Ironman Triathlon Beginner Mistakes

Ten of the most common mistakes made by the first time Ironman.

These same errors are made time after time in every Ironman race in the world.

These days there’s lots of advice floating around out there and it can get confusing at times. After over 25 years on the Ironman scene, I’ve seen some of the same Ironman mistakes made over and over again by first time Ironman triathletes.

Here are the top ten mistakes that I feel you should really try and avoid. Just possibly it will give you a better shot at achieving your ultimate triathlon goal of crossing the finish line.


Almost without fail, the first time Ironman will go into the race over-trained. The hardest thing to learn about your training is knowing when to rest.

Its really difficult to convince some athletes that rest is an essential component of their Ironman preparation. Some will insist on training no matter how tired they are or how sore they are and that’s pretty much the most common mistakes of all.

Over-training is the most common mistake of all

They will completely forget to factor in the physical and mental effort they expend at work every day. Worse yet, as the big day approaches, they will start their taper far too late.

They continue to pound out the mileage for fear they’ll lose the conditioning they worked so hard to achieve. Don’t let this way of thinking be the mistake that hurts your Ironman chances.

Here are a few tips that will help you avoid this this happening to you:

If you begin a workout, and just know its going to be a struggle and you just have no energy, stop the work-out and go home.

You obviously need more rest and it’s not a all wrong to take an unscheduled day off from training. When it gets really bad, take an entire week-end and do “nothing” associated with Ironman training.

Go away for a few days without your swimsuit or bike and give your body time to rejuvenate itself.

You won’t lose a thing and will resume your training rested and refreshed. As far as tapering, your longest workout day should be “4 weeks” before race day. Begin your taper there.


Its almost sad to see the effort some people put into their ironman training only to stall their strength and endurance growth with an improper diet. This is most likely the most common Ironman mistake next to over-training.

Avoid the junk food, eat a proper balance of complex carbohydrates, proteins, and fat. Enhance a proper diet with vitamin supplements.

This is for after the race

Too much time is spent in restaurants eating food you don’t normally eat.

If you have spent most of the training year sticking to a diet that really works for you it is counter-productive to change your diet just days before the race, but every single Ironman many people eat all their meals in restaurants.

It might be okay if you know exactly what’s in the food but ultimately the best eating plan is to book yourself a full kitchenette and cook all the same food that has gotten you to the race.

I know from experience how devastating a diet mistake can be. One year I spent months training and a lot of money to get to Ironman Hawaii and ate something different than I was used to and developed food poisoning 2 days before the race.

I was still sick race morning and was pulled out of the swim and my day was over.

It was a completely unavoidable mistake. Don’t let it happen to you.


It’s so easy to get caught up in the hype on Ironman week.

Far too many athletes will do the swim course several times or hammer out long bike rides or pound through ten mile runs in the blazing heat.

Avoid the heat of the day

None of this helps you. You must stay relaxed and get lots of rest that final week. Before you arrive at the venue, make sure you have a plan set out for the entire week, right up to race morning.

I can almost guarantee you will see people biking and running everywhere in the heat of the day in that final week at the race venue.

So because they are doing it, you might think it’s the right thing to do. It’s important to take into consideration that around 50% or so of the entrants in any Ironman Triathlon are there for the first time just like you.

So they don’t know any better than you and it’s important that you think for yourself and plan your own race-week strategy.


Either athletes will drink too much or not enough leading up to the race. You should start hydrating several days before the race.

A good starting point is the Wednesday before a Sunday Ironman.

Hydrate over several days

The rule of thumb is, when urine is clear and copious, you are properly hydrated. You will probably reach that point late Friday or perhaps Saturday. Once there the goal is to maintain that state of hydration until the race start.

It’s important not to over-drink once you become properly hydrated as more is not better despite what some people think.

Too much drinking will flush too many nutrients out of your system and could lead to hyponatremia. I repeat, drinking more is not better.

“Don’t” drink too much on race morning. You don’t want fluid sloshing around in your stomach during the swim. In the early years of the Ironman athletes never drank enough, now there are many who make the mistake of drinking too much.


The day before the race is crucial! You shouldn’t be doing much of anything. Rest is the order of the day. Do your best to stay out of the sun.

Eat your final large meal early in the day if possible.(I never ate after 4 p.m. on that last day). This gives your digestive system time to work.

Do what you must do. For instance–bike check-in, pre-race meeting and then go back to your room and relax. It’s a common ironman mistake to get all tired out trying to burn off nervous energy in the days leading up to the race.

If you would like to visit the race Expo then it’s best to go early in the morning when they first open as often it can get hot later in the day and it is counter-productive to be over-heated and sweating after spending several days getting properly hydrated for the race in the morning.


