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IronDreams: OMG! I Just Signed Up for an Ironman (Part 1)

posted Feb 28, 2010, 5:31 PM by Donald Vescio   [ updated Sep 12, 2011, 8:13 AM ]

So, you’ve signed up to do an Ironman. Now what? The good news is that you have twelve months to get ready for it.  The bad news is that you have twelve months to get ready for it.

 The ever growing demand to “do an Ironman” results in entries selling out faster than a U2 concert, often within a few hours of registration opening the day after the race. For some races, like IM USA, the next year’s race fills up with on-site registrations at the current year’s event.  It never even makes it to on-line registration! For those of you who haven’t registered for an ironman, spots are still available for Ironman Louisville KY as well as several European and Asia races. Community Foundation entries are still available for Ironman Lake Placid, Florida, Wisconsin, Utah, Idaho and Canada. Ironman Community Foundation entries involve an additional $550 tax deductible charitable donation for local charities in addition to the regular entry fee of $550. Go to for more information.

As a result of races selling out quickly, most Ironman registrants have to commit to the race one year ahead of time knowing that a lot can happen in twelve months: jobs change, relationships start and end, injuries happen, finances collapse.   A lot can happen that can derail your dream of finishing your first Ironman. On the bright side, now you have twelve months to put everything in place to make the dream come true.  So focus on that aspect--twelve months to be perfectly prepared so that you may join the elite club of people called “Ironmen”! 

With twelve months to go, many people figure there is plenty of time to get ready so why start now.  It has been a long season, time to kick back and take care of those chores around the house that have been neglected all summer long. “I’ll start my training after the first of the year,” these procrastinators say. Well, January comes along and then it seems way too cold for the procrastinators to do any serious training. Preparing for an Ironman seems daunting so they keep putting it off and putting it off, and before they know it, the race is twelve weeks out and they haven’t done a thing to prepare. So the procrastinators rush out and find a “12 week to becoming an Ironman” plan, ramp up the swimming, biking and running, get injured, do the race anyway, and finish by walking the “last” 22 miles of the marathon, dehydrated, exhausted and in the medical tent.  Yes, they finished, but was that really their dream race? 

Others take the opposite approach. These eager beavers get right into Ironman mode for twelve months, pounding out 15 - 20 mile runs every week, 80 – 100 mile bike rides and 6000 yard pool sessions. Unfortunately they usually end up getting injured, fired, or divorced by race day.  Yes, they may end up finishing, but again was that really the way their dream was supposed to unfold?

Whether your goal is to finish just under the seventeen hour time limit or to earn a Hawaii “IQ” spot, you should start today to make your dream a reality. Proceed in a well thought out and proven manner, but start your Ironman preparation today. Consider reading this article step one, and moving forward with the recommendations in this article as step two.

Your preparation needs to center around a plan that balances the demands of everyday life with the demands of training for an Ironman. Begin building this plan by looking at basic considerations such as:

  1. Determine how much time you have to train over the course of the year. 

  2. Identify obligations you need to work around such as business travel, vacations, and weddings.  


  3. Think about ways to minimize the impact your Ironman preparation and race will have on your job, significant other, family life, and budget.   

  4. Assess your current fitness and health status such as body composition, typical diet, and physical and medical issues, i.e. asthma, ongoing back or knee pain. 

  5. Research equipment that you may need or want, such as a new bike, race wheels, wetsuit, heart rate monitor, or power meter.

After you address the basic considerations, then you can start thinking about the actual physical training. The initial three to four months of your “twelve month” plan should be spent working on your weaknesses. Whether it’s developing a  more efficient swim stroke, generating more power on the bike or learning to run stronger out of T2, these first few months are the ideal time to go in maintenance mode on your strengths and concentrate on your weaknesses while keeping your whole training load and time fairly light.   

An easy and objective way to determine your biggest weakness is to look for trends in your past race results. Are you typically in the top 20% in the swim and bike, but only the top 50% in the run? Or maybe it’s your swim or bike segment that lags behind. Making all three segments more “even” will go a long way toward your becoming a more “efficient” triathlete which is key to successfully completing an Ironman.  A comfortable swim leaves you with plenty of energy for the bike, an efficient bike leaves you strong for the run, and a strong run means crossing the finish line with a smile instead of a frown from doing the Ironman “shuffle” for the last 15 miles.

After you have determined what areas to work on, become a “single sport” athlete. That doesn’t mean completely giving up the other events, but you want to go into your focused training sessions well rested and ready to go. Getting outside help is usually the most effective way to develop the expertise and skills needed to make improvements in your weakest sport. You can get help through coached workouts with your triathlon club or local health club, or better yet by signing up with a personal triathlon coach. The right coach can provide the technical instruction and guidance needed to help you improve your weaknesses as well as help you put together the rest of your plan for getting ready for your Ironman dream.

In the next issue of FIRM Racing, the IronDreams section will cover time management and how to find more time to train while actually improving your relationships, family life and job performance.

Marc Saucier, a USA Triathlon Level One Certified Triathlon Coach at Vescio Multisport Performance Services, has been a competitive triathlete for over twenty-five years. He has competed in eleven ironman triathlons, including three Hawaii Ironman World Championships. Marc can be reached or 978-314-7325.