The Life Cycle of the Age Group Ironman Athlete

Coach Rich at Ironman® Wisconsin 2011

As we begin to close out 2012 and look towards 2013, you may have registered for your 1st, 2nd, and 22nd Ironman. If that’s the case, we’d like to share with you some observations we’ve made about the typical “Ironman® Lifecycle,” so you can know what to expect as you grow and evolve into the distance.

Your First Ironman

It’s a all big puzzle — how to train, how to fit that training into your life, researching and buying gear, seeking out advice from more experienced Ironman® athletes, buying gear, researching training methods, and buying gear. You are most definitely skeered of the distance and this creates a sense of urgency around everything you do related to preparing for your big day. On race day you are definitely chasing the romance and baddassery of the Ironman® title.

Your Second Ironman

About 3 days after your first Ironman® most of the “OMG, WTF was I thinking, that was soooo painful!!” stuff passes and you begin to have lots of “I bet I could do this, that, and the other thing better next time!” In short, the romance and sexiness of the distance fades a bit, or the complexity of the puzzle, and the desire to solve it better next time, rises on your list of goals. However, at the same time, training, lifestyle compromise, and focus fatigue begins to creep in. That is, your back to back long rides on the weekends have become decidedly less sexy. The phenomenon of “I’m always thinking about Ironman” is a bit less than in your first season but those thoughts and the accompanying focus begin to be fatiguing.

Most importantly, you begin to feel the cost that Ironman® training and the attendant focus can have on other areas of your life — date nights missed or cut short, friends forgotten, books left unread, other hobbies dropped, spousal eyes rolled, children’s names forgotten, etc.

Your Third Ironman

The sexiness and romance is, at least until the gun goes off, probably mostly gone. The goal is no longer to finish. The goal is to train better, race smarter, and go faster. This season it is definitely much more about doing a much better job of solving that puzzle and going faster.

At the same time, that focus-fatigue is right there, all the time. With a tear in your eye, you watch your short course and half Ironman® friends roll out of the parking lot for their 2-3hr ride as you start your 8th consecutive solo 4.5-5hr ride.

Most Sane, Well-Balanced Triathletes Are “Good” for about Three Ironmans

^This^ is the observation we’ve seen over the years. In our experience, most Ironman® athletes “get it” after their third Ironman® and many “step down” to shorter distance triathlons, shift toward single sport events, or other opportunities to drive that fitness vehicle, built through Ironman® training, in different venues.

That’s not to say that >3x Ironman® finishers are complete whackjobs…though we’ve certainly seen a few of those out there! Rather, most of these people have adopted training methods, mental approaches, and lifestyle shifts that create a healthy longevity in the sport of long course triathlon…which is what I’ll talk about next:

Tips for Achieving Longevity in Long Course Triathlon

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38 comments
  • Tre’ Harris
    REPLY

    This is so true! I’m coming up on #4 Iron but I’m dragging several other people with me. This Iron will be more social and not eat up all of my life. Many thanks to Endurance Nation over the years!

  • Tre’ Harris
    REPLY

    This is so true! I’m coming up on #4 Iron but I’m dragging several other people with me. This Iron will be more social and not eat up all of my life. Many thanks to Endurance Nation over the years!

  • Mike Aldrich
    REPLY

    My IM life cycle may be “one ‘n done!” Thanks in great part to your 4 Keys, I nailed my first IM & beat my DREAM TIME by 43 minutes & so many of my friends who are faster and more suited to endurance sports than I. On that day, Execution + preparation > Talent

    Could I have done a couple of things better? Sure! And my wife now wants to do her first 140.6 & does NOT want me to sherpa. I may get dragged along.

  • Mike Aldrich
    REPLY

    My IM life cycle may be “one ‘n done!” Thanks in great part to your 4 Keys, I nailed my first IM & beat my DREAM TIME by 43 minutes & so many of my friends who are faster and more suited to endurance sports than I. On that day, Execution + preparation > Talent

    Could I have done a couple of things better? Sure! And my wife now wants to do her first 140.6 & does NOT want me to sherpa. I may get dragged along.

