It seems that every year there are more and more novice Ironmen taking up the challenge of this great event.
I believe the biggest draw of the Ironman is that its within reach of anyone who is willing to put in the required effort to reach the finish line.
As a result it draws people from all walks of life as well a broad range of athletic ability.
I certainly would never want to deter anyone from striving for their Ironman goal, but it seems that little is ever written about the ever present hazards in an endurance event of this degree of difficulty. Make no mistake, the Ironman will test you to the limit of your physical, mental and emotional capabilities. Its finding out what we are truly made of that makes Ironman success such a triumph of the human spirit.
Unfortunate incidents do occur and its important that everyone who plans to take up the Ironman challenge be aware of and prepared for any contingency that might arise in training for, and racing in, their first Ironman.
The very first step, especially if you are not in great condition to start with is to talk with your doctor and let him know what you have in mind. I would do this before you even start a training program. It can be extremely hazardous to stress yourself physically too much too soon.
Once you are into your training be sure to learn all you can about the equipment you will be using. This includes all aspects of your bike, helmet, swim goggles, wetsuit, clothing and anything else that comes into play during Ironman training and racing.
Learn about riding in near proximity to many other bikes, swimming in the open water with upwards of 2000 other people and how improper nutrition and hydration can be a recipe for disaster.
Here are just a few things I've witnessed over my 25 years as an endurance athlete.
--In one marathon, a runner in front of me collapsed at about the 22 mile mark. I had noticed that he had slowed considerably over the previous mile. It was an extremely hot day. It turns out he had heat stroke and was rushed to the hospital and they had to get his core temperature down. He made several mistakes that day as it turns out.
He wore no hat. He didn't drink enough. He went out way to fast for the conditions that day and he wasn't properly trained for the distance.
--At one Ironman Canada bike check-in (back when bike checks were mandatory), the bike mechanic checking a first time Ironman's bike told him he had no rear brakes. (I mean, there were NO rear brakes) The answer he got was..."well, I still have the front ones."
Here is an Ironman course with probably some of the fastest downhills of any race. I can just imagine him having to stop in a hurry at 80 kph with only front brakes.
--I once watched two bikes wipe out on the course because a cyclists water bottle was too loose in the cage and came flying out right under someone's wheel.
--I was in one race where an athlete was given 5 units of intravenous in the medical tent because of dehydration. I'm still not sure if that's the record. Maybe its six. Remember, if ambulance attendants give you an I.V. out on the course, your race is over. Be sure to drink enough. Don't let this happen to you.
The Ironman can be such a great experience. Don't let foolish mistakes mar your special day.
Here are some things to remember:
--have a thorough medical check-up before you even begin Ironman training. This is especially important if your fitness level is poor to start with. Many novice ironmen are runners or swimmers etc. and are fit to start with and will not be quite as much at risk.
--If you're new to cycling, be sure and have a professional size the bike to fit you. Learn all you can about the mechanics and proper maintenance of your bike. Be sure to learn proper bike handling skills from an experienced cyclist. Be sure your helmet fits snugly and don't ever train without one.
--On hot days, get used to wearing a cap of some sort and be sure to take in more fluids. A cap is great during those hot races. You can put water or ice in them at the aid stations.
If you begin to feel dizzy at all during a training run in the heat, slow down or stop and find some shade and take in fluids.
Many Ironman athletes have problems during the marathon because they don't take proper precautions during extreme heat. Even pros will slow down. They know better than to over-exert themselves in adverse conditions.
--Take advantage of the transition areas. Spending a few extra minutes to gather yourself between the bike and the run can pay dividends later in the day. Its not always the best idea to run straight from the bike to the marathon course.
--The Ironman swim can be a harrowing experience for the novice Ironman. It need not be. Go in with a plan. Seed yourself properly or better yet, swim on the edges of the main pack and stay out of traffic trouble. Be sure you have trained sufficiently to easily manage the distance.
The Ironman might just be the most amazing thing you will ever experience. There are just so many positives that come out of this event.
Just some good old common sense and proper preparation will help ensure you make the most of your day and ensure a safe, exciting race.