Thursday 6 June 2019

Should I do an Ironman (or any endurance race)?

Should I sign up for an endurance event?

A very common trend that we often see, immediately following a very large race that generates a lot of focus from the triathlon and endurance community, is a sudden surge in people signing up for the same event the following year, with many of them being first timers or novice athletes.

This is great and serves to generate both more interest and revenue for the event organisers, local businesses and community and also builds the triathlon community / sport too. However, what we also see time and time again is that people sign up for an event often off the back of the "romance" of seeing athletes and club mates race in and complete such an event, but without having given considerable thought to everything that goes into completing an endurance event. Even before the first length has been swam or run is done or pedal turned on the bike, there are several questions that you should be asking yourself about signing up for such an event. Hopefully this post will help you to make an informed decision before signing up and spending hundreds of £'s on a race.

  • What motivation do I have for entering such a race?
  • How long am I giving myself in order to get fit enough to complete the race?
  • Why am I competing in the race? ie, is it a long term ambition or just a new challenge?
  • will I be able to fit in the training around my lifestyle, incl. work, family and daily routine?
  • What support do I have in place during the training? Family, coaching, team mates
And those are just some of the questions that you should ask yourself before you even start thinking about training for the event and thinking about your age, your current fitness levels, your sporting background, what you want to achieve from the race, where will I get a training plan from? etc. etc.

So, starting at the top;


Motivation can be one of the most powerful influences when choosing, signing up or training for a race. Is this a race that you've done before, or is there a specific reason why you've chosen this race? Be it fundraising, in memory of a friend or loved one, or that you simply want to get a new PB? There are many, many motivating factors for signing up for a race, above are just a few of them. Maybe you're part of a club and they often have a really good showing at this race and you've thought "I want a piece of that". 


Once you've decided that you're definitely going to enter a particular race, what sort of timescales are you allowing yourself to prepare for the event? In my experience, it's possible for pretty much any able bodied person to complete an Ironman. However, what time you do it in will be reflected by both the amount of time you spend getting fit for the event and also your pre existing athletic ability. I've known athletes complete an Ironman with as little as 8 weeks specific training, or some have built up to it over a year, 2 years and sometimes longer. Wanting to complete an Ironman is a great goal, but if it's your first triathlon and you've not exercised for a long time, expecting to get the best out of yourself with a 6 month training plan isn't going to yield the best results. So make sure that you've given due consideration to how long you expect it to take you to prepare for the race. Ideally, speak to similar athletes as yourself and, ideally, speak to an experienced coach.


A big part of deciding whether to take on an endurance event is to consider what sort of lifestyle you currently lead. What sort of job do you do and will you be able to fit in training around that? Do you have a family or children that will inevitably take up a lot of your spare time. All too often we find ourselves making plans and then having to change them due to family circumstances, often at the last minute. How much stress do you have in your life? This can be day to day things like finances or relationships, as well as work related stress or other issues. Sleep deprivation is also a cause of increased stress levels. If you still enjoy going out to pubs at weekends and drinking with your mates, then eating a kebab on the way home, or watching tv sat on the sofa, eating takeaways, then you need to make the decision of whether or not you can put all that on the back burner for a while, whilst you completely change your lifestyle and follow a training plan? All of the above, and more, can play a huge part in affecting your training plan.

Support network

When signing up for an endurance event you also need to consider your support network. This will often tie in with what's been spoken about above. By far the biggest part of the support network for most people is family and friends. If you have a partner or spouse who is fully supportive of your goals, or if you have parents who can help with childcare duties this will help massively. If you have a good boss at work, they may allow you a bit of flexibility in your hours if you need to start or finish work early some days, in order to train, this may be accommodated. Having a coach, although not essential, is a really good idea as it's someone who will offer you an expert opinion and will pick up on things that you may be missing, both training wise and lifestyle, as well as someone who will also help to motivate you and should understand the stresses that you're putting your body through as you train. Also, being part of a club with some like minded athletes is a huge advantage too. In my experience, quite often athletes who train in a triathlon club and follow a structured plan will fare better than those who tend to go it alone, especially if they go it alone and are self coached (although this is obviously doesn't apply to all of them).

Additional considerations

Once you've given thought to the above, you will then start to think about other influences on whether or not to sign up for a race. Things like age, your current fitness levels, your sporting background, what you want to achieve from the race etc. etc..

Although individual areas, the above and everything else in this post are all interlinked. For example, you may think "I'm only 25, I can easily do an Ironman". However, if you're 25 and have led a sedentary lifestyle for a number of years, you may struggle with the training load more than some one who is, for example, 50 years old but has trained regularly. This then obviously links in with the individuals current fitness levels. In my opinion, if someone can commit to a fully structured and progressive training plan that is specifically tailored to a certain distance / athlete type, then there's no reason why anyone shouldn't be able to complete an endurance race. It may take someone from a sedentary background and who is carrying a few more lb's a bit longer to prepare for an Ironman, than someone from a more energetic background, but there is absolutely no reason why each of them, or in fact anyone, can't reach their goals. All that being said, considerable thought needs to be given to whether you can actually commit to the time that's needed to train for an Ironman. Plans can consist of as little as 10 hours per week of training, but many of them peak at around 16 to 20 hours per week of training. So if you work full time and or have family commitments, it can be a real struggle to fit it all in. 

Being able to tailor your training plan to your own needs is very important and with the help of a coach or within a club environment of like minded athletes, this can be achieved much easier. Almost any training plan will work, there's no magic wand or secret formula that makes a particular plan special, but some have the benefit of being well established, or published in well known books and websites.

Being a coach with considerable experience in getting a vast diversity of athletes through Iron distance races, endurance events and all triathlon distances from sprint upwards, and with well over 10 years experience in triathlon and other sporting disciplines, I can offer tailored, fully structured and progressive session plans to anyone from complete novice to age grouper. If you'd like to chat and discuss your needs, I can be contacted by following the link below to my coaching page


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