Most athletes who enter ironman competitions are serious enough to understand the rigorous training needed to finish the event. A look at several past ironman races shows the “did not finish” rate between 5 and 16 percent.
But no one wants to be in that humiliating 5 percent. So here is a checklist to help you determine whether you are ready for your first ironman competition.
1. You are healthy
Ironman athletes are a determined lot, willing to go farther and train harder than their peers. Part of that training involves building up a tolerance for discomfort and pain.
But pain is also a warning sign that your body is getting weak or injured. And if you ignore pain and small injuries out of a desire to “tough it out,” you increase the risk of a serious injury, which will shut down your ironman training for weeks or longer.
If you are suffering from any consistent pain during or after training, see a doctor about it. Do not let it linger.
2. You have been training for at least six months
Completing an ironman requires serious dedication. It is recommended that before the event, you should train for at least six to eight hours per week over a six-month period. This assumes you already work out and are in good shape. If you are not, you will need those six months to get into shape, then another six months to be ready for an ironman.
Ironman discussions often revolve around equipment: the best bikes, the swimsuits, etc. But the most valuable equipment is your own two legs and heart. Get those into shape and you will be able to complete the ironman.
3. You have people who support you
Training that much for that long has its costs. Time spent working out, as well as the time you need to rest and recover, is time not spent going out or being with your friends and family.
If those people react to your sudden dedication with bemusement or scorn, it will make training for an ironman more difficult. But if your friends and family think it is a great idea, they can offer encouragement when you are feeling demoralized after a setback. They can also help shoulder responsibilities you have to miss out on due to your intense training.
You may participate in an ironman by yourself, but your training will be stronger if you know there are people behind you who support you and are willing to help you.
4. You feel good about yourself
Training for an ironman requires a positive mindset. You must assess your failures, dispassionately examining what went wrong and determining how you can do better next time.
Emotional and mental health are just as important as physical health. And though regular exercise can improve your emotional health, the intense workouts needed to prepare for an ironman can damage it if you are not careful. You may feel discouraged after a bad workout, and it’s a good bet that it will hamper your performance in the next workout, which makes you feel even more discouraged, and so on.
If you have avoided that downward spiral, and if you feel good and confident about your chances of getting through the ironman, those are great signs.
5. You have actually participated in triathlons
Running, swimming and biking are things you can train day in and day out. But jumping from workouts to an ironman is like thinking that you can transition from swimming in your neighborhood pool to swimming across the English Channel with no problems.
No matter how much you have worked out before, you need the practical experience of the triathlon first to appreciate what an ironman will be like. Furthermore, some things in a triathlon or marathon are incredibly difficult to simulate in practice. This includes managing your energy over a long stretch of exercise, and swimming properly in open water.
Participate in at least a few triathlons first before aiming for an ironman event. If you reach too fast and too hard, you increase the risk of burnout.