Will an Ironman live race longer than other athletes?

This is a statement someone made one day when a few of us were discussing the Ironman and how it will impact a persons life as far as health and longevity.

Is it true? Will an Ironman live race longer than most other athletes? This has been a topic of conversation many times over the past decade or so as the anniversary of the first Ironman edges toward the 35 year mark.

How could this question really be answered without the passing of the years and the aging of the very first triathletes who ever answered the gun at an Ironman swim start?

Ironman live race longer

Will an Ironman live longer?

The problem is that people are taking up the sport in middle age and have not been triathletes for most of their adult lives, but yet are still swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112, and running 26.2 well into their 60’s and even 70’s.

I think people who begin their Ironman career late and end it somewhere in their 60’s might be better off than someone who began their career in the 1980’s and are still in the Ironman game almost 3 decades later.

You would think there would be a point of diminishing returns on how well the body holds on not just Ironman race day, but all the training days necessary to get there year after year.

Who would ever have thought fifty years ago that one day an 80-year-old nun from the U.S. would ever be taking on something like the Ironman challenge that involved such huge distances in three events?

This is especially true when you consider that back in the 1950’s and 1960’s the marathon was the marquee endurance race in the world.

Ironman live race longer - Sister Madonna Buder triathlete

Sister Madonna entered Ironman Canada at 80 years old

Who would ever have thought that the oldest finisher in Ironman Canada 2010–a spry 75+ something Japanese triathlete–would ever have a 1:24 swim in an Ironman and then bike 112 miles, run 26.2 and finish in a very respectable time of under 16 hours? Yet this has all come to pass and now perhaps the question does an ironman live race longer has been answered.

It’s not a given anymore to enter the male 70-74 age category and expect a cake-walk into the Hawaii Ironman World Championships in Kona.

Most likely there will be 6 or 7 or perhaps more other very fit 70+-year-old’s who will beg to differ and put up a very stiff challenge. Maybe it’s true, that Ironmen live race longer than most athletes.


People used to tell me this all the time. They said I did way too many Ironman races and I was just asking for trouble in my old age.

In some respects they were absolutely right. Only many of my personal physical “burn-out” problems that I still deal with were of my own doing and could have been easily avoided.

I was doing Ironman long before we really realized how important rest was to the equation and pushed myself way too hard.

I actually started having much better results when I rested more, but perhaps it was too late to prevent the long-term physical damage that had been done from intensive training day after day with little regard for rest in those early days.

That’s one of the reasons that you will read over and over again on my website and in my books that “rest” is one of the most important parts of the equation when it comes to endurance training of any type.

There is a better chance that an Ironman live and race longer if they buy into the concept of resting on a regular basis.

The best teacher in any world classroom is experience and that’s what I do my best to pass on to others regardless if it was mistakes I made of something I did right.

A little humility goes a long way and to sugar-coat things and try and make others believe you did everything right does really not help others.


If ever there was a reason why a triathlete will live longer and race longer than a dedicated marathoner it would be the cross-training factor.

The constant unrelenting pounding from running sends shock-waves up your spine and can effect many areas of your body besides your knees.

Over-training can lead to neck and back injuries and I am a shining example of that. Back in the day I was running 100 mile week after 100 mile week and payed the price.

Neck and back problems, both knees scoped, heel injury, calf injury and the list goes on and on.

The main injury I had from training for 14 Ironman races was when my chain flew off when I was standing up on the pedals and bearing down. I landed on my head and shoulder and broke my collar-bone and smashed the crap out of my helmet.( a helmet that the doctor said saved my life by the way)

When I became a triathlete I ran less and my body did not suffer from as much high impact because I was also swimming and biking.

So for this reason alone, I believe an Ironman can continue a triathlon career longer than a marathoner who is doing monster mileage. It seems to me the body would break down much sooner from the constant running. It seems to make sense that an Ironman live race longer because they are actually cross-training.


As simplistic as this may sound it is the one huge advantage that triathlon has over strictly running.

When I was a dedicated runner and marathoner through and through before I ever heard of triathlon, it was devastating to have any sort of injury or nagging pain that got in the way of my running.

Ironman live race longer  -the legs of a marathoner

Hard core runners seem to be injured more than triathletes.

As a result I would often just run through the pain so I could get my running fix.

When I took up triathlon I quickly figured out that it was not such a big deal to miss a few days or even a week of running as long as I could swim 2000 meters or go on a 90k bike ride. There’s no doubt ironman race live longer if they know when to back off the training.


I would never have believed it possible, but within a few years of adding swimming and biking to my training and decreasing my running mileage, I began to have astounding results in my running races.

For instance a personal best marathon time of 2:54 in the marathon in my mid-forties that beat my PR set when I was under 30 years old.

Astounding to me because I was running about 35-40 miles a week instead of 80-100 miles per week.

So will an Ironman live race longer than a marathoner? It’s a really difficult question to answer.

When it comes to sports, running is by far my first love and what I love to do more than anything else. I also have a passion for the Ironman and all this great event has done for me since it won me over some 26 years ago in Kona.

In truth, I believe that no matter if you are an Ironman or a marathoner and dedicated runner, the way you approach your sport of choice will go a long way to determining your longevity.

I believe it’s imperative to give your body time to recover when you are physically challenging it day after day.

You can do an Ironman or run a marathon when you are 80 years old or perhaps even older if you factor rest and recovery into your training on a regular basis.

However, regardless if you run or do triathlons, there is a point of diminishing returns when you train too hard and more is most certainly not always better.

Your body will simply break down no matter what age you are and you will pay the price. The best way to ensure that an ironman live race longer is to never forget how important rest is to the training equation.



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