The 6 things any first time Ironman should know

18 September 2017 - Graham Toms

Advice to anyone who is thinking about taking on their first Ironman (from a nine time Ironman finisher).

1.      Almost anyone can do it.
There are many memorable things to see while watching an Ironman but one of the most memorable is the various shapes and sizes of the athletes. Yes, there are the skinny “racing snakes” leading the race but the vast majority of the athletes are normal people. People who have set themselves a goal and worked over months (or years) to get to the start line. These are some of the most inspirational – and humbling – people you are ever likely to see. The one thing these people have in common is a steely determination to keep moving forward.

2.      The training is tougher than the race
Completing a 3.8km swim, 180km bike and 42.2km run is by no means easy, but training to complete those distances is more difficult than the race. The race itself is over within 17 hours on a single day, but the training will take months, if not years, of dedication, sacrifice and determination. If you can do the training, you can do the race.

3.      Consistency is key
The single most crucial factor in Ironman training is consistency. Your big training sessions are not nearly as important as what you do from week to week. There’s not a lot of glamour in consistency, but there are huge rewards when it comes to the day that matters: the day when you become an Ironman.

4.      Burnout is real
Most people are busy before they take on Ironman training. Once Ironman training is added to a life which includes work, family and other commitments it can quickly become overwhelming. The real challenge here is to identify when you are close to burnout as it can be difficult to identify the signs within ourselves. Ironman training is hard but if you take on too much without making space for it in your life you are doing yourself and those around you a disservice.

5.      Prepare your mind and your body
If all your rides are done with a group and all your runs are done with headphones the shock of solitude on race day can be hard to deal with. Similarly, your long rides are partially about preparing yourself physically for the race and partially about preparing yourself mentally to sit on a bike for that long on race day. You should expect to feel like you can't go further while you are training - it's all part of the mental preparation for race day. During those moments, remember why you are doing this, think about that finish line and how it will feel to hear those words: You are an Ironman!

6.      It’s a catered training day!
Ironman is a catered training day, after all, how often do you get to go on a long ride where people hand you drinks and nutrition every 20km? Take advantage of the course nutrition, and remember you’re not eating to give yourself energy now, you’re eating for 5 hours from now when things get really tough.

BONUS TIP: There’s free energy on the course! If you take a moment to look around you on race day and see ordinary people doing extraordinary things you cannot help but feel motivated to take that extra step. It’s a tough day, but it’s worth it!

Graham is a 9 time IRONMAN finisher, including the IRONMAN World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. He is a passionate student of endurance sports and triathlon and an IRONMAN Certified Coach. He can be reached at


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