Wisely Selecting Your First Iron-distance Triathlon

Posted: June 28, 2010 in Cycling, Information, Race Information, Running, Swimming

During an Ironman you will pass physical, mental and emotional exhaustion.  There will come a point when all you will have left is the reason why you want it.  Think long and hard about this – write it down and keep the reason with you.  You don’t need to share it with anyone else and it could be very profound or vane.  It is your reason.  Pull it out when you have nothing left. – Coach Daren

Which 140.6 or Ironman race should I enter?  This is a very important decision – as an Iron distance triathlon a serious undertaking, which takes considerable training, planning and preparation.

I am often asked for input in choosing a first Ironman. It often starts with, “I’ve decided I’m going to do a Half Ironman this year and then try to tackle an Ironman next year, which race should I enter?”

Ironman® and Ironman Triathlon® are registered trademarks of the World Triathlon Corporation. Races pay money to have the Ironman® brand affiliation with the race (e.g. Ironman Arizona, Ironman Canada, etc.) and to be able to offer qualifying spots to the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii in October each year. The Ironman distance or “iron distance” refers to an event with a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a 26.2-mile run – the distances of the Waikiki Rough Water Swim, the Around Oahu Bike Race and the Honolulu Marathon, which were combined to create the first Ironman in Hawaii in 1978.

Some of the Ironman distance races sell out for the following year on the day registration opens – typically, the day after the current year’s race. In my observations, the races that have been around for a few years like Ironman Canada and Ironman USA sell out immediately while the newer races like Ironman Louisville will sell out but not the same day registration opens.

The good news is that there are many more “iron distance” triathlons that are similar to the Ironman-branded events and in many cases offer a more personal and intimate race experience with smaller fields of athletes. Some of the other iron distance races to consider are:

Some who complete a 140.6 race, which is not an Ironman sanctioned event, experience a certain amount of remorse or Ironman envy.  It’s the tattoo baby.  Racing a 140.6 distance event is an incredible accomplishment and should be celebrated fully.  However, to some, the tattoo is a right of passage which forever symbolizes your personal victory.  Think about why you want to race.  If a tattoo or other symbol is part of the drive, perhaps your first one should be an Ironman.

There are a number of other factors to consider when choosing an iron distance race:

* Time of year: Will you do the majority of your Ironman-specific training in the winter or in the summer? For example, if you sign up for a May race, you’ll be doing long rides in February and March, which may not be bad if you live in Florida or California but may be a challenge if you are challenged to get out during cold weather.
* Swim Start: Are you comfortable with a mass swim start with 2,000+ athletes, which are typical for the Ironman-branded events? If not, find a race with a wave start.
* Race Size: Do you want to race on a crowded course or would prefer to race within yourself without worrying about packs of other athletes?
* Course: Does the course play to your strengths? If you’re a strong climber consider a hilly course like Ironman Lake Placid rather than the flat Ironman Florida.  A flat course isn’t necessarily easier.  Varying terrain gives your body a chance to utilize your muscles in a slightly different way, which can be beneficial.  An ocean swim is a very different from a lake swim or a river swim.  Does a wetsuit help or hinder you?
* The Locale: What else is near the race site? If bringing friends or family, are there other activities that they can enjoy while you’re doing registration, or swim practice?
* Training Partners: Do you have friends who are training for the same race or another race around the same period of time? It can be lonely doing all of your long rides and runs alone.
* Weather: What is the weather typically like where and when you will train versus where you will race? Ideally, they should be similar. Definitely try to avoid extremes.  Ironman Louisville and the new Ironman Texas should be much warmer than Ironman Wisconsin.
* Budget: How far are you willing / able to travel? The more time zones you travel, the more time you should allow for adjustment.

The DELTA Multisport Calendar lists all Ironman events and most Iron-distance races.  Search the DELTA website for a number of articles to help you with your event.  Good luck!

  1. […] Selecting Your First Iron Distance Event by Todd Spain […]

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