People often wonder what it takes to train for an Ironman. We get a lot of inquires about coaching for Ironman and the number one question that most people ask is - Do you think I can do it? For most people, they are inquiring about the physical aspect of the training, and the answer to that is yes - given the desire to train, we are all physically capable of getting to the finish line of an Ironman given enough time to develop enough durability. Yet, as someone who had raced a few and has been coaching athletes to Ironman for years, getting to the start of an Ironman is not just about the workouts - in fact it’s arguable that is the easiest part of the process.
To be fair you cannot totally brush aside the physical needs to complete the race which consists of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and a 26.2 run which all need to be completed in 17 hours (although there are some courses where the cutoff is 16 for an official time). Obviously training to complete this at any level, takes many hours in the pool, and on the road, but what most people fail to consider are the less obvious things needed for the journey.
Before you consider signing up for an Ironman, here are some of the things that might be less apparent, but need to be thoroughly addressed if you want to get to the starting line since any solid training plan is going to get you to the finish line.
The most important consideration is time. You need time to train - most of your time will be spent training. In the weeks leading up to an Ironman you should expect that there are going to be some very long days in the pool, on the bike and running. Most of your weekends (if you have a normal 9-5 job) will be consumed with a long bike and long run. What you need to consider as well is the toll that it can take on your body to be out on your bike all day and then snap right into your “regular” life - such as being a parent or a partner. I have found that if there is a will there is a way - so as long as you are willing to make sacrifices then you can make just about anything happen - you just need to plan ahead and know that you will be spending a lot of time training. You will also need to consider the amount of time that you will need for things like laundry, meal prep, and the most important thing of all - RECOVERY. This is an essential part of training for an Ironman or Half Ironman, and needs to also be provided for - sleep is the best way to recover, so sacrificing your sleep in an effort to get in a workout can happen once in a while, but it will catch up with your training and leave you in a hole too deep to dig out of.
Purpose is also right up there in terms of things you should be thinking about before you sign up - because the journey to Ironman takes so much time and sacrifice. Athletes who have a strong purpose are far more likely to wake up each day and embrace the challenge of getting their workouts completed day in and day out. The tricky part is that you will have to arrive at your purpose on your own - this is not something that you can be told by your coach or another - this has to be something that you have thought long and hard about and that will make you hungry to be consistent in your training. It will also be an important reminder when doubt, fear or exhaustion set in - you can always go back to your why and ground yourself in your desire to accomplish your goal.
Finally, I would say that you need to make sure that you have a strong support system. The best way to assure that is to be very upfront and clear with those who are close to you - you will need from time to time to make tough choices about getting to bed early, or missing an event. These things can take a toll on those whom you love, so allowing your “people” to be part of the journey and being very clear with when you will be working out is essential. You also must not lose sight on the fact that you can and should take time to take care of your family - find ways to involve them, from family recovery runs and bikes, to making sure that you thank them for the sacrifices that they have made in order for you to get to the starting line. In my experience as a coach, the things that lead to the most domestic conflict are when the partner feels like they are not a valued part of the journey - sure they may not be able to join you on your rides and runs, but there are plenty of creative ways to have them participate - maybe you would prefer to ride your bike outside, but it might make more sense to use your bike on a trainer so you can cut out wasted travel time and also use your warm-up at a time to carry on a conversation or catch-up.
Ironman is not easy - it’s why so many are drawn to the challenge. The thing that an athlete must remember when they are in the thick of training is the process needs to be the focus - not the finish line. The journey to the starting line is where you will learn your most valuable lessons, reach your highest highs and your lowest lows and in the end make crossing that line so much sweeter - so when the days are long and tiring, ground yourself with the knowledge that the grind is where we grow.