  • Brenda
    REPLY

    I concur, you nailed this to a T! I completed my 3rd IM in 2008 and definitely changed up my training patterns after that. I am still nostalgic about IM and plan to do another (or another couple!) but I think it helped to let some years pass under the bridge and get back to some basics…as well as to a life with friends, family, hobbies, sleep, and sanity. Nice write-up.

    • Rich Strauss
      REPLY

      See the article I wrote a couple weeks ago re “are you ready to do an Ironman.” Personally, I’m squarely in the “does it sound like fun” camp. In the meantime, it’s fun to just have a routine, set small goals, train with my friends, etc.

  • Brenda
    REPLY

    I concur, you nailed this to a T! I completed my 3rd IM in 2008 and definitely changed up my training patterns after that. I am still nostalgic about IM and plan to do another (or another couple!) but I think it helped to let some years pass under the bridge and get back to some basics…as well as to a life with friends, family, hobbies, sleep, and sanity. Nice write-up.

    • Rich Strauss
      REPLY

      See the article I wrote a couple weeks ago re “are you ready to do an Ironman.” Personally, I’m squarely in the “does it sound like fun” camp. In the meantime, it’s fun to just have a routine, set small goals, train with my friends, etc.

  • lee brownell
    REPLY

    I am right on schedule.. have completed twoIM and will do CDA and Tahoe next year.. currently running thin on SAU’s…but have wife training now… will put a few units in the bank for 2013. I enjoy reading your information.

  • lee brownell
    REPLY

    I am right on schedule.. have completed twoIM and will do CDA and Tahoe next year.. currently running thin on SAU’s…but have wife training now… will put a few units in the bank for 2013. I enjoy reading your information.

  • Dakta Radl
    REPLY

    I’ve signed up for my 7th Iron distance tri next January (New Zealand), don’t tire of doing it! Maybe its because I am a runner doing ultradistances and the annual Challenge Wanaka is my ‘crosstraining’? Cycling to work every day certainly helps with training and there are soooo many detours on my way home in sunny Marlborough! Thank God the swim is the shortest of the 3 disciplines and 2 months of swim prep does it for me.

  • Dakta Radl
    REPLY

    I’ve signed up for my 7th Iron distance tri next January (New Zealand), don’t tire of doing it! Maybe its because I am a runner doing ultradistances and the annual Challenge Wanaka is my ‘crosstraining’? Cycling to work every day certainly helps with training and there are soooo many detours on my way home in sunny Marlborough! Thank God the swim is the shortest of the 3 disciplines and 2 months of swim prep does it for me.

  • Jason
    REPLY

    This is dead on. Did ironman CDA in June 2010 wide-eyed and excited. Did it again this last June to a sub-10hr finish (9:50) and treated it as something I “knew I could do” but the allure in my training was lost a bit. Qualified for Kona in CDA and, although Im stoked to have qualified, the training for Hawaii has lost all its allure. I have a coach and enough experience in triathlon to know what I need to do… and that’s all it is now… it’s just a grind up until the point i get to line up and go for it. right now, the thought going back to short course in my future makes me want to cry with joy. with that said I have to clock another 5hr bike on my day off. peace out.

    jason

  • Jason
    REPLY

    This is dead on. Did ironman CDA in June 2010 wide-eyed and excited. Did it again this last June to a sub-10hr finish (9:50) and treated it as something I “knew I could do” but the allure in my training was lost a bit. Qualified for Kona in CDA and, although Im stoked to have qualified, the training for Hawaii has lost all its allure. I have a coach and enough experience in triathlon to know what I need to do… and that’s all it is now… it’s just a grind up until the point i get to line up and go for it. right now, the thought going back to short course in my future makes me want to cry with joy. with that said I have to clock another 5hr bike on my day off. peace out.

    jason

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