Have you thought about tackling an Ironman or iron-distance race, but wondered if you have what it takes to reach the finish line? The better question is: Do you have what it takes to reach the starting line? While there are stories of completing a full-distance tri with no prior background in the sport and/or after only a few months of low-volume training, these stories aren’t a typical representation of what it takes to prepare for 140.6 miles of swim-bike-run. The time commitment alone is daunting, but the mental commitment necessary to endure the training is arguably the bigger challenge.
Check out our handy flowchart to help determine if you are ready to take on an Ironman, or if you might be wading into the deep end too soon without a
life jacket wetsuit.
1. Have you completed any triathlon events?
No. Not necessarily a deal-breaker! Go to #3.
Yes. Triathlon experience is the perfect start. Go to #2.
2. Have you completed a 70.3 or similar distance multisport event in the past 12-24 months?
No. Not necessarily a deal-breaker! Go to #3.
Yes. You’ve got just the right athletic background to consider taking it to the next level. Go to #5.
3. Do you have any single-sport endurance experience in the past 12-24 months, such as marathons or century bike rides?
No. Still not a deal-breaker! Go to #4.
Yes. Deep experience in a single sport is solid preparation for an ultra-endurance race like an iron-distance event. Go to #5.
4. How many months can you devote to preparing?
I’d like to complete an Ironman event within the next six months. The depth of endurance required to complete an iron-distance event is built over years, not months. Proceed to #5 with caution, and strongly consider lengthening your timeline.
I’m willing to take a year or two to build up to an Ironman. Giving yourself the proper runway to build a solid endurance base will set you up for success on race day. Go to #5.
5. Do you have the time on your calendar and the mental fortitude for an appropriately long and possibly solo swim, bike, and run each week?
Specifically, can you sit down and carve out time slots for long workouts that build to the following distances each week:
- 4000+ meter/yard swims (1-2 hours of swimming)
- 2-3 hour runs
- 5-7 hour bikes, plus runs afterwards
Due to other commitments, my schedule doesn’t consistently allow time for these workouts. The overall iron-distance race is orders of magnitude longer than sprint, Olympic-distance, and 70.3 or half-iron events, and therefore the longest training days are also going to be longer. You will have greater success if you return to this goal once your schedule opens up.
Yes, I can commit to the big days of training. Executing the weekly long workout in each discipline is one critical component to training success. Go to #6.
6. Do you have the time in your life and the tenacity to tackle the consistent challenge of 8-12 workouts (up to 15-18 hours of training) across six or seven days each week for four to six months?
I am not sure that I can and/or want to dedicate that much time and energy to training. The cumulative load of consistent training can be overwhelming—both physically and mentally. You will have greater success if you return to this goal when your desire to achieve it is strong enough to withstand the challenge of day-in-day-out training.
Yes, I am up for the challenge! Consistent weekly training is a second critical component to training success. Go to #7.
7. Are you prepared for a month or two where the time commitment of training for an Ironman or iron-distance event and the emotional investment to reach that finish line are an ever-present factor in your life?
Ummm … what? When you lay out a goal this massive, and invest so much time and energy into achieving it, the workouts as well as the details that surround completing them—not to mention the details of race day itself—can often become all-consuming. While you may not end up in this mindset, you should be honest about the possibility that it could happen—and it often does. Since it’s difficult to weigh in something so unknown, everyone can go on to #8.
8. Have you spoken with your spouse/partner/family about your goal, and are they supportive of the time investment that will be required to achieve it?
I wouldn’t exactly describe it that way. If you have not had a frank and honest conversation about this and received a positive response, your relationship will be best served by deferring this goal until everyone is on the same page. If you choose to proceed, do so with caution and know that it will be a “difficulty multiplier” that will stack on top of the training. Not being on the same page with expectations heading into iron-distance training can also have effects on your relationships that will reverberate long after you’ve crossed the finish line.
Yes, they are on board! Your support team will play a bigger role than you can imagine, but it’s important you check in with them often. It’s likely both you and them will be pushed more than you think, and once you’re in the thick of it, it’ll be harder to see outside of the “fog of war.” Without support, the road will be longer, harder, and less fulfilling. With support, a good attitude, good information and guidance (and a little luck!), you’ll have almost everything you need—go sign up!
Alison Freeman is the co-founder of NYX Endurance, a female-owned coaching group base. She is also a USAT Level II-certified and Ironman University-certified coach as well as a multiple iron-distance finisher who has qualified for U.S. age group national championships four times.