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Beginner with an end goal of Ironman!

Hi all, 
I am 31 years old and have set myself the target of completing an ironman by the time I am 40. 
I have never competed in a triathlon, although I am a fairly strong runner and cyclist but weak swimmer. I have a good level of fitness and strength performing CrossFit 4-6 times a week as well as yoga twice a week. As a complete novice I am looking for any training and equipment essentials from people. 
What equipment is essential? 
Will a wetsuit help my buoyancy? 
What sort of training should I start to incorporate and what events should I be participating in as a beginner? 

Sorry if these questions are simple but any help would be really appreciated!


  • Do you have a local Tri club - I would join that before investing in much kit

    You may want to get a Turbo Trainer as lots of Tri Clubs will do weekly turbo sessions over the winter

    You could do an IM much faster than 9 years, anywhere from 2 to 4 years is realistic.

    If you start swim training with a Tri Club, you should be a much more competent swimmer before the start of next season

    Will a wetsuit help buoyancy - yes significantly, however, you need to feel confident in your swimming before tackling any open water swims

    If you plan to do longer distance triathlons, 70.3 and IM distance, you will probably end up buying a Time Trial bike, as they are faster and cycling position helps your legs after the transition from cycle to run. So you may want to keep your current bike, get some races done and decide what type of bike you want in the future.

    Sprints are a good intro, but not really challenging, they are in a pool with a very short swim 400m - 750m, followed by a 20k ride and 10k run. Do a couple early in the season to get a feel for them and then do about 1 Olympic distance per month, and possibly a 70.3 at the end of the season

    My training looks like this:

    Saturday Parkrun - try to get a PB as often as possible

    SundayTri Club Swim 1h 30mins

    Monday - 25 mile ride / turbo training

    Tuesday - Tri Club run session 1h

    Wednesday - 25 mile ride

    Thursday - 10k run

    Friday - Tri Club swim session 1h 30min

    Sometimes I miss the Sunday Swim, and I often miss one day training per week

  • Andrew4Andrew4 Posts: 190

    It sounds to me like priority number 1 for you should be getting your swim up to scratch - you might not like this but you may also need to tone down the cross fit - heavy legs and swimming don't mix very well!

    As next season would be your first year I'd take it reasonably easy and not go too hard... perhaps looking at an April, pool based sprint triathlon, maybe a late May/June open water sprint and then look for perhaps an August or September Olympic.  As you haven't done this before I wouldn't necessarily go for racing once a month, for you, race time isn't particularly important and you'd be better served by racing having a week easy to recover, a 4-8 week training block and a week taper into your race, that way you can really work on improving from race to race rather that trying to cling on to form/fight off injury. 

    You have given yourself plenty of time and there's no reason why you can't do an intro year next year, focus on Olympics with a 70.3 in 2018 and then look at either a "full" year of 70.3s in 2019 with an Ironman in 2020 or push for it in 2020 if you really want to.

    I have to disagree though, I wouldn't invest in a turbo (indeed I had been doing tri training for 4 years before I bought one), unfortunately good ones (i.e. "smart" trainers) are expensive and the alternative would be to find a gym near you with a wattbike where you can get the benefit of structured training with power, which is a far better bet than buying a "dumb" trainer (look up DC Rainmaker's website to find out what I mean by smart/dumb trainers) and just doing random "whatever you feel like" work.

    You will obviously need a bike and running shoes, it sounds like you have this covered.  Don't bother with a new bike until you've been around the block a bit and know what you want, but potentially worth buying a set of clip ons for your road bike so you get the feel for a more aero position.  Also, I would suggest pushing your seat as far forward as you can so you are more on top of the BB, this will help your run legs.

    Jammers are also pretty essential (I hear nudity in public place is frowned upon) but you can kill two birds with one stone by buying a pair of tri shorts - they won't be quite as fast as specially made jammers but they have a light pad for bike comfort and you can also run in them.  I don't actually use them for racing anymore as I use a 1 piece tri suit but they still get worn for bike training, run training and brick swims etc. Also get a comfy pair of goggles (I like Huub and Aquasphere goggles).

    Wetsuits, very good, buoyancy very helpful and lots of more tailored ones based on your swim style, you might get a decent end of year sale right now, but I won't be using mine again until May so you could easily wait and it might be worth doing so to get your swim more comfortable before rushing in for expensive kit like a wetsuit.

  • ken1969ken1969 Posts: 11

    Congratulations on setting yourself what I'm sure will be an incredibly rewarding challenge. I'm now just one tri away from a similar challenge, having completed every distance up to the half iron, and booked for the final challenge in June.

    I agree with a lot of what has been said above. I started out with zero athletic background apart from some very light recreational mountain biking and cycle commuting, although I've always been a pretty strong swimmer (although never fast). My first tri - a novice event - I did on my Trek 600 hybrid bike while 18 stone in weight. I only switched to drop handle bars after I'd done my first sprint tri, and then to a cheapie Decathlon jobby.


    Some tips from my experience:

    Swim - you will definitely benefit from some coaching, but if that's too expensive buy a Swim Smooth or Total Immersion DVD and start from the basic drills.

    To begin with you cannot spend enough time on these drills. Ploughing away doing lengths with bad technique will just ingrain bad habits.

    Once you feel a bit more confident stump up for a video stroke analysis session who will tell you which are the key drills to focus on going forwards. If you can afford to, repeat this once a year.

    I agree there's not much point getting a wetsuit til next season, but you can do what I do and get neoprene swim shorts and swim socks. You can use these in the pool and they will help a bit with sinky leg syndrome and prepare you for a full wetsuit.

    There's no getting away from it - for most people, even strong swimmers your first foray into Open Water swimming will be a shock to the system. The combination of cold water, zero visibility and a wetsuit constricting you is enough to take anyone's breath away. Highly recommend a second hand wetsuit that's already broken in. For your first swim set a nice easy goal of just swimming 20-50m bursts out and back - just as far as you are comfortable. You may surprise yourself but don't feel bad if you struggle, many of us did.

    Bike - I bought a cheap turbo trainer - it makes a great stand for my bike but is never used. In my experience there is rarely a day even in the harshest winter when you can't find a gap in the torrential downpour to get out for an hour or two. Get used to watching the weeks weather forecast and plan your training around it. As a wise man once said there's no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong outfit.

    If you have access to a gym with a wattbike this is a good alternative, use it just for hard interval sessions, not long rides. One per week. 

    Run - I'm lucky to have a dog who makes sure I get out in all weather's. I'm quite happy to slog through mud in my walking boots. If you have access to a treadmill, as with the watt bike, get used to one hard interval session per week. 

    To keep you motivated and training over winter sign up for a few fun runs at your target distance. I'm already signed up for some 5kms, 10kms and a half marathon between now and late spring

    Events - start with a novice tri with a pool swim. Don't enter any open water event until you've had at least a few weeks practice in a wetsuit and feel comfortable swimming the distance. It's one thing to swim 200m in a calm empty lake, quite another to experience the "washing machine" effect for the first time in a field of 50 or more. 

    I've taken a bit longer than I intended to reach my goal, but I did have cancer in the middle. If I hadn't been interrupted I'd have done it in 4 years. 

    Good luck, I'm sure you'll have a blast! Keep us posted on your progress.

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