Many people who have a vision of crossing the finish line of an Ironman Triathlon for the first time will never reach it because of misconceptions about what it really takes.
Here are the five most common stumbling blocks that can get in the way of someone with a dream of becoming an Ironman.
(1)YOU HAVE NEVER BEEN A VERY GOOD ATHLETE
Chrissie Wellington’s nickname was Muppet when she was a kid and she tripped and stumbled over everything and she never showed any outstanding talent as an athlete that shouted out Champion when she was in the formative stage of her youth. She liked sports but never really excelled at anything in particular.
Yet years later in adulthood she discovered running and then triathlon and was eventually bitten by the Ironman Triathlon bug while spectating at Ironman Switzerland one day. In her own words she stated “I had been seduced by the Ironman.”
That set the stage for her Ironman career and she went undefeated as a pro Ironman and became the Ironman Triathlon World Champion and one of the greatest female endurance athletes the world has ever seen.
Good for you Muppet!
The driving force to her success was not being born with natural athletic ability but rather her desire to succeed and unwillingness to give up at anything she did.
Until you get out there and try you really have no idea what you are truly capable of, or the natural ability that has been laying dormant inside you for so many years just waiting for a chance to be set free.
People who decide to go for it and start their own Ironman journey are often amazed at the metamorphosis that takes place when they set their life off on a new course.
Instead of wistfully wondering what it would be like to do an Ironman Triathlon, they are out there honing their swimming, biking, and running skills with their sights firmly set on crossing that finish line.
They amaze themselves as they break through barriers they thought could never be conquered and each success inspires them to continue on to even greater heights and live their dream.
There is a bit of Champion in all of us. Unfortunately that hidden ability might be something that lay dormant inside you for your entire life if you don’t take a few risks and challenge yourself to become more than you ever thought possible.
The Ironman is much more than a sport and it is not reserved for people who have been athletes all their lives.
(2) I CAN’T SWIM
It is very seldom that you will hear someone say they would never be able to do an Ironman Triathlon because they can’t imagine biking 112-miles or covering the 26.2-mile distance of the marathon. Sure, most people will have to run/walk in the marathon but at least they feel they are in control.
However there are no shortage of people who will readily admit they simply could not imagine swimming 2.4-miles in the open water.
It’s understandable and makes perfect sense because we are land-dwelling creatures and are completely out of our element in the water.
But like so many things in life, swimming is a learned skill.
Remember that very first time your parents took the training wheels off your bike? Remember the exhilaration and sense of accomplishment you felt when you balanced on two wheels and were set free from the side-walk in front of the house?
Remember the first time you got behind the steering-wheel of a car? You didn’t jump in and drive for eight hours cross-country. You sweated bullets as the car jerked and sputtered around the block for the first time at somewhere between 10-15 miles per hour with one of your parents yelling instructions in your ear.
The more you rode your bike or drove your car, the more competent and confident you became. Look at you now after all these years. You think back and wonder what the big deal was because there is nothing hard about riding a bike or driving a car because it has become second nature to you.
Well, swimming is no different.
It’s a bit scarier because we have to breathe and people new to swimming often think they are going to swallow water and choke or sink to the bottom of the pool, but once you learn the basic technique swimming will also become second nature. It can take a while depending on how hard you work at it but once you get it, you have it forever.
Then it’s just a matter of refining that new swim stroke of yours and building up your swim endurance.
Many, many people have learned at middle-age how to swim so they could take their run at the Ironman Triathlon finish line and so can you if you want it bad enough.
Lack of swimming ability should never be the one thing stopping you from beginning your journey to the Ironman finish line. You will be amazed at how quickly you can adapt and become comfortable in the water and besides, it is one of the most important life skills you might ever learn.
(3)DON’T HAVE ENOUGH TIME TO TRAIN
There are people out there who will tell you that in order to become an Ironman you will have to train 20-22 hours per week. That is simply not true, but unfortunately many people are discouraged from even getting started because they believe this very common misconception to be true.
As you start out on your Ironman journey you should really ease into it and incorporate plenty of rest into your training plan. A good starting point would be to consider taking two full days a week off from training in the early months of your Ironman training to give your body time to adapt and to prevent injuries that often occur when people new to triathlon try and do too much too soon.
If your first Ironman is ten or twelve months away there is simply no need–nor is it wise–to be hammering out long distances in training for the first five or six months. There will be plenty of time to ramp up your training distances down the road.
It would make much more sense to concentrate on proper technique in the swim and the bike. Two of the biggest keys to first Ironman success is to learn a long, smooth, and relaxed swim stroke, and how to spin properly on your bike and not push big gears that will over-tax your muscles and burn energy needlessly.
Working on these skills will help you conserve energy and on race-day that is absolutely a vital part of Ironman success.
In the early months of your training 45-60 minutes spent in the pool refining your swim-stroke will do you much more good than trying to push your way through two-mile swims with a swim stroke from Hell that will sap all your energy on Ironman day.
Working on proper spin technique on a bike wind-trainer for 60-90 minutes will do you much more good than hammering out 80-mile bike rides week after week with poor technique.
