I have never experienced anything quite like crossing the finish at an Ironman. It was, by far, one of my greatest and most challenging accomplishments. It’s not the kind of thing you take lightly. Completing an Ironman is only for those of us with just enough crazy in our system that we think it sounds fun. After months of training and chatting with others that have done multiple long-distance races, I pulled together some of the best things you should know when you sign up for an Ironman.
1. Ironman is not cheap.
For me, it all started with wanting to run a 5k when I was in college. I splurged on my first pair of running shoes back then. Little did I know it would open the door to triathlon, one of the most expensive sports I could’ve chosen.
Aside from shoes, fitness apparel, bike(s), cycling equipment, all of the Garmin or Wahoo products, bike trainers, and so on, there’s that hefty little signup fee from Ironman.
I signed up for Ironman California exactly one year before the race. The sign-up fee was $749. Add the “processing fee” in there for another $69.28 and we’re at more than $818 just to get to the starting line. I also chose to purchase insurance with the idea that I wouldn’t lose every penny if I could not make it to the starting line for one reason or another. I believe that was around $190.
Now, I’ve seen registrations go up, up, and up. That also means that processing fees go up and so does the insurance rate.
It’s simply not cheap and that’s one of the top things to know when you sign up to do an Ironman. You’re at about $1000 before you add in the travel and accommodations for race weekend. And don’t forget all of the money you’ll spend throughout your training. Those Maurten gels aren’t cheap! 😉
I know there are other Ironman distance races that are more affordable, but for me, the time, money, and energy put into this race were worth the fee. I even got to hear Mike Reilly tell me “You are an Ironman!” at his last California event before his retirement.
2. Training is extremely time-consuming.
You probably think you’re totally prepared for the time commitment of training for an Ironman. Most athletes don’t sign up thinking they can wing it (although, some do. I’m talking to you, Juan). I, personally, wasn’t prepared for just how much time would be spent revolving around Ironman even when I wasn’t training.
When we first signed up, I was working out pretty casually maybe 3 times a week. About 9 months before the race we bumped up our training a little bit but it was still totally manageable.
Six months before my Ironman I hired a coach to guide me with my training plan. That bumped up my workouts to 6 times a week and usually at a minimum of 9-10 hours per week. It seemed doable still.
After my first Half Ironman just 4 months before the full Ironman, the training load really started to increase. My typical training week was 12-15 hours. I maxed out at 17 hours one week and I’ve come to learn that’s on the lower end compared to many other triathletes.
BUT! It doesn’t stop with the actual time spent training though. The time-consuming part is the workout prep, taking care of the bike (thank God for Nick), way more laundry, eating all of the time because you’re starving, and then the time you truly need to recover. It’s exhausting to train for an Ironman, so if you don’t recover well, you can’t train as hard.
3. It takes a village.
Of all the things to know when you sign up for an Ironman, this is one of my top acknowledgments. With that said, if you have a partner, spouse, family, or other people in your everyday life that rely on you, you’ll need to run the idea of signing up for an Ironman by them. It’s not easy keeping up with the training, work, recovering, normal house chores, etc. I can’t imagine adding kids on top to the mix but plenty of people do it!
The thing is that when you sign up for an Ironman, your home team is signing up with you.
They’re committing to picking up the slack with kids and chores. They’re agreeing to be understanding all of the social events you’ll be missing because you have to wake up at 5am on a Saturday to get in a 5 hour bike ride.
Your training is going to affect them. You’ll be cranky at times, you’ll constantly be looking for more food, and you’ll spend a lot of your free time melting into your sofa. You will find yourself relying heavily on your partner to pick up your slack in the areas of your life that are taking the back burner simply because there just aren’t enough hours in a day to do it all.
Shout out to the home team support crews.
