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Group of people doing an endurance sports event.

What to expect from your first Ironman event

10 years ago, completing a marathon was the pinnacle for any amateur athlete. Nowadays, that status belongs to a different challenge: the Iron distance triathlon. So, what exactly is an ironman?

Well, an ironman consists of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and 26.2 mile marathon run. And if you’re taking on this famous distance, then you will probably consider doing it with the undisputed king of the long distance triathlon – the category-defining “Hoover” of swim/bike/run: Ironman. In fact, Ironman offer two distances: the full “Ironman” distance, and the half “Ironman 70.3” distance. Common to both are slick organisation, great venues and a hefty price tag.

Sounds crazy right?! Well, I competed in my first Ironman event at Staffordshire in 2017, 2 years later I crossed the finish line at the Ironman World Championships in Nice. So, from experience, I’d really recommend taking the leap and signing up to your first ironman event, even if it’s not an official one.

1. Fancy bikes

Most triathletes are cyclists first and foremost. They love their bikes and obsess over details like shaving 20g of weight off their bottle holders. Some of the bikes look more like rocket ships. The good news is you absolutely do not need an expensive bike to take part and do well. Wiggle do a good line in cheerfully priced road bikes that will get you from A to B in no time or check in with your work to see if you’re signed up for the cycle2work scheme.

2. Free stash

The Ironman brand is so strong that it often gets confused with the Iron distance category. That’s what makes their stash so desirable. As part of your entry you get a t-shirt, swim cap, rucksack, and of course that all important finisher’s t-shirt at the end. And there’s also plenty more you can purchase at a premium on the weekend of the event.

If this is your first official ironman event, then expect to leave the weekend dressed in epic stash that you can we wear with pride once you’re home.

3. Lots of nutrition

These are long races. It’s very easy to end up depleting your glycogen stores. Thankfully, competing in an official Ironman event is a bit like a culinary tour of high-end nutrition products (gels, bars, isotonic drinks), with some more traditional options thrown in (bananas, salty snacks to avoid cramp, coca cola). That said, it’s still worth taking some food of your own, since you don’t want to try anything too new on the day.

If you’re worried about cyclings infamous ‘bonk’ or hitting the wall, then check out our article on how to avoid this here.

4. Strict rules on the bike

Ironman events are draft-illegal. What does draft-illegal mean? Well, this means you can’t sit in the slipstream of another rider to save energy. You have to keep at a distance of at least 12 metres from others, and, if passing, you must do so within 25 seconds. The race marshals are tasked with enforcing these rules, which can mean tight calls and narrow disqualifications. Best to play it safe with this one. 

If you’re worried about these rules, then it’s best to practice while you’re training to make sure you don’t contravene any of the strict ironman rules come raceday.

5. Great organisation

They’ve done this before. Ironman events run like clockwork, from the moment you arrive to register, until you fetch your bike from the transition area after the race. There’s also full briefing beforehand where you can get your questions answered, marshals and clear markings throughout the course, and well-ordered transition zones so you can focus on the racing rather than the logistics.

6. An epic finish

This is, after all, the reason we do it. That feeling of crossing the finish line after 5, 10 or 15+ hours etches itself into your memory. And it’s made that bit sweeter by the announcer, who gives you your moment in the sun by calling your name out to the crowd, and who will usually try to high five you in your final strides.

Seriously, the finish-line feeling of a half-marathon or marathon event is truly epic… but this is next level and crossing the line at an Ironman event has brought me to tears on more than one occasion.

Stephanie Ede, Ironman World Champs 2019

7. Post-race feed

Ok, you’ve done it, you’ve completed an Ironman event. And, after 2.4 miles swimming, 112 miles on the bike, and 26.2 miles running, you will be hungry. Luckily, Ironman lay on a great buffet with heaps of lasagne or something similarly carb-based, as part of your entry. It’s also generally easy enough to procure a few beers if you’re in the mood for celebrating your achievement, and the mood is always much lighter and cheerier after the racing is done. Tuck in and celebrate!

So, what are you waiting for, sign-up to your first Ironman event now.

Share the excitement!

Back in 2016, Steph swapped her skis for the bicycle and hasn't looked back since. She then joined a triathlon club in Edinburgh, and only a couple of years later came 21st in 2019 Ironman 70.3 World Champs. Since then, she's taken on a number of ultra running and cycling challenges, most notably the infamous 'everesting' cycling challenge. Steph is currently sponsored by Le Col, 2XU, and SunGod.

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