As a triathlon coach, I often get asked about training for a full distance triathlon, most often an IRONMAN®-branded event. For those who are unfamiliar with the full distance triathlon, it is a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and a 26.2 run (marathon), all to be completed in one day under 17 hours.
There is a lot that goes into training for an IRONMAN® triathlon, the least of which is the training. On average, my athletes will train anywhere from 10 to 20 hours per week. That’s right—up to 20 hours depending on their goals. Chew on that for a second. 20 hours per week. That’s a part-time job. A part-time job that is physical and exhausting. A job that not only doesn’t pay you, but expects you to give everything.
While the training is a big part and can sometimes be daunting, there are a lot more aspects to preparing for an IRONMAN® that people don’t talk about.
The Truth about Training for an IRONMAN
Those aspects have nothing to do with training itself but still affect the outcome—dirty little secrets, if you will. Speaking of dirty, no one tells you about the laundry. If you have been in the sport of triathlon, you know that laundry is one of the downsides of being involved in multisport. But no one talks about the volume of laundry, the exponential increase that comes when you take on a full distance triathlon. I mean, when you are training 8-10 different sessions per week, you must keep the Tide pods on constant delivery from Amazon.
Then there is the fueling. You cannot eat enough when training for a full distance triathlon. It’s like we revert to 15-year-old boys or Gremlins. The food consumption is staggering. You are always hungry, and nutritional needs go out the window when you are craving Doritos and Chick-fil-A. But that’s after the training. During the training, you’ve got to have all your fuel, gels, hydration mixes, salt tabs, gummies, waffles, and payday bars (ok, that last one, maybe just me). The cost associated with fueling the training can sometimes equate to a monthly budget for a family of four. And let us not forget the planning of the fueling. Writing out a fueling strategy takes thought. It also takes preparation. You don’t wake up 15 minutes before a ride and throw together some bottles and a few gels. You labor over every hour of your training, you do the math, you write it out, you plan contingencies. Then you mix your bottles the night before, you lay out the gels and make sure you have enough, you plan your route with potty/gas station stops, you plug in all your devices.
Oh, don’t get me started on devices. The further you go down the rabbit hole of an IRONMAN®, the more devices you “need” and the more things you must plug in and charge. My bathroom counter looks like I could launch a rocket from the backyard with all the devices I need for training.
Now some reality…the FATIGUE. Supportive partners, family and friends recognize on some level that you will be tired. What they don’t appreciate is when you fall asleep at 6pm and don’t make it to the dinner table. Or that the lawn didn’t get mowed for 3 weeks because you were so tired after your training, you couldn’t bring yourself to do it. Or that plans with friends have to be waylaid because you are either too tired or have an early morning training session.
And last (but I am sure there is plenty more), the obsession. I don’t know many athletes who trained for an IRONMAN® who were not completely obsessed with it. They talk about it to anyone and everyone. They post on socials. They form support groups. You will know unequivocally if someone is training for an IRONMAN® race, and quite frankly, the sea will part with people who care and those who don’t. What’s the joke, “How can you tell if someone is training for an IRONMAN®? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you” …that’s no joke, it’s fact.
Based on this, you would think I am anti-IRONMAN®. That couldn’t be further from the truth. There are moments during the training and during the race, where you think “holy crap, I am doing this” and it takes your breath away. You feel so empowered and strong. You amaze yourself with your own fortitude and commitment. You are so fully self-aware and proud. It’s those moments that make all the rest of it so worth it. The ability to see it through and keep moving forward often shows strength we didn’t know we had. The sense of accomplishment. The reflection of how far and to what lengths you are willing to go to get to that red carpet, it’s awe inspiring, and it changes you. It becomes part of you, and you are forever an IRONMAN®.
Are you wondering how to train for an IRONMAN® or other long-distance triathlon?
Coach Amy can get you to that finish line!
You can select your level of training plan—beginner, intermediate, or advanced—and the number of weeks you have to train. You upload your workouts to TrainingPeaks and track your progress.
The free plan is a PDF, so you don't have it in your TrainingPeaks or can track progress electronically.