Ten most common Ironman Triathlon mistakes

The ten most common Ironman Triathlon mistakes no matter what part of the world the race is taking place in.

No matter what Ironman race is happening someplace in the world there is a very good chance that the same mistakes are being made over and over again.

Whether a triathlete is taking a run at their very first Ironman finish line or has reached it a few times, it seems that the same ten most common Ironman Triathlon mistakes are being made race after race.

Often it is not the triathlete who is to blame.

The Ironman Triathlon is a complex event and in a search for answers it is very easy to be inundated with misinformation that can cause the same problems to occur over and over again. There is a lot advice to be found on the sport these days and much of it does more harm than good.

The Ironman does not have to be over-whelming. It has to be understood and once you figure out the basic fundamentals the whole Ironman experience changes for the better.

Sometimes like I did in my early Ironman years, a triathlete will keep doing the same thing over and over again and getting the very same results.

How often does someone have to end up in the marathon death march before they finally realize that something is not quite right?

Some people never do. They begin to believe the incredible pain and suffering comes with the package and one day they leave the sport without ever realizing what they were truly capable of.

Insanity is often described as Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

It’s a good definition for wayward Ironman preparation when I think back to all the thousands of laps I swam with the wrong technique and with the wrong goals in mind.

And when I think back to the hours and hours of biking through all kinds of weather that were basically empty miles that never focused on technique, so I never improved.

When I think back to the days when rest was an after-thought and got in the way of getting ready for the next Ironman down the road.

Train, eat, sleep, work. The constant mantra year after year and day after day with little thought to total rest and recovery time for a body that was being pushed to the limit.

So with 2013 upon us and a new year ahead and and the sport of Triathlon reaching new heights with many people taking part in their first Ironman Triathlon ever, you might just have a better shot of achieving your goal if you try and avoid these ten most common Ironman Triathlon mistakes.


Almost without fail, the first time Ironman will go into the race over-trained. The hardest thing to learn about your training, is when to rest. For many triathletes new to the Ironman distance this could well be at the top of ten most common Ironman Triathlon mistakes.

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 Ironman 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 often are fearful of slowing down as they wrongly believe they might lose the endurance they worked so hard for. This line of reasoning almost always results in going into the race tired as they start their taper far too late to do any good.

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 ironman mistake:

If you begin a workout and just know its going to be a struggle–you just have no energy–stop the work-out and go home. Your body is trying to send you a message and ignoring it is not a wise decision.

You obviously need more rest and it’s not a mistake 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.

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 common mistake next to over-training.

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

Learn the difference between complex and simple carbohydrates and how they effect your body. Learn why superior fat products like coconut oil and virgin olive oil are great choices. Poor diet makes the list of the ten most common Ironman Triathlon mistakes.


It’s so easy to get caught up in the hype on Ironman week. Too much time is spent in restaurants eating food you don’t normally eat. Do the smart thing and book yourself a room with a kitchenette and prepare the same foods that got you through all your training.

Ironman week is not a good time to make radical changes of any type that will throw your body out of sync.

Far too many athletes will also do the swim course several times or hammer out long bike rides or pound through ten mile runs in the blazing heat. Why would you want to do that? Most likely you already trained all year? Pounding out more distance in the last few days will do more harm than good.

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.


Either athletes will drink too much or not enough leading up to the race. You should start hydrating several days before the race. Wednesday before a Sunday race is about right.

The rule of thumb is, when urine is clear and copious, you are properly hydrated. This is where you want to be on Saturday if the race is Sunday. Too much drinking will flush too many nutrients out of your system and could lead to hyponatremia.

More is not better.

Avoid drinking 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 key is to have the optimum balance of hydration when the gun goes off to start the swim and then to maintain it over the course of the day.

Taking in fluids at regular intervals(by setting you watch to beep every 25-30 minutes once on the bike)will remind you to replace the fluid you just used in the previous 30 minutes.

In a perfect world, if you did it right you would be just as well hydrated when you cross he finish line as you were when the start gun sounded.

In the real world many Ironman finishers require two, three, four, or even more units of I.V. replacement fluid in the medical tent in order to achieve this.

It is simply the result of poor hydration planning and can be easily avoided.


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.

The day before the race is not the best time to be wandering around the expo under the beating sun. Do that when it’s cooler or perhaps earlier in the week.


It’s an Ironman tradition to have mass swim starts and I can’t see that changing anytime in the near future(Unless you are doing a Challenge Race). Most races have upwards of 2000 starters in a congested swim area.

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, there will be hundreds of others waiting as well. Go in with a workable strategy. Avoid the crush.

