Your First Ironman Triathlon Swim-what to expect

Imagine yourself at the start line of your very first Ironman Triathlon.

The pros have been started on their way and there you are knee-deep in the chilly water waiting with a few thousand of your new best friends for the starting gun.

In less than five minutes you are destined to begin a journey like no other you have undertaken in your entire life.

As you think back to when you were first “Ironstruck” and just knew you had to be here a flood of memories come cascading into your thoughts as you begin to question your sanity.


Not at anytime in your life did you every imagine yourself standing in what is perhaps one of the most energy-charged and fittest spots in the world at this moment in time.

As you glance nervously around you at the seemingly endless parade of super-slim, chiseled athletes you hope the few extra pounds that no amount of training could ever seem to shed are pressed in by your sleek, tight-fitting, state-of-the art wetsuit.

ironman swimmers at the start

Entering the Twiight Zome

After all, it wasn’t that long ago when your life revolved around raising a family, working on your career, and fighting off the relentless spare-tire that comes with a sedentary lifestyle when you lose focus on things like fitness and sound diet.

Despite all odds you learned how to swim and how to change the rear tire of your very cool road-bike.

You have learned the ins-and-outs of proper nutrition and hydration and dozens of other skills that at one time seemed so far beyond you.

Despite all you have accomplished, you begin to doubt yourself and as your heart-rate begins to sky-rocket you question whether you really belong here with all these others.

Of course you do…….

Since the inception of the Ironman Triathlon it was never decreed that only the super-athletes of the world would be given the opportunity to discover what amazing accomplishments they are capable of.

The challenge has always been out there for those who had the courage, self-belief, and yes, even the audacity to think they could reach that distant Ironman Triathlon finish line and in so doing become a member of one of the most remarkable families in the world.

The family of Ironman.

You may think it’s a huge family, but on a world population level there are only a miniscule amount of people who will ever reach the start line of an Ironman Triathlon.


As the final count-down begins you start to panic. You don’t really have a swim plan in place because you have no idea what to expect because it’s your first Ironman!

How could you possibly know what is about to happen?

Sure you thought of following the course markers, or starting near the middle, or perhaps swimming on the inside of the markers, but when the gun sounded your plans went all to Hell.

When your head went under the water you were suddenly in the Twilight Zone. It was nothing at all like the countless pool laps you did back home or the serene open-water Community Lake swims where you did much of your open water swim training.

Swimmers to the left, swimmers to the right. You can only go straight ahead.

It was a cold new world and despite being surrounded by a few thousand others you have never felt so alone in your life.

You feel the cold water trickle inside your wetsuit and down your back. The long, smooth stroke you worked on religiously is a distant memory as your arm comes down on someone’s back and you feel a relentless tugging and pulling and hitting on every part of your body coming at you from every direction.

You swallow water and panic for a moment because there is no escape. There is no turning back and you can’t go left or right and your only choice is to push aside your fear and persevere despite all that is happening around you.

In the first 5 minutes of the Ironman swim you are already beginning to realize that you possess an inner-strength and courage that takes you by surprise.

You are experiencing first-hand the power the Ironman Triathlon has to bring the very best out of seemingly ordinary people.


It seems like an eternity, but after just a few hundred meters you begin to find some space.

You find your rhythm and although it might be interrupted by a seemingly endless parade of collisions and close encounters you are beginning to relax and the initial apprehension and fear of those first few terrifying moments begin to subside.

For the first time you actually begin to pop your head up and look for the first turn marker. It seems so far away but you put your head down and keep on battling.

It seems to take forever but suddenly it’s there right in front of you and you head right for it……along with about 500 other excited swimmers and once again you find yourself in a watery mosh pit.

markers for ironman swim course

Keeping track of the swim markers

You fight your way through the first turn and take solace in the fact that you just have one more turn to make.

On and on you swim in your own little world, concentrating on putting one arm in the water after the other. Suddenly you find yourself free of all other swimmers and you think it’s pretty cool when suddenly a paddle pokes you in the ribs.

“Hey!” the volunteer in the kayak yells out, “you’re way off course!”

Sure enough, you look up and everyone else is about 100 meters to your right.

I think it’s safe to say that those who are new to open water swimming and perhaps learned to swim as a necessary evil actually swim about 3-miles and not 2.4 miles in their first Ironman Triathlon attempt.


You feel the first surge of real excitement when you make the last turn and are heading for home.

It’s as if a great current is lifting and pushing you and for the first time you see the mass of spectators waiting for you to arrive.

They seem so far away at first, but with each stroke they get closer and closer and you get more and more excited as you begin to make out individuals and then for the first time you hear it……..

The moment you realize you conquered your greatest Ironman fear.

The race announcer is calling out the swimmers names as they finish their swim!

Now you are really pumped and adrenaline floods your system and arms that ached just a moment ago feel light and strong as each stroke propels you closer and closer to shore.

You watch with a certain wonder as the once invisible bottom gets easier and easier to see and then it happens. Your hand hits the sand and you realize you can stand up.

You are overcome with relief and elation when you finally rise out of the water and stagger the last few steps onto solid ground.

It is a moment you will never forget. You have looked into the eye of the tiger and you stared it down. You harnessed all your fears and doubts and have accomplished something truly remarkable.

As the race announcer calls out your name and you look eagerly ahead for the wet-suit strippers, you suddenly realize with profound clarity that you have just taken a huge first step on your journey toward the Ironman Triathlon finish line.

***I have written several books that will go a long way toward helping you achieve your triathlon/ironman goals.

My books have helped many people who are new to triathlon or taking on their first Ironman Triathlon. “Ironstruck…the Ironman Triathlon journey” is the flagship and includes an Ironman swim strategy and several other first Ironman pointers that really work.

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

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