At the time I hit “submit” on the race registration website and threw $710 on my credit card, I thought I had done my due diligence of research on Ironman training. I looked at various training plans, read a few books and spoke with several Ironman finishers.
In retrospect, despite my research, I actually knew very little to nothing about what I had just signed up for.
All of the various factors like knowing the sheer volume of training and giving up my entire social life didn’t sound all that bad in theory. But until the body actually experiences what 100 miles on a bicycle feels like, or your spirit experiences what it’s like to say no to pretty much every social outing, it’s hard to grasp the consequences of training for an Ironman.
1. Get used to 5 a.m.
Getting used to the 5 a.m. hour is simply inevitable when training for these three different sports. There’s just not enough time in the evening after work to fit in a two-hour bike ride on top of an hour+ swim. And while there’s no doubt that the body gets used to the early-morning hours, by no means does it get easier on the body. After months of getting up before the sun during both the work week and weekends, there isn’t a morning that goes by when I don’t want to hit the snooze button. But the difference between Ironman training and anything else is that you don’t really have that option (that is, if you want to cross the finish line).
2. Don’t get complacent with the race course.
Since the early spring, I spent several weekend rides along the race course–learning every turn, conquering every hill. But with only less than two months until race day, the course dramatically changed. Due to construction along the course, the race director swapped out two tough but manageable hills for one brutal climb (known as the “Barlow Hill” that makes my legs shake just thinking about it). It sure would have been nice to have had the opportunity to be able to train on the hill for the bulk of training.
3. Finding the energy to cook will be challenging.
Every ounce of energy gets put toward training. Even cooking a simple meal like pasta takes too much energy when you’re completely exhausted. But nutrition is key in training. It’s key to meal plan, always have ingredients readily available for a protein-packed smoothie and other quick nutritious meals. Another option is to seek out services like Blue Apron, which delivers pre-measured groceries and ingredients for meal prep. These types of services not only save time at the grocery store but don’t require any time looking for creative, healthy and delicious recipes.
4. Emotions will run high.
I’m not sure if it’s the lack of sleep or the constant exhaustion, but emotions will run very high once training really picks up. Just remind yourself to keep those emotions in check and be kind to others.
5. Sign-up for a few races before the big day.
Fortunately, lots of Ironman finishers told me to do this ahead of me. And I’m so grateful that they did. Getting used to crowded swim starts and getting all the kinks out before race day is a must prior to race day. The trick here is not spending tons of dollars on race registration fees just to get some experience. That’s why I limited myself to only local races. And in a town that hosts the Ironman, that was fairly easy to do. For folks that don’t live in a place that frequently holds aquathons, triathlons and/or open water swims, try to seek out smaller races that may not offer the nicest swag but gives you experience racing. For starters, a score of YMCA chapters host triathlons throughout the country.
6. “Vacations” will look very different.
Vacations look much different when training for an Ironman. Instead of searching for the top tourist attractions, you’ll find yourself scouring the internet for swimming pools, bike paths and running trails. When possible, opt for a road trip where you can bring your bike along. It also doesn’t hurt to pick a destination that’s known for its outdoor activities.
(80 miles is much easier to conquer with friends and ice cream)
7. Find training buddies.
This is a deal breaker. I literally have no idea how I would have trained for this without others to hold me accountable, keep me company on those long and sometimes miserable rides and to commiserate with. The other perk to having training buddies is once the race is over, you’ll also have people to party with.
8. Be prepared to give up your social life.
It really doesn’t matter if you get your first workout out of the way in the morning. There’s still no time for happy hour. More often than not, you’re going to have to squeeze another workout during some other time that day. Social occasions are reserved for rest days and after you’ve completed the race.
9. Endurance is much more important than speed.
Despite months of training, I never got faster. But that’s not what this sport is about. For us non-elites, endurance should be the priority when training for an Ironman. There were many swims, rides and runs where I felt defeated seeing no improvement in my speed. But when I took a step back and realized I was going the same speed on the bike at 20 miles (when I first started) as I was going at 100 miles (at peak training), I was quite pleased. Embrace the fact that the Ironman race is all about going long–not fast.
10. Just do it.
Tried but true. Even without having the satisfaction of crossing that finish line yet, I’d still hit “submit” on that race registration page. Yes, this training has tested my limits, to say the least. Yes, there were plenty of mornings I had to drag myself out of the house huffing and puffing, dreading the workout ahead. Yes, there were weeks–okay, months, if I’m really being honest with myself–when I wanted nothing to do with Ironman training.
But completing an Ironman has been a goal of mine for years. And if there was ever a time to conquer 140.6–in my late twenties, residing in the town that hosts an Ironman and no kids to look after–this was the time to just do it.