How to Complete an Ironman Race – Specifically, Ironman Louisville

One more post about Ironman and then I’ll give it a rest, I promise.

Finisher Medal

Finisher Medal

I’ve started this post a couple of times and what I realize is I don’t have a lot to tell you. I completed Ironman Louisville 2014 in 13 hours and 51 minutes. That’s not a great time for a 42 year old man. I can tell you how I approached training and what I did, but it won’t lead you to a great finish. If you want to finish an Ironman race with an average time, however, read on.

My bona fides are:
42 years old (at time of the race)
Father of 3
Full time job
Family, work, school, church, and community obligations
Height: 6’0″
Weight: 150 lbs (at time of the race)

Additionally, I am not an athlete. I didn’t come into triathlon having a background in one of the disciplines. Trust me, if you were picking people for your team, I’d be one of the last you’d choose.

Having said all that, I signed up for Ironman Louisville 2014 in October of 2013. That same month I ran my first marathon, the Kansas City Marathon. Below I’ve listed all the training I recorded from October 2013 up to race day, August 24, 2014.

34 sessions
27.33 miles
18:30 total time
(swim split at race: 1:16:55)

73 sessions
1152 miles
72:00 total time
16.3 MPH, average
(bike split at race: 6:58:00)

94 sessions
477 miles
70:57 total time
8:49 average pace
(run split at race: 5:11:16)

I also did strength training pretty consistently which included bench press on Tuesdays, squats on Wednesdays, and chin-ups and overhead press on Thursdays. Five heavy sets of each (heavy for me). I didn’t normally record the time it took to do these but most days it would take 15-20 minutes.

Not super impressive. If you add it all up, from October 2013 to race day I worked out about a half hour a day. Are there a few sessions that didn’t get recorded? Sure. And what if I add in the time it took to lift weights? To be generous let’s say I worked out, on average, 45 minutes per day. By the way, those numbers above include the KC Marathon and whatever other races I did, which includes the Kansas 70.3 in June 2014.

All my swims were in a pool. Most of my bike sessions were on my trainer in my garage. A few of my runs were on a treadmill, but most were outside in the elements. I especially tried to go out and run in the heat because Louisville gets hot in August. My longest bike ride was 106 miles 2 weeks before the Ironman. My longest run after the KC Marathon in October was 13.1 miles on two occasions, one being the Kansas 70.3 I mentioned. My longest swim was 2500 yards.

So how did I complete an Ironman? I guess I just wanted to, though previously I never thought I had the patience to train for one. I used to read, and still do, of long training sessions, several days a week, and I knew that would never work for me. Doing one thing for one hour is really pushing it for me. It’s hard to stay focused for that long. I feel this most acutely in the pool. Often it’s all I can do to stay in the pool past 30 minutes.

What I did try to do, however, is hold a faster pace on those shorter training sessions than what I planned to do in the race. I can’t say I did a great job of always cranking up the intensity, because those 5:30 AM runs don’t lend themselves to high intensity after just rolling out of bed.

So let me just make a list of my biggest pieces of advice on how to complete an Ironman:

1. Pick a race, sign up and pay your money.
2. Look at a calendar and decide how you’re going work in your workouts on a day to day basis. When is the pool open? Are you able to really train outdoors on a bike or do you need to get a trainer? Will you run in the mornings or afternoons? If at all possible, set aside 5 days a week to swim, bike, and run.
3. When you do swim, bike, and run, do so at a higher pace than you plan to race.
4. Early on, set realistic goals for your race, swim time, bike time, etc. Know what kind of pace you will need to hit those goals, then see #3 above.
5. Read about and practice race day nutrition. This may be the most important piece of advice I have. Don’t just have an idea of what you’re going to do on race day, practice it. I did a combination of nut bars and energy gels, along with water and energy drinks on the bike, and gels, energy drinks, bananas and whatever else they had on the run. I could’ve done better heeding my own advice on this one.
6. Rest. You can’t do everything everyday. And allow some flexibility in your schedule. If you thrash your legs on a big bike ride, don’t run the next day. Perhaps you swim easy, or just take the day off. You have to recover in order to come back stronger for your next work out.

These points are optional (well, they’re all optional, except #1):

7. At some point leading up to the race, complete the distances individually. In other words, swim 2.4 miles, ride a century (plus 12), sign up and run a marathon. For me, psychologically, it was important to know that I could complete those distances though never having done them back to back to back.
8. Sign up for some sprint or olympic distance tris, or, if you can, a 70.3. They’re good practice and I treated all my races this year as training days.

I don’t think anyone has completed an Ironman race and regretted it. There may be some who completed the race, got the tattoo and regretted that, but not the race. And then you can brag the rest of your life. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to slip Ironman into any of your conversations.

“Did you see the Royals’ game last night?

“Yeah, that was a long game. It reminded me of when I raced Ironman Louisville.”

See, it’s easy.

Oh, and don’t think you need to go out and spend even $1000 on a bike. I have an off-brand aluminum bike (carbon forks) that cost $575. I’m sure those expensive bikes are nice, but I’m talking about finishing an Ironman, and an aluminum bike is all it took for me.

In the midst of Ironman Louisville I said to myself, “I’m never doing this again.” A month and a half removed from it, however, I’m thinking about how I can better my time. Hmm. If my wife is reading this, it won’t be next summer, I promise.



About The Pretend Triathlete

Just a 46 year old trying to stay in shape. Not pro-athlete in shape, just 46 year old guy with a family and a house and a job in shape. Signing up for races is the best way I've found to do that. I blog about things that happen to me and things I observe while training and racing. Let's do this!
This entry was posted in Cycling, Health and Fitness, Ironman, ironman louisville, marathon, Running, Swimming, triathlon and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to How to Complete an Ironman Race – Specifically, Ironman Louisville

  1. bgddyjim says:

    You’re right about the bike… Nice bikes make riding fast a lot more comfortable, not necessarily faster… And they’re fun to look at. Going from aluminum to carbon is actually quite a big deal when it comes to road vibration. Adding a carbon handlebar is another great upgrade.

    Great post man.

  2. well done. i think part about the husband, dad, full time job, were the most impressive. it sounded like at the end, that you’re still married. thanks for sharing. joe

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