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. With a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and 26.2 mile marathon run, it takes over 3 times as long to complete. And if you’re taking on this famous distance, then you will probably consider doing it with the undisputed king of 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. So what can you expect from your first Ironman event?

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.

2. Free stash

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

3. Lots of nutrition

These are long races. It’s very easy to end up depleting your glycogen stores. Thankfully, completing an 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.

4. Strict rules on the bike

Ironman events are draft-illegal. That 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. 

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.

7. Post-race feed

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!

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