Best Ways To Train For Your First Iron Man
There is no race in the world that will test your determination and stamina more than an Ironman Triathlon. So much preparation goes into competing and for a very good reason. It is a grueling race that requires several months of physical and mental training.
The Ironman Triathlon usually consists of swimming for 2.4 miles, then a 112-mile bike ride before starting a 26.22-mile run. The very idea of even completing the race would be a major accomplishment, but to be a designated Ironman, you need to complete each section of the race within a regulated time frame.
There are dozens of Ironman Triathlons held each year on every continent of the world. The World Triathlon Corporation regulates the competition and ensures all competitors adhere to the rules.
If you’re thinking of training for your first Ironman you’ll need to do your homework first. There’s a lot to prepare. You’ll need a lot of coaching, a strict diet, and mental preparation as well.
Choose The Best Race For You
In principle, all Ironman Triathlons consist of the same races, regardless of where the competition is being held. However, some are more difficult than others depending on their location. For example, swimming in an open ocean is going to be more challenging than swimming in a lake. Similarly cycling and running on flat lands is less of a problem than negotiating hills. Play to your strengths. If you’re a strong swimmer, but not so good at running, try and find a competition where the running track is completed through flat terrain. If you’re not much of a swimmer but can cycle up hills then maybe a course where you can swim in a lake and cycle up the hills is a better choice for you. Do your research and make sure you’ll be able to compete properly. At least while you’re an Ironman novice.
Competing in Ironman is not a last minute decision you should be considering. You may see a local competition being advertised in the next few months and think you’ll be ready. Think again! Seasoned competitors train all year round but may only compete once every second year. This is to ensure they can dedicate time for their family and work life. However, if you’re planning on joining your first Ironman, you need to be realistic and give yourself at least a year or two to get into the right physical and mental shape to compete.
Say Goodbye To Your Old Life
Once you make the decision to enter your first Ironman Triathlon you can pretty much say goodbye to your old life. Training for Ironman will consume a sizable portion of your social life. If you have a full-time job then you will have even less time to spend with your family and friends. Your day will start very early with training and will most likely end with training as well. Late nights will be a thing of the past and you can forget partying every weekend. A full-time job will limit the amount of training you can get through during the week so you’ll need to commit yourself to spending most of your weekend training. There will be days when you can relax and have some fun, but be aware that you will need to dedicate most of your time and energy to training and preparation.
Set Your Ironman Goals
Everyone wants to cross the finish line first. That goes without saying and is the main reason anyone wants to compete in any competition. When it comes to your first Ironman, you need to ask yourself, what you are realistically hoping to achieve. Do you want to win the race? Perhaps finish in the top 10? Or would you just be happy to finish the course in the regulated time frame? For some people, winning is everything. For others, simply being able to complete the course within the allotted time is all the achievement they want. Before you even think of registered for the race, you will need to do a bit of soul searching to get to the heart of your reason for competing and what your desired outcome is to be.
Consider The Costs
Training and competing in Ironman competitions is not cheap. The average entry fees alone are approximately $650.00. Then you need to get good quality running shoes. You’ll be pounding the pavement for months and months so you will need to replace your shoes a number of times during your 12 – 24 months of Ironman preparation. Of course, you’ll also need a pair for competition. Then you need to start getting your gear together. On the low end, your equipment could cost you a few thousand dollars. On the high end, it could come to a mind-blowing $20 000.00. The most expensive piece of equipment you will need to invest in is your bike.
The costs don’t end with equipment either. Training costs money too. There are gym fees to cover and private coaching to consider. When it comes to the competition itself there are costs there too. If the competition is interstate or in another country you’re looking at paying for travel and accommodation costs. If you want your personal trainer or coach to come with you, you’ll need to cover his costs as well. Corporate sponsors do like to get involved in covering some or all of these costs, but most first-time Ironman competitors find it difficult to find sponsors and will need to finance their first endeavor on their own.
Get Some Basic Gear
It goes without saying that you’ll need some pretty high-quality equipment when you go to compete for your first Ironman, but you don’t want to fork out the big bucks when you first start training. You’ll need some basic gear that includes things like running backpacks, which are light and will hold your essentials. Hydration packs are a must. You’ll be running and cycling for much of your training and you can’t afford to be dehydrated. You’ll also need to challenge your muscles when you are running and you’ll find weighted vests perfect for this purpose as they will help you build and strengthen your muscles a little faster and make your training more effective. If you live in a sunny area you’ll need to invest in running sunglasses and a hat to protect your eyes. This is a must as much of your training will be outdoors.
Enlist The Help Of Coaches
If you’ve never trained or competed in an Ironman Triathlon it’s difficult to know where to start. You need to know when to train for swimming, cycling and running. Then you also need to know how much time each week you need to dedicate to each discipline. Next, you move on to cardio exercises and working out with weights. An experienced coach will be able to guide you through the training process and work out a schedule that will not interfere with your other commitments, such as work and family, but will still utilize your time effectively to ensure you get the most out of each training session.
When it comes to the competition itself, an experienced coach will also be able to offer valuable advice on choosing the best competition for your first Ironman and what to expect at each stage of the course.
