Many athletes get into triathlon after watching the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. For many triathletes, after watching this epic race, they want to bump up their race distance and do a full triathlon. Both these reactions are completely justified; Kona is one of the most amazing spectacles of human perseverance, determination, and fitness. However, before you get all excited and sign up for one, I beg you to reconsider and instead consider a few things.
Firstly, ask yourself: what is your background? If you come from a less than athletic, non triathlon, or non endurance background. You may want to wait a few years (yes, years) before going to the full Ironman. I personally will not coach anyone who thinks they can go from couch potato to Ironman in under a year. It takes time to build up your skill, endurance, and psychological strength, so start small and enjoy the journey. Jumping into long course is setting yourself up for failure and running the risk of losing the excitement for the sport all together. It takes a serious commitment to do an Ironman both physically and mentally so blocking out two to three years of development would be wise if you are starting from ground zero.
If you already have an endurance and athletic background like marathons, ultras, cycling, or college swimming, then you should still plan for at least a year to two years. You may be able to run a marathon or more than a marathon but running a marathon after 112 miles on the bike and 2.4 in the water is a completely different race. Swimming is also usually more of a struggle for pure runners so be ready to spend a lot of time in the pool. College swimmers and competitive cyclists are ahead of the curve but doing a load-bearing sport like running can be tough and take time to improve in to avoid injury.
For triathletes with a few years in the sport, you have a better understanding of what to expect but still consider how the longer training hours and different training focus (endurance versus sprints; functional threshold power versus max wattage) will have on your work, family, and social life. Training 15 hours a week for an Ironman is very different from the 8-10 needed for an international distance. Even with one to two years of training in the triathlon world, I would still give your first Ironman attempt a year in the making.
I encourage all of you to pursue your goals and dreams and set the bar high–but please be realistic about how long it will take. Success in long distance triathlon requires above all patience.
Coach Chris and Kev