The question rattling around in the back of many people’s minds, what does it take to complete an Ironman? What follows isn’t a comprehensive list of attributes and prerequisites to complete a race, but are worth considering before you take the leap and book yourself a race entry.
Medical clearance to compete
While you do not have to be a perfect picture of health and fitness to complete your race, some ongoing conditions may require careful management during your training. People suffering with conditions such as diabetes, heart angina or even cancer have successfully completed Ironman races, but if you are in any doubt about any conditions you are currently suffering with, seek professional approval before engaging in training, and consider hiring a coach to help you manage your training in an affective manner.
Triathlon, and especially Ironman isn’t a case of putting in the training beforehand, turning up on race day and flying around the course. It will hurt, you will think about giving up numerous times, it will push you to your limits and humble you. You are not entitled to an Ironman finish simply because you trained and paid your entry fee, you earn that title after pushing yourself above and beyond your limit, and for that you need willpower in spades.
I’m not going to try to tell you triathlon is a cheap sport, and there’s no getting around the fact that you need some money to finance your kit purchases. If you’re trying to get through on a budget you’re looking at £150 for a swimming wetsuit, £500 for a bike and £100 for a pair of trainers as the bare essentials. Add onto that race entry fees (up to £400 for an official IRONMAN event), travel, accommodation e.t.c. and you’re looking at the best part of £1500 to go from total beginner to Ironman finisher.
Time to train
This needn’t be excessive amounts, some people can complete an Ironman on 7 hours of training a week, but if you have just become a parent or are about to start a time consuming contract, it may be worth considering whether you have the time to put in the training you need. Ironman as a sport isn’t going anywhere in a hurry so it may be worth postponing for a year when you have more time to dedicate.
A support network
People in your life need to be behind you, from your friends to your partner and your parents to your boss, the more people who tolerate your reduced availability and habit of resembling a zombie at 3PM when the 6AM swim set catches up with you, the better. I hear stories about relationships which have been put under serious strain by a partner feeling abandoned by their other half who is training for a race, however I have also heard about many families who have been bought closer together by the experience, providing a role model for their children. You need people to pick you up when you’re down, kick you out the door when you’re lacking motivation, and to cheer you round the course on the day. Don’t underestimate the impact a strong support network will have on your race and preparations.
Experience in triathlon
I’m not saying your first race can’t be an Ironman, but I strongly recommend against it. There’s much more to the sport than simply stringing together a swim, bike ride and run, many lessons which you only learn on your first time out. If you aren’t interested in shorter events, than at least get a 70.3 under your belt before your first full distance. The more races you have under your belt before your Ironman the more relaxed you will be on the start line and the better positioned you are to earn that coveted title.
I’m not talking about the kind of motivation that comes from watching a glossy video compilation on YouTube and declaring to the world that one day you will complete an Ironman, I’m talking about the kind of motivation which comes from forking out the hard cash to enter a race, and getting up at 5AM for a run. Where training for your race is more important than a boozy night out or a visit to a fast food chain. Your race has to mean something special for you to complete it. If you’re anything but completely motivated to get out and train, you’re unlikely to finish. It’s not for the faint hearted, and it’s certainly not easy. Thousands of people complete their first Ironman every year without an athletic background, but they complete the challenge because they’re hungry for it. You can’t turn up and “smash” an Ironman, you need a real hunger burning away inside of you to consistently put in the training and cross that finish line
There are very few people out there who aren’t capable of finishing an Ironman triathlon, athletes in their 80s and amputees frequently make it across the finish line, with enough passion and hunger I have every faith you can cross the line yourself.