Recently a co-worker who is interested in attempting an Ironman triathlon as a long-term goal asked me some "getting started" questions. This is an edited version of that email exchange; I thought it might be interesting to post it.
My personal journey to an Ironman finish was like this:
- 1999-2001 – decided that a 200 pound, out of shape Dad wasn’t what I wanted to be, started changing diet, adding exercise, etc, got to a more in-shape 185 in short order
- 2001 - start cycling (bought my 1st road bike in August)
- 2002 - really started cycling – Chilly Hilly, hill training, nearly 2000 miles of riding, 180 mile 3 day event (Courage Classic)
- 2003 - start triathlons, learn to swim (more than my 3rd grade lessons at the Y), learn to run, my first Olympic distance triathlon (King's Trail in Maui) with Team-in-Training, several sprint distance triathlons, the RSVP ride.
- 2004 - run training, various cycling events like Flying Wheels, my first marathon (San Diego Rock-n-Roll Marathon) with Team-in-Training in San Diego, sprint distance triathlons such as Seafair and Kirkland's Triathlon at Carillon Point), and a one-day Seattle-to-Portland ride
- 2005 - run training, marathon #2 (Seafair Marathon) , 5ks, Ironman training with MarkAllenOnline
- 2006 - Ironman Arizona, 5ks, marathon #3 (Seafair Marathon), 2 day STP, marathon #4 (Portland Marathon)
- 2007 (planned) - Ironman Arizona, Portland Marathon
Q: For the first 30% of your training, what was your focus? (e.g. focus on one discipline, work on all three, build endurance, cardio, etc)
I started out cycling. Most people seem to come to triathlon from either cycling or running. It’s all about endurance at the end of the day, but you have to be skilled in all three events. You’ll find out what you need to focus on.
Q: What would you consider the top 3 considerations when training for a triathlon? (e.g. breathing, heart-rate, good gear, a program, etc)
A approach that works for you and your life is the most important thing. Gear is important, but you can get serviceable stuff and don’t need to go overboard.
Personally, I'm a heart rate training nut. I wear a heart rate monitor and use religiously to train. For long distance runs, I keep my heart rate between 125 and 137. For speed training, I keep it in the 160-180 range. Mark Allen is a multiple Ironman winner and he's written a good article on heart rate training http://www.duathlon.com/articles/1460. I used his online coaching and planning for my Ironman training.
Q: How much time per week do you spend training?
Varies wildly – 2 hours minimum at slack times, but 20 hours a week during the peak of my Ironman training. As I trained for the Portland Marathon, I started with running about 3-4 hours a week, peaking at about 8 hours.
Q: Would you recommend getting a triathlon trainer or formal training program? Or are these overrated & easily matched with personal effort?
You need a plan right now, you can do that informally. You’ll need a formal training program for an Ironman. You gotta respect the distance!
As for personal trainer or self-trained or online training, you'll determine your needs over time. Are you a self-directed person, and have the time to figure out your own plan? You do you need to have someone set out all the details, and then make sure you actually show up for training events? Some of both?
Q: Which discipline was most challenging for you and why? How did you overcome that challenge?
Swimming. I’m just not good. Overcome with disciplined time in the pool and training (swim classes at the Pro Club).
Total Immersion refers to training as "practicing" akin to music lessons. You shouldn't just repeat the same mistakes over and over, you need to work on each individual aspect of swimming (stroke, breathing, body position, etc) and strive to get it right. That mental attitude helped me improve.
Q: What can I expect to spend in gear (approx.)?
- Running gear – shoes $80 every 6 months, clothes $100 or so, winter training adds $100 more in gear
- Swimming gear - $50 in trunks and goggles.
- Bike – how much money do you have? Seriously – you need to spend $2000 on a road bike & gear that will really take you to an Ironman. Or spend $1000 to get started, and expect to replace it later. My first road bike was about $800 (plus $250 for gear like shoes and pedals), my current road bike cost $2750. Plus you have to have the clothes for various weather conditions – about $200.
- Event entry fees range from $15 for a 5K to $30- $75 for a marathon or triathlon to $200 - $400 for Iron distance events. Ironman events (Ironman is a registered trademark of the World Triathlon Corporation, no one else can call their Iron distance events an Ironman) are fabulously supported, an incredible event, and cost $400 (maybe more) to register. And they sell out months in advance. Ironman Canada sold out in one day, 1500 participants, and you had to register in person in BC to do it. I understand all 2007 Ironman events are sold out now.
My Ironman training cost a small fortune. I spent $450 on a Total Immersion swim workshop, $400 to register for the event, $300 on new equipment (aerobars, race tires) for my bike, $250 to have my bike transported down to Arizona, $500 for a new Blue Seventy wetsuit (my old one was too small), plus probably $200 in training books, etc. A fortune in Gu and Gatorade, too. That's more than $1800 before I even got to the event, plus another $2500 for airfare & hotel for my family for the several days we all stayed in Temp. You can definitely do it for less.
For IMAZ 2007, I’ve already registered ($400) plus paid for bike transport ($220) plus bought a CompuTrainer ($900 on eBay) to improve my bike times.
Q: What else should I know about?
In triathlon, the general rule is that everyone is at least good at two things (sometimes super strong in one) and weaker in the 3rd. Swimming is the most common weakness / least common strength. Cycling is the inverse. Since the majority of time in an Ironman spent cycling, that’s where most people invest their efforts to gain the time advantage. My goal for my second Ironman (IMAZ in April 2007) is to slightly improve my swim time, somewhat improve my run, and significantly improve my bike time by increasing my average speed.
You will be injured, but you should try to avoid it. Suffering is a part of training, but for some people it seems to become a mark of courage (“I can endure more pain than anyone.”) It’s a dark underside of triathlon. I recommend not falling into that mindset.
There is absolutely nothing like the feeling of finishing a long distance endurance event. The training, the dedication, the discipline, then the actual event. It gives you a different perspective on your life.