Coach Ian Murray lays out the steps to achieving the dream of one day competing at the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.
Written by: Ian Murray
The Hawaii Ironman wasn’t the first triathlon, but it is the most famous. It serves as an inspiration, drawing thousands into the sport of triathlon who view it on NBC in the fall or live on the Universal Sports network, see it online and in magazines, or who meet the relative few who have “gone long in the lava.” Many triathletes are content with getting faster at shorter events, but many also dream of someday racing an iron-distance event and perhaps even competing in Kona.
If you have that desire, here are some things to consider:
Think Long Term: Most athletes go into a workout thinking only about the next event, doing just what is needed to make the finish line at their next race. Think long term so that each workout isn’t just about the next race or even the next season, but way down the road to your biggest race and best effort ever. Retain the two common factors of a workout—duration and intensity—but add the crucial element of technique. By constantly pursuing perfection in your form, you will master efficiency, which becomes more and more critical as race distances lengthen.
Kona, Ironman or Ultra-distance: There’s a lot of romance and mysticism associated with Kona. If that’s your dream, OK. But there are lots of other, arguably easier options. If propelling yourself across 140.6 miles isn’t hard enough, Kona is both very hot and very windy. Perhaps a flatter course suits you better (Florida, Arizona) or maybe a less humid one (Canada, Coeur d’Alene). Maybe you don’t shy away from the heat (China, Langkawi, Cozumel) or the hills (Lanzarote, St. George) and exotic travel (Japan, Austria). Perhaps the M-dot branded, “big I” Ironman isn’t mandatory for you. In that case, you can find lots of independent, ultra-distance triathlons at K226.com. Many of those events don’t sell out, so they don’t require the mad scramble to sign up moments after registration opens.
Kona Qualify: The Kona Ironman is the world championship. Roughly 1,500 of the athletes who race that event got there by qualifying at some other M-dot branded triathlon—mostly at the Ironman distance, but some at an Ironman 70.3 event. As more and more Ironman events are added to the calendar, the qualifying slots become fewer in each category. In some cases, a qualifying slot is offered only to the winner of the age group; in others there are only a handful of slots per age group. Study the results pages and identify the slowest qualifying time in your age group to help set your goals. Kona Lottery: An additional 200 participants come to Kona via the lottery. The lottery was created by John Collins, a founder of the Ironman, who wanted to give athletes of all abilities the opportunity to have the incredible experience of the Hawaii Ironman. More details can be found at Ironman.com.
The No. 1 concern for new triathletes who dream of Ironman is the time commitment needed to train for this distance. The actual training time needed for any given individual depends on some key factors. When an athlete has completed a few years of consistent training and racing, is uninjured, has a modest goal and at least six months to prepare, he has a recipe for success. Under those circumstances, a well-structured training program is imperative. It should be designed specifically for your ability to get you to the finish on goal time. The time commitment can be as little as six hours a week for the lighter weeks and 10 hours on the biggest week.
The value of those hours must be maximized, however, with each workout having a specific intent and purpose while still retaining the fun. After all, the joy is in the journey; while Ironman seems very long, race day often goes by in the blink of an eye, so it’s the training that needs to be lived and enjoyed.