Planning your first Ironman Triathlon

There are a couple of options these days when it comes to planning your first Ironman Triathlon.

Everyone is unique and in a different place mentally, emotionally, and physically when they are first Ironstruck and are drawn toward the Ironman Triathlon finish line by some strange, unrelenting force.

It doesn’t happen to everyone who is exposed to their first Ironman as a volunteer, a spectator, or by media like television, magazines, or newspapers.

Yet every single time an Ironman Triathlon takes place somewhere in the world there will be people who witness it in some form or other who are so moved by it that they just know they want to be part of it and one day cross the Ironman finish line themselves.

tips on planning your first Ironman triathlon

you could be in this picture

It can happen to anybody, but I think it happens to certain select people for a reason. I really believe that many people feel they are somehow incomplete.

Despite all of their successes over the years there is a nagging feeling that something intangible is missing from their lives–that there is much they have yet to learn about themselves and the Ironman is such an inspiring event that it propels them into action.

It instantly challenges them like nothing else ever had in their lives and it’s almost like a switch is turned on.

The call of the Ironman is something that can happen to anyone and it’s remarkable how quickly it takes hold.

It happened to Chrissie Wellington who ultimately turned out to be one of the greatest female endurance athletes the world has ever seen as she went undefeated in Ironman races up until the day she stopped competing.

She was a spectator at Ironman Switzerland one year and in her own words… I had been seduced by the Ironman.

She was in fact Ironstruck and from that very first moment just knew she wanted to cross the Ironman finish line and the rest as they say, is history.

So once you have the Ironman finish line firmly in your sights, how do you go about getting there?

Do you ease into it and work your way up to the Ironman distance or just go for it?


So is it possible to just fix your sights on the Ironman finish line and make the Ironman your very first triathlon?

Of course it is.

In the formative years of Ironman Hawaii it was either stay home or go to Kona. In the early 1980’s it was the only Ironman so there really was little choice. A long distance triathlon was just forming in this small B.C. city called Penticton in 1983, but it was not an official Ironman event and few people even knew about it.

You couldn’t Google Ironman Triathlon races because there were no personal computers and there was no internet, so basically you had to stumble onto the Ironman in Kona or hear about it word-of-mouth.

I just happened to turn on the T.V. one Saturday in 1982 and there was Ironman Hawaii right in front of me on ABC Wide World of Sports. I had never heard of a triathlon but was transfixed watching these remarkable people crossing the finish line and just knew I had to go there.

And I did. In 1984 I crossed that very same finish line with the ABC camera lights shining down on me.

I could not swim but in 1983 I learned and my first open-water swim was in Kona in 1984, and I had never biked more than about 60km in my life up until that day.

So, is it possible to go straight into an Ironman Triathlon? Yes, because the day of that race there were about 1100 entries and many were attempting their first triathlon ever.


Things have certainly changed in the last 35 years or so and now there are many triathlons of varying distances in most large cities around the world.

For those who want to take their time and perhaps take a few years to work their way up to the Ironman distance, there are many options available to them.

Race distances begin at a Try-a-Tri that involves a very short swim in a pool, a short bike, and a short run. It is basically an introduction to triathlon and is a great option for those who do not have an athletic background and need the time to work on their skills in all three events.

From there the next step is usually a Sprint Triathlon that is normally a 750m-swim, 20k-bike, and 5k-run.

The Olympic Distance is the next step in the progression and features a 1.5k-swim, a 40k-bike, and a 10k-run. Sometimes the swim in a Sprint is in the open water, but could be in a pool, but almost always the Olympic Distance Triathlon is where new triathletes tackle their first open-water swim.

It should be noted that in many races there is the option of running as part of a relay team. Just find two friends and decide who is going to do what event. A relay is an excellent way to learn what triathlon is all about without taking on all three disciplines.

It works well for people who are still working on their swim but are quite capable of biking or running the necessary distance.

The really long distance begins in the Ironman 70.3 that in itself is very challenging and an exceptional accomplishment in it’s own right.

Basically you do half the full Ironman distance with a 1.9k-swim followed by a 90k-bike, and a 21k half-marathon.

tips about planning your first Ironman triathlon

Someday, somewhere, there is an Ironman Triathlon finish line waiting for you.

From there it is the full Ironman that includes a 3.8k-swim, 180k-bike, and 42k-marathon.

No matter how you get there or how many years or races it takes you to cross the Ironman finish line it is worth it a thousand times over.

There is one thing that should really be stressed.

One of the dangers of doing a shorter race than an Ironman and having a crappy day where it seems so incredibly hard is that it can play on your mind.

Many people think for instance If I struggle with half the Ironman distance, how on earth will I ever do the full Ironman? I don’t have what it takes.

Nothing could be further from the truth because you are comparing apples and oranges.

There is no race in the world quite like an Ironman Triathlon. No matter how your shorter races turn out in your journey to the Ironman finish line, the power, spirit, and mystic of the Ironman and all it encompasses will lift you to the finish line.

There is nothing in the world quite like Ironman day and it is there where you discover what you are truly capable of.

And you will be amazed.

This entry was posted in Inspiration by Ray. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ray

Ray hasn’t stopped since his first Ironman in Kona, 1984. He has since run 14 more Ironman races, authored 5 Triathlon books, and is now bringing together a passionate community of triathletes. Contact Ray at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *