After completing my first Ironman in Bolton UK on July 17th, 2016, I wanted to share my personal experience on it.
It is a huge commitment
Both in regards to time and money, just to finish the race you will need to train 10-12 hours per week during the peak weeks. If you want to race competitively, then the number is going to start pushing closer to the 20 hour per week mark. Additional to this, is the time that needs to be set aside for rest and recovery.
If you cannot consistently put in 10 hours of work towards training and recovery a week, due to work and family commitments, then I would suggest not signing up for the full Ironman. Similarly, if you do not have the support of your partner, you should not consider it at this time.
Even in good shape, it is going to be at least a 6-month progress to get you to the start line. I was informed that a former swimming partner of mine made the commitment with himself to complete the Ironman after reaching 110 kg in weight. For him it was a 3 year process but on race day he made it and in doing so also got in the best shape of his life and raised over £1500 for charity. Hero!
You need support
With the exception of a bike, I would place finding a coach as the most essential investment for people attempting to complete an Ironman for the first time. I was lucky enough to be coached by Stephane of personaltrainers.asia. Personally, I was in great need of structured training to ensure I remained injury free and adequately prepared for the race – something I was not able to do alone. However, others will have different strengths and weaknesses that need to be addressed.
It is useful to speak to others with race experience. Todd Gilmore, a Kona Qualifier currently completing the Ironman coach certification was generous in meeting with me to share some race day tips which he has picked up over years of racing experience. One of my favourites was putting Vaseline in your socks and trainers to prevent blisters. My feet made it the whole day with zero issues, amazing!
Finally one week prior to the event, I was lucky enough to be shown around the bike course by a family member who had completed it several times before. The more help, advice and assistance you can get from others, particularly the ones who have completed an Ironman before, the more successful you will be on race day.
Pacing and Nutrition are key elements
Competitors who found themselves in a whole world of pain on race day had misjudged one of these two factors. In regards to pacing, take your time – it is a long day which will become even longer if once the adrenalin kicks in you try to rush it. I would suggest (using a heart monitor to ensure) having a heart rate zone limit that you do not go over for the bike and again another one for the run. More advanced athletes use power to measure their exertion, but for a beginner heart rate will work better.
Getting the nutrition right is essential, something you will need to practice in training, and if possible in smaller races. Too little and you will run out of energy and potentially hit the wall, too much and you will have stomach issues.
For me, I started 3 hours before the race with a 300 kcal of oats, raisins and cacao. I then ate 6 La Holista’s Oats Cookies in the first 2 hours of the bike, 4 La Holista’s Energy Balls for the next 2 hours, and 5 La Holista’s Protein Balls on the remainder of the bike.
For the run, I then switched to a gel every 40mins, which I kept in my hand and took small mouthfuls at a time.
Nutrition will be different from person to person and also depending on the race conditions, so practice as much as possible to get the balance right for you and avoid issues on race day.
You are an athlete, and it is essential to have this mindset to complete an Ironman. The training must be completed and it must therefore be made an important priority in your life at this time. You must look after your body, beer and junk food will have to wait, your social life will almost entirely disappear and a commitment to good sleep must be made.
In training and most importantly in the race itself, you must stay focused on the task at hand. Former professional triathlete, David Greenfield, shared his experience in regards to a psychological approach stating that ‘everything will pass’. The bad moments will end and you will start to feel better, you just have to keep moving forward and not entertain negative thoughts of quitting.
Remember you have paid for this in commitment, time and money, so smile and enjoy yourself. It will end at some point so best to try and enjoy the moments as you experience them, embracing the spectators and your supporters.
It is worth it
You can’t help but feel emotional as you head towards the finish line, see your time and picture on screen and hear the commentator shout ‘You are an Ironman’. Same as anything in life the more you put into something the more you get out and with the sacrifices and commitment one has to make to get to the finish line, the sense of pride and achievement in yourself is inevitable.
I will definitely complete an Ironman again, however will not be rushing into it! Other areas of your life do need to take a back seat or be put on hold if you want to enjoy the whole training and preparation process. Also after the extent of my training to complete an Ironman I hope to be at the point where I can ‘race’ the next one. This is will involve improvements being made in certain areas and an even greater commitment to training. For now I am very much looking forward to enjoying the summer and taking a more relaxed approach to training.
Thank you as always to Chiara for her help, support and inspiration.