The Ironman is one of life’s greatest achievements. There are few sporting accomplishments that give you the high that you get from crossing the finish line of an Ironman race. I can see why people are constantly drawn to it. The problem is that each year as Ironman gets bigger on the global scale and as more people enter the sport of Triathlon, people are rushing to sign up probably way before they should do.
In the old days (ahem … not “that” long ago), people respected the sport a little more. In year one, people did a few sprint distance races and maybe an olympic distance race. Year two was sprints and olympics with maybe a 70.3 thrown in there. Then year three was the “half + ironman” year. This gave athletes the time to develop gradually and systematically. To hone techniques, skills and endurance while building their speed at a rate that could be absorbed.
These days I am regularly hearing horror stories of “Ironman gone wrong” and all I can say is. “did you not think before you signed up?” Ironman is a huge physical and mental test. It needs great preparation in order to have your best day out there. So why are people signing up before they’ve even bought a bike? Why do people think that it’s OK for the Ironman to be their first ever Triathlon? I’m fully supportive of lofty goals and will support the underdog on any given day but sometimes folks are just setting themselves up for a hard time and even failure.
Taking a couple of years to get in to the sport allow you to also learn about yourself and under what conditions you thrive. If you learn that you don’t do well in the humidity and heat then don’t sign up for Ironman Kentucky in August! If you are starting the process carrying excessive weight then give yourself time to gradually lose it prior to signing up for the Ironman with a mountainous bike course! In general, ask yourself. “what’s the rush?”
Few people are getting paid to do this stuff, so you should be thinking about enjoying it first and foremost. If the time cut offs are a worry for you then wait a year, get stronger then go do it. It’s much more fun to cross the finish line when the crowds are still there rather than at 2am as they dismantle the course!
We all know that sometimes life is complicated and completing an Ironman with less than optimal preparation is an achievement in itself but if you can, think ahead, plan your window of opportunity, exploit it to the full then you will know that you got the most out of the experience.