the temperature of the water.
Your swimming gear should be suitable for the temperature of the water that you’ll be swimming on. Pack several goggles with different tints as well. This way, you are prepared even if you’re swimming in sunny or overcast conditions.
Other swimming essentials include:
➡Tri shorts and top
➡Old pair of sandals or socks
The most important piece of equipment for this part is obviously your bike. Make sure that your bike is in great working condition. You can even have it professionally tuned-up at your local bike shop if needed. Also, it is important to make sure that your tires have the optimum pressure prior to the race.
The helmet that you will use will depend on where the Ironman is being held. For hot temperatures, use a well-ventilated helmet. They are less aerodynamic but they can help you avoid overheating during the race.
If you are racing in a cool location, don’t forget to bring your arm warmers and toe covers. They can help keep you warm and comfortable during the race.
Other biking essentials include:
➡Seat bag and tool kit
The last part of the race is also the one that requires the least amount of gear. Make sure that you are wearing the most comfortable yet sturdy running shoes that you own. A visor or sunglasses will also come handy especially if you’re running during a sunny day.
Other running essentials include:
Avoiding Rookie Mistakes
No matter what sport you are trying for the first time, you’re bound to make a few mistakes. Unfortunately, these little mistakes can make or break your entry in the Ironman Triathlon. Even I committed some mistakes when I joined my first Ironman Triathlon. Fortunately, most of the time, these mistakes are completely avoidable.
Do not overdo it
The most common mistake that I see in first-time Ironman competitors is they over-train. Since this is a grueling race, rookies try to do everything in their power to train for it. However, as the saying goes, everything should be done in moderation.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t train hard. What I am saying is that you should train base on your capabilities and what your body can handle. This is another reason why having a professional coach is important.
A coach can tell you if you’re overdoing your training. You should also learn how to listen to your body. If you feel that the training regimen is too much for you, dial it back a little and then gradually increase it. Your training will go to waste if you end up injuring yourself.
Not preparing your gear
Another common mistake is preparing the body but not the equipment. No matter how good you are, your performance will get affected if you don’t have the proper equipment during the competition.
Make a checklist of the gear
It is essential to make sure that you have all the gear you need. It might be obvious, but you really need to make sure that you have covered all the things you will need before, during, and after the competition. This is an easy way of ensuring that you have everything you need during the race.
Not taking advantage of the Aid Stations
There are Aid Stations strategically located throughout the course. Take advantage of them. There is ice, cold sponges, and hydrating drinks in these stations. These are important especially when you’re competing in a place that is extremely hot like in Hawaii. The items in Aid Stations are free so why not take advantage of them.
Running as fast as you can
Although you are in a race, you need to pace yourself, especially during the last leg. I’ve seen a lot of participants get into a running start only to fail in the end. Remember that that you’re running a great distance. You cannot sustain the initial burst of speed until the last mile.
Start running fast but at a pace that you know you can sustain until the end of the race. This is a great way of preventing yourself from burning out before you reach the finish line.
They say that nutrition is the fourth discipline of triathlon. And when I say nutrition, I’m not just referring to the food that you consume during the day of the race.
Your diet during training also has a great impact on how you perform. You will not reach your maximum potential if you do not combine your training regimen with a balanced diet.
Remember that the Ironman Triathlon is a test of endurance. How long you can endure will depend on how fit your body is and this is something that your diet will dictate.
You can consult a dietician who can provide you a meal plan that will suit your body type and what it is that you want to achieve. Once you have a meal plan, you need to stick to it during the entire training phase.
This includes weekends. No matter how tempting it is, you should never let yourself be tempted to have a cheat day. Even just a single day or going off your diet can put your entire preparation in jeopardy.
Below is a sample of meal plan for an entire day. Remember that this is just a sample to give you an idea of a balanced and nutritious meal plan. Your final meal plan should be formulated by a dietitian so that your physical condition can be factored in.
Sweet potato hash
Dice 1 cup of sweet potatoes. Sauté it with a ½ cup each of diced carrots, mushrooms, and broccoli. Season it with salt and pepper. Scramble it with 4 eggs and toss with freshly diced green onion.
1 turkey burger on a whole-wheat bun
5 ounces grilled sirloin
1 cup baked sweet potato
What to expect on the race day?
As mentioned above, an Ironman Triathlon is composed of 3 events, swimming, cycling, and running. Each stage is timed separately. You should receive 3 different times, one for each stage. The swim time and the cycle time includes the time used in transitions.
An Ironman Triathlon has 2 transitions, T1 and T2. Transitions are the time that you will spend changing to your gear for the next stage. This means that T1 is when you change from your swim gear to your cycling gear. T1 is also where you can get your bicycle. T2 is where you change from your cycling gear to your running gear.
Transitions should also be included in your training. You should practice changing from one gear to another in the fastest way possible. There are also rules that you should observe during transitions. Breaking any of these rules can result in disqualification.
Example, during the transition from swimming to cycling, you should have your helmet on before you ride your bike. The helmet should remain until the transition from cycling to running. Removing your helmet while cycling can also lead to disqualification.
There are other rules governing transitions and you can read all about them on the athlete’s manual provided by organizers.
Triathlon terms you should know about
Athena: Race category for women over 165 lbs.
Bodymark: This is a temporary tattoo or black marker indicating your race number and age. The race number is placed on the arm while the age is on the calf.
Brick: Back to back disciplines practiced without an interruption. Like swimming followed by biking.
Clydesdale: Race category for men who weigh over 220 lbs.
Drafting: Riding behind another racer during the bike course. This is allowed only in draft-legal races
Racking your bike: Mounting your bike on provided racks. These racks are located in the transition area.
Speed laces: Elastic laces that you can use on your running shoes. They can save you time because you don’t need to tie them.
Swim Waves: Different groups of competitors starting at the same time. This ensures that athletes are properly spaced during the swim. Athletes can be sorted in swim waves depending on gender, age, or speed.
Timing Chip: A chip attached to an ankle strap. This chip tracks your time.
TT bike/Tri bike: These are bikes made specifically for triathlons. They have flat handlebars and are equipped with aero bars.
The Ironman Triathlon is one of the most demanding feats on earth. If you want to complete it, you will need to devote your time and energy to prepare for it. You need to make sure that you are physically and mentally prepared to face the challenges that the Ironman Triathlon will throw at you.
There will be sacrifices. However, once you complete it, all the sacrifices and the body aches will be worth it.