During my 26 years of training for triathlons, I have completed 19 Ironman events. My WHY/REASON for my first one was because I qualified and wanted to finish the unknown. After that, I had a strong desire to stand on the stage at the Awards Ceremony in Kona. During the training process I had my struggles and my strong WHY was what keep me on the Ironman journey for so many years.
As a coach and athlete, I have learned that everyone’s reasons for doing an Ironman vary, here are mine, and which Ironman to do depends on four key factors:
1. The time of year of the event (taking into account work and family schedules)
2. Destination/travel (if that is the primary motivator)
3. Your strengths and weaknesses (the difficulty of the run/bike courses)
4. Are you set on doing a WTC Ironman event, or will an Iron-distance race be good enough?
1. When is the event?
When choosing an Ironman, it is important to know that the bulk of your training will start during your build phase, about 12 weeks out from your race. The training leading up to this phase, generally 12-16 weeks is when you are preparing your body for this build with base volume and strength as well as some less important events to prepare you for the Ironman specific duration and intensity training details. If you pick an early springtime event such at Ironman Santa Rosa, then your high-volume training will be in March and April. While living in Colorado, and my experience in 2007, training for an April Ironman Arizona, I learned I prefer not to train much in the winter months, I dislike cold outdoor temperatures, and March is typically Colorados snowiest month. Back then I was not into indoor riding like I am now, so that was also a struggle to overcome. I also worked more hours in the springtime months, coaching a high school swim team includes frequent travel to swim meets on the weekend, a schedule that makes it more difficult for me to prepare for Ironman volume compared to the summer months. Avoiding earlier races also kept my season shorter, especially for the years where I am working toward performing well in Kona.
If you are a stay at home mother or father with kids in school, a springtime Ironman event may be perfect for you because you can train while your kids are in school. During the summer, when they are out of school, it may be more challenging for you to find the time to train.
If you pick a fall Ironman like Cozumel or Arizona, the bulk of your training will be during the months of August and September, which may be a good time to train if you have kids who have gone back to school. It may not be an ideal time if you live in a place that has variable fall weather conditions.
2. Are you picking a local race or destination you and your family want to visit?
If your goal/purpose for competing in an Ironman is to travel to an exotic location, then the time of year does not matter as much. WTC hosts Ironman events all over the world, and a complete schedule of race locations can be found at www.ironmanlive.com.
3. What is your strongest discipline?
Your strength – cycling or running – may factor into which course you choose. Hilly bike courses cater to the cyclist, such as Ironman Lake Placid, Whistler, and Mt Tremblant. If you are a strong runner, consider picking a race that has a flat bike course and hilly run course. If you are a weaker swimmer, consider choosing an Ironman with a downstream swim course like North Carolina or Chattanooga and not an ocean swim that could create extra turbulence. Likewise, a strong swimmer might want to choose a challenging swim course, if one exists for a swim swimmer.
4. Is Iron distance enough, or does it have to be Ironman Branded?
WTC owns the Ironman name and brand, and the cost to enter an Ironman event is more than $750 often having to register a year in advance. There are companies that have Iron-distance events that are less expensive and will not fill up. The HITS series, the Great Floridian, Redman to name few, and other options offer great venues, support, and experiences for spectators and race participants alike. If you are not dead-set on racing an Ironman, these events are worth looking into.
Whatever event you decide to train for I recommended you have prior triathlon racing experience (Olympic or Half Iron distance). Seek training and nutrition advice from a qualified coach, and follow a slow, steady progression. Consider t2coaching for education and an accountability partner. If you are looking for a training plan only, check out our beginner and advanced programs on training peaks. If you have never done a triathlon, and an IronDistance will be your first, check out our Couch Ironman program made easy.
Enjoy the training experience leading up to race day; and be sure to keep in mind, since this is your first one, that your primary goal should be to finish with a smile.
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