Join Your Local Ironman Club
If there is an Ironman Club in your local area, sign up as soon as you can. As a member you’ll have a great support network on your side, not to mention that this may very well be your main social circuit while you are training. The main benefit of joining and Ironman club is that many of the members may already have several triathlons under their belts. Most love talking about their accomplishments so you’ll hear firsthand experience from those who have already lived through the grueling race. They’ll be full of valuable advice and will be able to tell you which courses are great and those you may want to avoid. You are also likely to meet other first time Ironman competitors so part of your training can involve group sessions. When it comes to travel and accommodation expenses, you can lower these by driving to events together and sharing hotel rooms.
Set Your Ironman Schedule
You may have your everyday training schedule under control, but have you considered where you should be at each stage of your training? If you’ve given yourself 24 months before you compete in your first Ironman, you may want to devote your first 12 months to getting yourself into the best possible physical shape you can. This would include a lot of weight training, cardio and gradually increasing your endurance in the three Ironman Triathlon disciplines.
Then you need to consider the big lead up to your first Ironman. You need to have a set plan on what you should be able to complete 12 months prior and build on that. Perhaps you may even consider training for a half-Ironman before tackling the big one. Whatever plan or schedule you make for yourself, you need to stick to it quite strictly and ensure you reach each milestone within the designated time frame.
Eat To Compete
During your initial training for your first Ironman, you will need to bypass the dessert table pretty much most of the time. Fast foods, alcohol and many other goodies will be relegated to the eat occasionally, or not at all basket. Plan on giving your diet and eating habits a complete overhaul. You’ll be eating nutritious, whole foods that will provide your body with lots of fuel and nutrients. Protein powder will become a pantry staple for you and you’ll need to stock your fridge with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. Practically every mouthful of food will be consumed with a mindful purpose. Depending on your health and fitness levels, you may be able to have the occasional cheat day, but there won’t be many of them, particularly as the date of your first Ironman approaches.
Training will take a lot of energy out of you so you will need to have a steady supply of energy bars available to keep you going. When you’re out running for several hours, these bars will be the perfect on-the-go snack for you. You will start to get bored with them after a while so try different brands and flavors so you’re not tempted to reach for sugary treats instead.
You’ll also need to increase your protein intake. That includes lots of lean meat, eggs, and dairy products. Protein is crucial to feed and repair your muscles so keep protein bars on hand and munch on them throughout your work day, or if you need to grab a quick meal or snack on the go. It’ll be easier to eat properly as you prepare for your first Ironman if you prepare all of your vegetables and fruits ahead of time. Pack your portions into plastic containers and keep them in the fridge, ready to put together with your protein source for a satisfying meal that will give you the fuel you need to train and compete.
You can forget about 2 or 3 meals a day when training for an Ironman Triathlon. You’ll most likely need three substantial meals per day and have three snacks as well. It’s hard to balance all of these additional meals with our work and family schedules so a protein shaker will become a great accessory when you need a nutritious meal in a pinch. You’ll be able to make yourself a protein shake as you’re rushing to work or your next training session.
Invest In Good Footwear
It goes without saying that good running shoes are possibly the most important piece of equipment you will need to invest in. What you may not even be thinking of is that all of your other footwear will also need to be comfortable and of a higher quality. During training and competition, your feet will become one of your greatest assets so you will need to look after them. That means not skimping on the cost of comfortable shoes, or forsaking comfort for fashion. Just think of wearing not so comfortable shoes to work all day, and then having to train for several hours in the afternoon or evening with sore feet. You’ll hamper your training and progress and you’ll have to face the discomfort again the following day.
Keep Records Of Your Ironman Journey
Training for your first Ironman is not something you can do in a few short months and you want to make sure you are progressing at a steady pace. Keep records of what you did at each training session and what you were able to achieve. Track your costs for future reference and if you need to skip a day for whatever reason, track that as well. You should also include the food you eat so that you are aware of how much you are consuming in terms of calories, but also to make sure you’re getting enough protein. You may have only been able to run a mile or two when you first started your training, but months down the road you’ve increased your distance and speed to 10 miles or more. By tracking your progress you will have a record of the results and you’ll be more motivated to keep training and improving.
Know When To Rest
Training is absolutely unavoidable for any sporting endeavor, but for your first Ironman, it is as necessary as breathing. As important as training is, you also need to rest. This obviously means getting enough sleep every night. Colds, the flu and any other bugs can also hit you when you least expect it, and you may also sustain an injury from training or an unrelated event. If you face this problem, you will need to put your training on hold for a day or two, possibly longer. You may feel like you are undoing all of the hard work you’ve put in for months on end, but a sick or injured body needs rest to repair any damage. If you don’t give your body rest when it needs it the most, your recovery time will be longer and you won’t be able to complete a full training session anyway.
You’ve put in all the hard months of training and you’ve been eating to a strict menu plan. Race day has finally arrived and you’re getting ready to go to the starting line. All that is left for you to do is to believe in your abilities and have faith in the hundreds of hours of training you have put in. For your first Ironman, don’t worry so much about winning. That would be an awesome achievement, but just pace yourself so you finish each segment of the triathlon within the allocated time frame. That will still be a monumental achievement in itself and give you plenty of bragging rights.