It’s an Ironman tradition to have mass swim starts and I can’t see that changing anytime in the near future. Most races have upwards of 2000 starters in a congested swim area. In Ironman Canada you can expect closer to 3000 swimmers hitting the water at the same time

If you are super-fast swimmer(under 60 minutes)than you may be fast enough to get out in front of the pack, but that will not be 99.9% of you.

Have a swim strategy in place

To convince yourself that the best strategy is to follow the course markers is a recipe for disaster.

To decide to wait a minute or so, and then follow the markers is still a disaster.

When you look around, their will be hundreds of others waiting as well. Go in with a workable strategy. Avoid the crush.

This ironman mistake can have a huge impact on your race-day. I have an excellent swim strategy that might just save your Ironman swim.


The last place you should be running, is in the transition area. If this is your first Ironman there is absolutely nothing to be gained by it especially if your goal is to finish the race any way you can.

Running through the transitions will drive your heart rate up and will not give your body time to re-adjust from the swim.

Keep calm in the transition area

It will cause you to make mistakes. Take your time. In the chaos that surrounds you, keep in your own relaxed space.

Again you will find yourself in a situation where everyone around you is running to get there transition bag, to get changed, and to get on their bike.

Whenever your heart-rate is accelerated you are needlessly burning energy that you will desperately wish you had back once you reach the marathon course.

The people that go running by you in the transition area are the same ones who will be part of the death march on the run course.


Relax!! Don’t eat or drink for twenty minutes or so. Let your body adjust to the new demands you’re placing on it.

Then begin to fuel up for the bike ahead and keep nutrition and fluid on an even keel for the entire bike ride.

Use the watch timer on your watch during the ironman bike

It can really help is you set the timer on your watch to beep every 20-25 minutes through-out the bike course as it will remind you to drink on a consistent basis.

It’s extremely important to drink in controlled amounts during the course of the bike and run.

Spin at a nice relaxed pace for the first 40 km or so and then pick it up a little to the pace you feel you can maintain for the bulk of the ride.

The people that are blowing by you at 50k an hour are the same ones you will pass without even trying as they struggle late in the bike.


Don’t just go out and wing it. Have a well-conceived run plan. Train months ahead for how you plan to handle the marathon. Its likely that not even 1% of first-time Ironmen will run the entire marathon.

So train for this.

Do long run-walks in training. In other words, try a three hour training run like this.

Look into power-walking

Run for the first 30-45 minutes and then begin walking for two minutes and running for 12-15 minutes and a steady workable pace.

Learn a little bit about “power-walking” technique. It may really help you on race day if you are walking on the marathon course but still want to make good time. With good power-walking form you will actually move faster than most runners on the Ironman marathon course.

Keep repeating this for the entire run. In effect, what you’re doing, is practicing walking the aid stations and running in between as much as possible.

When you leave the bike-run transition try and get in as much mileage as you can before you begin walking. This is also important to get your muscles loosened up after hours on the bike course.


As the marathon progress and your energy and endurance are being challenged to the max, the normal reaction is to try eating a bit of everything available at the aid stations.

This is another disaster in the making. The last thing you need is cookies, fruit, coke, etc., etc. trashing your stomach. If you trained all year with gels and a certain type of replacement drink, then that’s what you should stick with.

Don’t make the common mistake of searching everywhere for a miracle cure. Is isn’t there. The Ironman hurts. That is the nature of the beast. Don’t let it get the best of you.

Aid stations are a busy place

Fight through it with an eating and drinking plan that you’ve thought out long before race day and you will have a far better chance of success.

When you read through this page of the most common first Ironman mistakes you will realize that none of them are really that hard to avoid.

You just have to take a step back and look at the big picture. Every single thing you do in those final days leading up to the race and race day itself will determine how your Ironman journey unfolds.

So many people put so much energy into their training yet ignore the obvious. They don’t take into account how important it is for their body to be in sync through-out the entire Ironman day out on the course.

Planning your diet, hydration strategy, rest days, and pacing yourself on the big day are all just as important as pounding out mile after mile on the bike and swimming hundreds and hundreds of laps in the pool for months on end. Actually, in many cases, it’s more important.

It’s almost as if people forget that they are taking on one of the most difficult endurance races in the world and everything they do has to be carefully planned out and orchestrated so all the pieces fall into place on race day.

The Ironman has a way of finding a weakness. It has a way of weeding out the pretenders from the contenders, so be sure and cover all the bases and be prepared for every aspect of Ironman day. Your experience will be that much more enjoyable and successful.

I will talk you through your first Ironman in my books “Ironstruck…The Ironman Triathlon Journey” and “Ironstruck? 500 Ironman Triathlon Questions and Answers” that can be found by visiting the Ironstruck book store

We at Ironstruck would be more than happy and honored to help you along in your journey. If you ever have any triathlon questions or concerns feel free to us the “contact us” feature on our site and we will help if we can.

Best of luck in your Ironman journey.

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