Beginner Ironman® Section 1.1 – Picking Your First Race

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This article is part of a new beginner’s series. Click here to find more articles from this series.

A lot of people have a finish line in mind — they are thinking about what it means to put their arms in the air. Maybe they’re a jumper, or maybe they want to roll on the ground or high-five their family. Maybe they’re looking forward to what it feels like to get that medal around their neck. But as you and I both know, there’s a long way to go between right now sitting at your computer to where the finish line moment happens. The first step of this process is picking the optimal race for you.

It’s All About the Timing…

I recommend you start by picking a race that works best with the timing for you personally. By that I mean stepping back and take a look at your work schedule. If you’re a teacher, then you likley have a lot of free time in the summer whereas your fall is really tough. If you’re an accountant life’s not so bad all year but in the spring it’s awful. Whatever your profession may be or your lifestyle may be, it’s important to pick a race that fits into that timing. Last thing you want to do is pick a race that coincides exactly with your busiest time of life if you can avoid it.

And the Weather…

Remember to look at the weather too. If you’re someone who loves the heat, then a race that happens in say Cozumel, or Florida, could be perfect for you. If you’re someone who hates the cold, then you’d want to avoid early- or late-season races where the temperature could be questionable.

And the Geography…

In addition to the weather, you’ll also want to take a look at the geography of the race venue. If you’re going to pick a race that takes place in the mountains the odds of having very variable weather are high. So you have to take that into account as you’re picking your race based on what your personal “temperature” preferences may be.

And Your Fitness…

Finally you want to pick a race that really fits the timing of your fitness. If you been active for the last eight to twelve weeks then picking an earlier season race is fine. If you literally are on a sofa right now, and have not left that sofa for four months, you will want to pick a race that’s further away that gives you more time to get your training.

You get to pick your race… Don’t set yourself up for failure by picking an early race that’s really going to challenge you too much then it needs to before the actual day comes.


Don’t Go It Alone (Unless You Have To)…

The next criteria that I urge you to consider is take a look at your social calendar and seeing if you know anyone else who’s doing the race. One of the biggest benefits to racing with your friends is that really takes away a lot of nerves and anxiety that come with race day.

When you have some friends to laugh with at the start, or to look forward to seeing on the race course, makes it a lot easier. Just knowing that you’re not alone makes a big difference. It goes from being more of a test into more of a challenging experience.

It’s one of the many reasons why people enjoy training and racing with Endurance Nation as we have so many people out there in the course both racing and spectating, creating a really positive social vibe. Poll your friends, your training partners, your local teams… Find out what everyone else is racing. Take that into account when you’re making your decision so you can hopefully have a basic support structure in place for the race itself.


How Do You Travel?

Some people love to fly. Some people don’t. If you know that traveling long distances is not in your wheelhouse, I strongly urge you not to pick a race that requires multiple flights, connections or international travel. As cool as it would be to do a race in Italy, for example, if you have to get there from California — and you don’t enjoy travel — I recommend that you don’t sign up for that race as your first one.

Picking your final destination with an eye towards travel logistics is important because every race has a different set of demands. Some are easy to fly to, some may be within driving distance for you and save you significant amount of money. Others may require unique travel extensions like taking a plane and then getting on a ferry. If traveling anxiety is part of who you are, really think this through before you pull the trigger on entering the race.

How Invested Are You In the Race?

The further away your races are, or the more exotic they are, the more expensive they will be. Double down on that if it happens to be in a place where the dollar is not so strong. The further you have to go, or the different modes of travel you need to take, the odds are it will be more expensive.

Same with the lodging – some venues have limited space and as a result all lodging options have a minimum of five days and require a significant upfront deposit. Other venues are much more laid-back or in urban areas where there is a wide variety of lodging options very close to the race site and you’ll have no problem.

Definitely keep an eye on the terrain of the race that you’re looking at. A lot of first-timers look for races that have forgiving course layout. By that I mean that the swim has a current (or is not in an ocean). The bike is flat and ideally the weather isn’t too hot. The run is ideally also flat or at least not too rolling. If you have a strong cycling background you can get away with having a course with more terrain assuming that you execute well. If you’re someone who is just looking to get to the finish line, you should be mindful of what you’re asking your body to do on race day. The hillier or more challenging the terrain is, the harder your day will be. It may be more beautiful and it may be a nicer place to stay, but it might not be the best place for you to race.

112 miles on the bike is hard no matter what. Up. Down. It’s just hard.

Does Your Race Motivate You?

The last, and I believe to be the most important, criteria is motivation. This is something that I don’t believe a lot of people consider when they choose a race but for me it’s very important. I need a race that gets me excited. I need a race that I’m looking forward to, one that is challenging enough to get me motivated to train, but not so challenging that I don’t look forward to it.


A great race is one that matches your schedule it takes into account how much time you need to train is not too expensive if that’s possible, and it’s cool/epic enough that you’re excited to train for but you’re not terrified by the prospect of recent.


Up Next: Beginner Ironman® Budget Planning


Questions to Consider / Answer in the Comments Below:

    • Veterans — What was your first Ironman® and why?
    • What’s more important to you: race location, race terrain or race cost?
    • What is your first race of choice? Why?


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Coach P

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