Whether you’re new to the sport of triathlon or you’re looking to take your racing to the next level, this series of articles will help you on your journey to your first Ironman. Covering numerous topics and answering all your questions from fitting the extensive training around work and family life to a complete kit guide, example workouts, and how to choose a race including testimonials from those who have done them. This is your ultimate companion to becoming an Ironman.
The Ironman brand
As you may or may not already know, Ironman is a private brand and is only attributed to certain races organised by Ironman. Although the name is often used to describe non-affiliated triathlon distances, if it’s not organised by Ironman, it’s just a middle or long distance triathlon. Not only this, Ironman races feature slightly different distances to unbranded races.
Ironman Distances Versus ITU Distances
Middle distance triathlon: 2.5km swim 80km bike 20k run
Half Ironman (70.3): 1.9km swim 90km bike 21.1km run
Long distance triathlon: 4km swim 120km bike 30km run
Full Ironman (140.6): 3.8km swim 180km bike 42.2km run
The concept of Ironman was born of a debate: who are the fittest out of swimmers, cyclists, or runners? The debate was kicked off by Naval Officer John Collins who was stationed in Hawaii and attending an awards banquet at the Waikiki Swim Club in the late 1970s. The sport of triathlon was still in its infancy and Collins had taken part in a few in San Diego. In February 1978, along with 14 other competitors, he came to the shore of Waikiki Beach for what would be the first ever Ironman race.
Today, Hawaii still holds a special place in the heart of Ironman as it is the setting for the world-famous Ironman World Championships which take place in Kona every year. Some of its most notable winners include Chrissie Wellington, Patrick Lange, and Daniela Ryf.
How is Ironman different?
Ironman is a lifestyle, a way of life. Ironman races are said to be some of the most well-organised in the triathlon world and although expensive, you certainly get your money’s worth. At an Ironman race, you can expect all of the frills: race briefs in your home language no matter where you’re from, a dedicated event village which is quite literally a village, music and dancing, food and drink, cheerleaders to rally you to the finish, and those all important words once you cross the line: you are an Ironman.
As Ironman is a corporation, customer service and attention to detail are everything. They have a reputation on the line, after all. Once you decide to enter an Ironman race, you will be part of a community and that will stick with you forever. Ironman legend Ken Glah says, “so many people are doing Ironman as a 'one and done' bucket list event and not because they love the sport and whole environment.” This is an important point. Ironman racing has a good chance of taking over your entire life, so make sure you’re ready for that commitment.
However, all that said, Ironman races are also designed to be brutally tough and are very far removed from your local friendly ‘try a tri’. They purposely include very hilly bike routes, swims in unpredictable and wild open water, and may also take place in a country with a particularly challenging climate. Long distances aside, the courses are designed to be gruelling and arduous and require just as much mental strength as physical.