Nick and I trained together so I found it to be harder at times. We were both too tired to cook. We were both avoiding the laundry. We were both sore from the previous day’s workout. Nick was taking care of two bikes instead of just his. But at the same time, it was so nice to have a partner that was in the thick of it all with me. I don’t think we could’ve done this as easily if we weren’t a couple of DINKS. (Double income, no kids) 😉
4. You’ll regret signing up multiple times.
I say this with love. Most of us triathletes aren’t looking for an easy sport. Ironman training will test you so many times, and yes, you will regret clicking “register” at some point. If you don’t, you’re probably not training hard enough.
For me, it was the heat of Florida in the middle of summer. Training through the intense temperatures and 99% humidity was brutal. I had multiple workouts that drained me so much, I had no idea how it would all come together on race day.
But the cool part is that it did come together. So, don’t let those moments of regret allow you to quit.
5. You will be impressed with what your mind starts to think is “easy” or “short”.
One hour of running was usually my “long” run prior to Ironman training. While the initial build into your training plan will be fairly slow, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your mindset shifts with your harder and longer training days.
That first 3 hour ride is hard, but eventually, 3 hours becomes the normal, “easier”, or “shorter” day. You’ll find yourself smiling at your training plan knowing that you only have to swim 3000 yards that day instead of 4500. And before you know it, you’re knocking out one hour runs the way you used to knock out your warm-up’s.
6. You will have lonely days.
Ironman training isn’t for someone that’s really uncomfortable with their own thoughts. Or maybe it is if you want to confront that side of yourself.
You get a lot of alone time in your training. Even if you’ve committed to exercising with a group a few times a week, you’re still going to be grinding out some long, hard workouts all on your own.
Nicholas and I had to do our long rides or brick exercises on Fridays. That meant almost all of our friends would be working during our most grueling days. We had each other, thank goodness, but we often ended up riding separately because our efforts are different. I knew I couldn’t draft behind him in the Ironman race so I had to force myself to get in some 100 mile rides all by myself. That’s hours and hours in the saddle, all alone.
It can get really lonely and it can also be therapeutic. It makes you appreciate the days you have training friends, and it also can force you to dig deep into your “why” when it comes to training and competing in the Ironman.
7. Your appetite is never-ending.
It’s almost impossible to feel like you’re full for more than 2 hours. So, my recommendation is to find a few staple meals that are very easy to make and can be made very quickly. There’s something about that Ironman appetite. You can go from zero to hangry way faster than usual.
Our go-to’s were easy dinners like chicken and veggie pasta that heated up well the next day for lunch. We also loved oven-baked salmon with asparagus and rice, veggie tacos, spaghetti, and of course, our post-brick meals like a cheeseburger from our local spot.
8. The training is harder than the actual race.
I think this is actually one of the best things to know when you sign up for an Ironman.
Signing up is the easy part. The race is the fun part. Training, on the other hand, is the really really really hard part (you’ve probably caught onto that by now).
9. Race day is going to be awesome.
No matter what kind of race day you’re handed, it’s going to be a day you never forget. It’s going to be emotional, entertaining, and memorable.
Nick and I had beautiful California weather in October but our particular Sunday had ridiculous winds. It sat at a sustained 20mph throughout the day and, at times, had gusts up to 35-40mph. It felt so dangerous on the bike. I wanted to cry when I looked down and saw I was going 10.5mph at one point, but when I think about it, the day as a whole was absolutely awesome.
The energy from other athletes, the excitement from spectators, and the overall adrenaline of being in the race are some things you’ll always remember. It’s a rush of feelings that makes all of the hard and long training days worth it.
BIG TWF TIP: One of my biggest tips for race day? Take your time at the finish line! I barely remember being on the Ironman red carpet, seeing friends cheering me on, or crossing the actual finish line. I was so caught up in making sure I finished under 13 hours that I completely rushed that last part. I wish I had savored it. So, don’t make my mistake. Once you hit that red carpet, your soak it all up. You’ve made it.
10. You’ll say “never again”, and then sign up for another race.
I’ve spoken to so many Ironman athletes over the last year and one thing I’ve noticed is that all of them have done multiple races. The high you get from race day is a little addicting.