Head of Performance Helen explains how to prepare for an Ironman in the first of a three-part blog series
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Bulletproof yourself for Ironman: part 1

Victory’s Head of Performance, Helen Murawska, is a super-fit sportswoman, with a sister who won a silver medal in the World Long Distance Triathlon Championships in Beijing in 2014.  So she knows a thing or two about training for events.  But last year, Helen and her husband Paul had a crazy idea and decided to spend nearly a year preparing for their first Ironman Triathlon, in Barcelona.  This is Helen’s experience. 

The 5 most important questions no one asks themselves before signing up…

Many people have either no clue at all, or a vague idea at best, as to how to begin approaching training for their first Ironman. The first place people tend to head for information is the internet. I agree, it seems like the most logical place to start, but you’re opening a Pandora’s Box of training regimes and it could even leave you feeling more overwhelmed at how and where to start. Not least because there are so many variables for just yourself that you need to consider first. I can tell you now there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to this, so I’ll save you time and recommend that you don’t go looking for that!

Consider these things first instead:

Your starting point

What is your training history?

Have you always had an athletic background? Are you reasonably fit, strong, and healthy? Do you already train/exercise multiple times per week? Is your body familiar with being progressively loaded with training? You don’t need to be this person, but if these don’t apply to you now, then to get to Ironman level you’ll need to spend some time building a base level of fitness versus someone who is used to training hard.

What is your race/competition experience?

You may be familiar with training, which is a great start, but how often have you actually competed? This is an important question because you WILL need race experience before the big event itself. And this is important because it leads on to the next considerations…

Finances

All the gear…

I’m going to go against the grain here and confirm that you absolutely do not need to buy ALL the stuff for Ironman, and you certainly do not need to buy all the most expensive stuff. However, I would say from experience that it’s worth investing in a couple of pairs of decent trainers, take the time and money to set up/look after your bike, and (again just from personal experience) some sort of fitness tracker is invaluable as you start to build up the distances and measure your training more accurately.

Do you know what to expect? 

Also, regarding the point about race experience, I would say it’s one of the most important things to include in your build up. The more familiar and comfortable you are with all the things that can happen on a race day, the better. So, make sure you can afford to enter a few smaller events in your preparation. This may also involve having to travel around the country a bit, with a bike or bike box in tow plus all your other gear, accommodation etc, the cost can build up!

Your lifestyle

Does your current lifestyle enable you to commit to this?

In other words, do you have the time to dedicate to training for your Ironman event? Can you train for long periods every weekend, plus before and/or after work most days? Some people will need to put in more time than others, depending on your starting point as mentioned above, and others will be trying to also fit this in around a family or other commitments as well as work. It sounds like a lot, because it is, but it’s realistic that you will need to give A LOT of time to this. Which leads on to the last couple of points.

Your reason

What is your motivation?

When it gets tough (which may be day 1), what is the motivation you will give yourself to keep going? When your alarm goes off pre-5am in the middle of winter, what will make you actually get up and train instead of hitting the snooze button? When you are less than halfway through a cold, wet 100k bike ride, what will make you keep turning the pedals to get to the end in good time (the alternative is that these type of bike rides get exponentially slower, trust me). When you realise you haven’t had a beer with your friends for 3 months, what will help you stick to the Ironman plan and get an early night again instead? You don’t have to give up alcohol but sometimes weird things start to happen the fitter you get, like you make conscious choices towards the ‘healthier’ option. I know: weird.

It may be something like raising money for a charity that’s close to your heart. Or it may be that you want to embark on one of the biggest journeys of personal development you can experience. Whatever it is, it needs to mean enough to you to motivate you at the hardest of times.

Your support network

#fitfam

Serious question: can your relationship survive this third partner? There will be a point at which your training schedule is full, and I mean FULL. Once you’ve got up to the longer distances of all three Ironman disciplines, and before the taper, you will be spending all your spare time training; be exhausted from training; analysing your training; or wanting to talk about training. Does your spouse understand what you’re entering? Will they support you/leave you to it in equal measure? Get them to practice their interested face or alternatively get them to have a handful of tactful comments ready about not wanting to hear any more about it. Be ready to understand their point of view on this journey, too. It may look very different from yours.

How patient are your friends?

Try to help them understand that you are going to be side tracked by this for a while, but that you appreciate their support. Are they going to do their best to sabotage your Ironman training by dragging you to the pub every weekend? You might need to have a semi-serious chat about what this means to you and what you might need from them to help you out. Try to find at least one person in the office with whom you can excitedly compare stats on Strava but be ready for no one to be overly interested in your crazy pursuit until you’ve accomplished it.

All realistic factors considered, if you still have any inclination to do an Ironman, I would 100% recommend going for it. Crossing the finish line was the most incredible experience of my life and made every single training session and sacrifice worth it. Hold tight for the second blog post about what to do next!!

Keen on cycling, swimming, running and into serious endurance?  Having ideas about trying an Ironman triathlon – or any sort of long distance event?  Helen’s next posts in this series will explain how to look after your body and mind while you prepare, and how to reduce your injury risk – but if you’d like help with that, from someone who really knows all about it first-hand, call us on 0207 175 0150 and book an assessment session with Helen today.

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