Even your longest run of the week early on in training does not have to be much more than 60-90 minutes.
Adopting the mind-set of working on technique more than distance for the majority of your training means you would be hard-pressed to train for 12 hours. Training for 18 or 20 or 22 hours a week is something best left to the pros. For the average age-grouper who simply wants to reach the Ironman finish line putting in those kinds of training hours often lead to over-training or injury and ultimately, discouragement.
When you are within three or four months of your first Ironman you will be far fitter and will have the proper technique down pat and then you can add on the distance, but even then you don’t have to go crazy.
Six-time Ironman World Champion Dave Scott once said that if a novice Ironman can do one-half of the Ironman distances in each discipline during training and still feel they could do more, they are most likely ready for the Ironman.
This is assuming that you are not going out to set records, but simply want to reach the finish line.
So if you get to the point as race-day nears that you can run two hours, or swim 1.2 miles, or bike 66-miles, and feel like you could do more, than you have a great chance of reaching the Ironman finish line.
Sure, it doesn’t hurt in those final months to do a 100-mile bike ride or three-hour run, or 2.4-mile swim just to experience what it will feel like, but it isn’t necessary to repeat these distances over and over again through-out the entire training year.
If you convince yourself that you just don’t have time to train for an Ironman because you believe it takes much more time than is really necessary you are cheating yourself out of an opportunity to do something very special.
The quality of your workouts is much more important than the quantity.
To me this quote says it all and I just have to put it here as I did in a previous article as it is right on the mark when it comes to training for an Ironman.
It is vain to do with more what can be done with less.
–William of Occam(c 1288-1348), “Occam’s Razor”
(4)IT’S TOO EXPENSIVE TO BE AN IRONMAN
There is no doubt that taking part in an Ironman has come a long way from the early days. The entry fee of $120 back in the early 1980’s is now closer to $600.
However that is not where people perceive the greatest cost to be. One look through a triathlon magazine and you will see the very best of equipment available on the market today.
If finances are not a barrier than by all means treat yourself and get the very best equipment. There is some very cool gear out there.
But the problem is that many people interested in taking on the Ironman challenge these days don’t look at today’s high-end triathlon gear as an option. They tend to look at it as a necessity.
When they add up the cost of a state-of-the-art triathlon bike, sleek wetsuit, sunglasses, cycling shoes and clothing, running shoes, swim-goggles, nutritional supplements, coaching, bike-carrier for the car, traveling expenses to the race, accommodation and many other apparent necessities the total cost can appear staggering for one shot at Ironman immortality.
In the early 1980’s people who had never done a triathlon of any type in their lives and had no clue what they were in for when they landed in Kona Airport were reaching the Hawaii Ironman finish line with the most basic equipment you can imagine.
All most of the early Ironman triathletes really had was the bare essentials. A swim-suit, bike shorts, running shorts, running shoes, a $300 piece-of-crap bike, and a million dollars worth of heart, determination, and desire.
The Ironman itself and the incredible challenge of the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run necessary to reach the finish line has always been the same. It is the very same now as it was thirty years ago. What has really changed is the perception of how to get there.
If the Ironman was being done by ordinary people on rudimentary bikes with no snap-in pedals and no aero-bars on a bike course like the Queen K. Highway with it’s fierce winds that to this day can blow the best pros off the road and if was done with little or no coaching and no triathlon training books for guidance or without any concept of what to eat or drink and without the supplement choices and training facilities like we have today, than why would you need a whole lot more than they had if finances are an issue and the one thing holding you back from becoming an Ironman?
Pick a race close to you that you can drive to. Rent a wetsuit if one is required for your race of choice. Get yourself a sound, used road bike and put aero-bars on it. Just make sure the frame is a good fit for you.
Share accommodations with a few people to cut down on race week expenses. Rent a kitchenette and make your own meals. There are many, many ways to cut down on expenses.
If you do your first Ironman with a minimal budget and decide you want to keep doing them, you can always upgrade your equipment as your Ironman career progresses, but it is a misconception that you have to spend thousands of dollars on equipment in order to become an Ironman.
(5)PEOPLE TELL ME I COULD NEVER DO IT
It’s unfortunate, but there seems to be far too many negative people in the world who are all to eager to deflate another persons dreams. Most of the time when it comes to the Ironman it’s because it’s not something they could ever imagine doing themselves, so how could you possibly do it?
Say for the sake of example you are middle-aged, you smoke, and are over-weight and one day you are totally and completely IronStruck and the Ironman has you in it’s grasp and you just know you want to give it a try and reach the Ironman Triathlon finish line one day.
So you tell some people of this dream you have and they look at you like, “are you kidding me! YOU think you can be an Ironman!”
They think it’s a big joke, because they are looking at you as you are now but to people who know better(and I’m one of them)it is far wiser, more charitable, and more uplifting if you look at what a person is capable of becoming tomorrow and not the image they portray to the world today.
That is the very essence of becoming an Ironman and what it can do for you and why it has changed the lives of so many people around the world.
Despite the state of your life circumstances when the call of the Ironman captivates you, believe in yourself above all else and never lose sight of the distant finish line and you will prevail despite all the negativity you might run into along the way.