Tips for your first Ironman

A little while ago, I posted a question on social media asking for some tips. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of responses. I thought it might be helpful to categorise them and share them with you…

What is the one thing you wish you had known when training for your first Ironman?

Training tips


  • Get a good coach.
  • Fink is a plan NOT gospel. Move it around, play with it and get it to suit you from one day to the next.
  • I wish I’d had a coach for the first one. Fewer hours training, better sets, and less weight lost. An hour better and healthier afterwards. Fink nearly killed me!
  • Fink was just too many hours and junk miles. If you don’t want to lay out for a coach, join a club. Loads of experience and the head coach will probably write you a plan free of charge.

Brick sessions

Brick wall
Photo by Kristina Kashtanova on Unsplash
  • You can never do too much brick training.
  • Long rides followed by long runs.
  • Long rides followed by runs off the bike.
  • Bike to run sessions.
  • More bike to run.
  • I was told a training split of 50% bike, 35% run and 15% swim.
  • Jumping rope. Skipping. Whatever you call it, strengthens the feet and makes those Achilles ultra stretchy.
  • Train alone. You wouldn’t do 112 miles in a group in an Ironman, so why go on club rides when training? Running the same – do all long runs alone at your pace, not somebody else’s.

Miscellaneous tips

  • Mental strength!
  • Consistency.
  • Patience. Both in training and on the day.
  • Be humble.
  • Have an attitude of gratitude.
  • You are not alone. Ask for help and you will get it. Everyone is scared during the journey and on the start line.
  • Work on your weakness and work across all your training zones.
  • Plan around kids’ school holiday and don’t book a race at the end of the summer holidays.
  • Don’t faff in transition. Get in, get out.
  • Consider how much it will cost financially (and physically 😬).
  • Treat it as three separate races and prepare for each.
  • You will feel like a million bucks and then like a piece of crap many times in the race (this is normal).
  • You never get to do your first one again so enjoy the whole experience and trust in your training. Don’t put a finish time on it save that for the next one.
  • Enjoy the journey. It’s tough, but so rewarding.

Swim tips

A swimmer
Photo by Mike Wilson on Unsplash
  • Don’t underestimate the swim!
  • Practice open water swimming as much as possible.
  • For a crap swimmer, a top quality wetsuit makes it easier than a cheap wetsuit. I didn’t believe it until I swapped!
  • Learn to draft in the swim (i.e. on someone’s feet) as it saves heaps of time and energy.
  • Attach a second pair of goggles to your thigh. Practice losing goggles in water to then attempt swimming in both salty and lake water without goggles.
  • If your swim is lousy and it drains you, your race could be messed up. The swim is the base of the race… if you get out of the water drained, it will be a difficult day and could cost you later in the race. It doesn’t have to be super fast, but you need to feel good when you get out of the water to get through the long bike leg, which needs to be executed to enable you to run 26.2.
  • I came out of my swim and a masochistic thought of “I actually quite enjoyed that” went through my mind. That’s how it should feel. I was slower than my predicted time but I knew what was ahead and just went steady away.

Bike tips

Photo by Josh Nuttall on Unsplash

There was a common theme in the comments:

  • Bike, bike and more bike.
  • Ride more, ride more, then ride some more.
  • Bike, bike and more bike.
  • Do more long rides.
  • More bike.
  • Spend more time on the bike.
  • You can’t run if you can’t bike 🚴. So bike… lots.
  • More bike, more bike, more bike.
  • Oh, and bike. The run (run/walk) is just survival: you’ve done the ‘hard’ part by then.
  • I had a strong background in running, so I took the approach of minimal bike training assuming my run strength would see me through – I did not anticipate how much the bike would take out of me leaving me tired and sore before I even started the run.
  • My train of thought exactly with my first half last summer. I never made the massive time lost on the bike up with good run. So for my second half next summer – bike training it is.
  • I fell for this train of thought also. This time it’s bike, bike, bike. I’ll tick over my running as per my plan, rather than adding more runs.
  • No junk miles and ride a lot. 2-3 minutes improvement in the swim is no good if you’re 30mins off the pace on the bike.
  • Bike…Β bike… bike… bike… and then when you can’t take no more… bike some more!


  • If you’re doing Bolton, hills, hills and train in the wind… And more hills.
  • I wish I’d done more hills on bike.
  • Hills on the bike.
  • Someone said push the bike training on hills until you literally can’t pedal any more. It really worked for me. It doesn’t have to be massive distance for this type of training.


  • In carbon we trust.
  • Buy a carbon 🚲 and don’t under-estimate a technical bike course.
  • A professional bike fit. This is the longest discipline and where the most time can be saved, plus you get the on the run feeling less tired.
  • For cycling, putting plenty of road miles using a mountain bike gave a really good resistance workout.
  • Spend time in the saddle on your turbo trainer.
  • Make sure you service your bike close to race day.
  • Not too close though, bike shop f**ked mine up on race week. πŸ˜‰
  • Learn to pace on the bike and get a power meter and learn how to use it.
  • Once I started doing 3-8 centuries in training, my run really improved.
  • Bike on the road, in the heat, in the wind, in the rain. Don’t wimp out and get on the trainer because it’s not “perfect” weather.
  • Make sure you can beat the bike cut off time. A couple of friends got DNFs on their first attempts due to this. If you can ride the course a few months before do. It’s a good confidence boost and will tell you how much work you need to do to get round in time.
  • Don’t train too fast. Plenty people leave their best efforts out on the Sunday club ride, when most of your training should be easier paced than you might think as training constantly too hard only leads to injury. Make the hard, very hard and the steady, very steady. Too much middle ground hampers progression.
  • There’s no such thing as a good bike and a poor run. The difference between a great swim and a poor one is 15 minutes, but get the pacing wrong on the bike and you risk a poor run that can cost you hours.

Run tips

Photo by Clique Images on Unsplash
  • More runs.
  • It’s all about the run. There’s no point in going 30 minutes quicker on the bike than you genuinely anticipated if it adversely affects your run.
  • For running, completing a marathon plenty of time before adds great confidence, so you can concentrate on the cycling!
  • Don’t go too hard during the early stages of the marathon.

Nutrition tips

Healthy food
Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash
  • Nutrition is the 4th part of the triathlon
  • Cut out sugar and use fat for fuel 😎
  • Special super awesome powders from Switzerland may not arrive in time for race day. Plan an alternative fuel strategy.
  • Don’t blame your bike when climbing hills is tough. Lose the body weight instead!
  • You can’t out-train a sh*t diet.
  • 80/20
  • Nutrition is a discipline that’s needs to be prepared and planned meticulously.
  • I bonked HARD in IMUK last year – 70 miles in and lost all energy. Only realised then I hadn’t eaten anything in the last 90 minutes. Flapjack was my saviour; my partner prefers malt loaf; for some people it’s gels all the way. Work out what works for you!
  • Nutrition is key on the bike and run.
  • Get nutrition nailed.
  • Get the nutrition right on the bike so you eat enough not to bonk, but not too much that you are too poorly to do justice to the run! πŸƒβ€β™€πŸƒπŸ’©πŸš½πŸ˜‚

What do you wish you had known?

2 Replies to “Tips for your first Ironman”

  • All great solid tips which I wish I had taken on board a few more before my first. About to do my 4th ironman in Wales and I need more hills, bike, brick, bike, hills, bricks …….
    One point to note – trust in your training, trust in your coach.
    Good luck – train hard and enjoy race day

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