Making these common mistake can have a huge impact on your race-day. If you over-stress yourself in the swim you will no doubt pay for it on the bike course and the marathon. An improperly planned swim is directly related to the Ironman marathon death march.

I have an excellent swim strategy in my book “Ironstruck…The Ironman Triathlon Journey.

Visit my ironstruck book store and find the perfect book for the new or experienced triathlete doing their very first try a tri triathlon or the Ironman.

Also, visit Total Immersion. Terry Laughlin has devised the best swim technique in the world for relaxed, efficient open water swimming. He is even offering Ironstruck visitors a 10% discount. Just follow the instructions on the Total Immersion image on the right side of this page.


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.

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

Many times you will see triathletes get on their bikes and struggle to get it moving. For some reason they left their bike in a big gear before the race started.

This leads to a lack of control in the chaotic swim to bike transition and often leads to accidents. Leave your bike in the easiest gear you have and you will find that you have way more control. I like to call it the “leaving transition gear.


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.

Also, remember to set your watch beeper to go off every 30 minutes or so. As I mentioned, this will remind you to hydrate and eat at steady intervals.

Set it up before the race and just press the button to activate it once you have given yourself some time to adjust to the bike.

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.

If you feel strong it is wiser to use that strength near the end of the bike and not the beginning. Going out to fast on the bike is one of the ten most common Ironman Triathlon mistakes.


Don’t just go out and wing it.

Have a well-conceived run plan.

Train months ahead for how you will approach the marathon on race-day.

In the big scheme of things there are very few people who can go into their first Ironman and run the whole thing from start to finish. Many, many triathletes will never be able to accomplish this no matter how many Ironman races they enter.

So train for the eventuality.

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

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

Keep repeating the run/walk sequence for the majority of the training session. If you feel great in the last half hour then take it home with a steady run.

In effect, what you’re doing is practicing walking the aid stations and running in between as much as possible.

If you feel relatively strong when you first head out on the marathon course then try and put in as much uninterrupted running as you can comfortably handle. Don’t feel discouraged when you seem to run out of energy after putting in some steady distance.

This is the reason why I suggest doing that long three-hour training run and beginning it with 40-45 minutes of running before you begin to run/walk. It will prepare you mentally for what will most likely happen on race day.

It’s quite natural to feel like you are running out of gas and this is the time to begin the run/walk sequence and if you plan ahead for this it will not have any negative psychological impact on race-day.

Often you will regain quite a lot of strength and energy if you use this Ironman Marathon strategy and in that case the last half of the marathon would be the best time to pick up the pace.

Perhaps run through two aid stations before taking a walking break. Some people even discover that they have a second wind and can run the final miles to the finish line without stopping.

There is nothing quite like passing dozens and dozens(and perhaps hundreds)of people in the last ten miles of the marathon as you motor along using a carefully planned run strategy that you implemented to perfection.

Ideally, this is how you want your marathon to unfold and it is very doable.

Not only will it involve far less pain, chances are you will have your best possible finish time.


As the marathon progresses 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. It isn’t there. The Ironman hurts.

That is the nature of the beast.

Don’t let it get the best of you.

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.

Pretty much all the ten most common Ironman Triathlon mistakes listed on this page are not that difficult to overcome. You just have to take a step back and look at the big picture.

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.

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.

Everything you 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.

Once you understand and manage the ten most common Ironman Triathlon mistakes your experience will be that much more enjoyable and successful and for the rest of your life you will never forget the thrill and overwhelming sense of accomplishment of crossing the Ironman finish line knowing you ran your best possible race.

I just found this review of my first book Ironstruck the Ironman Triathlon Journey on Amazon U.K. and if I never sell another book this review makes it all worth it.

This review is from: IRONSTRUCK … The Ironman Triathlon Journey

I love this book. I’ve had it (and a few other Ironman books) for a few months and only picked it up to read in the last couple of weeks. Wow, what a fabulous book. Ray really gets into the soul of Ironman racing and it’s an absolute must for anybody embarking on their first ironman journey and equally for those contemplating the long training journey, whether it’s this year, next year or at some point in their life. It’s inspirational and I found myself reading through misty eyes as I could relate to the pain and joy of each step of the journey. The “Do’s and Don’ts” are excellent, the helpful insight to the swim and the inspiring “Ironman Bubble” will give any ironman novice that extra bit of confidence to realise their dream. It’s my first ironman this year; I’ll be racing in Switzerland in July – this book will accompany me everywhere over the next few weeks and will be my bible right up until Race Morning. A wonderful book. An absolute MUST BUY for the novice and seasoned Ironman athlete everywhere.

Hopefully this article on the Ten most common Ironman Triathlon mistakes will help you reach the Ironman finish line.

You can visit my ironstruck book store for more information on the books I have written.



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