Even though it's called an Ironman, don't be scared off by the name. A large percentage of the participants are women, so you'll be in good company. The Ironman consists of a 2.4-mile swim in open water, followed by a 112-mile bike ride. After that, it's a piece of cake: All you have left is a 26.1-mile marathon distance run. Despite the difficulty, if you feel compelled to try the Ironman, go for it. It just might change your life. As Ironman veteran and author Ray Fauteux writes in the Ironstruck website, an Ironman can be a "catalyst for vivifying the physical, mental, and emotional strength you never knew you possessed."
You're going to be training for months for the Ironman. To prepare for the event, you should reach the point where you can swim about 1.5-miles without stopping, ride for 100 miles and run roughly 20 miles. That's a large commitment in training time for anyone to make. Plus, "The New York Times" explains that about 20 percent of the entrants in an Ironman never make it to the starting line. You could blow out your knee running or break a leg in a bike crash.
Swimming long distances in a pool to prepare for an Ironman is an impressive feat. But when you dive into the Hudson River, for example, in the New York Ironman, it's a whole different animal. You'll be caught in a melee of 3,000 contestants. As "The New York Times" states, you can expect to be "inadvertently punched, kicked or pushed under by the arms and legs swirling around [you]." The cycling and running segments sometimes are conducted under a broiling sun or fierce winds.
The sheer distances of the legs of the Ironman reflect the name of the event. The 2.6-mile swim is the equivalent of about 170 lengths in a 25-yard pool. The 112-mile bike ride is the equivalent of peddling from Manhattan to Hartford, Connecticut. The run is the same distance as an Olympic Marathon. Now imagine doing all three events back to back to back. Even if you are in impeccable shape and the weather conditions are ideal, the Ironman will test your body, mind and spirit to the max.
To complete an Ironman, you'll need to fuel yourself properly. The event itself can drain you of 8,500 to 11,000 calories. The Ironman website explains that dehydration is more likely to force you to seek medical attention during an Ironman than any other condition. You'll need to make sure you're getting enough sodium and hydration -- but overhydration can get you in trouble as well. Determining an optimal eating and drinking schedule during the race will help reduce the physical pain you'll experience. Although the bike leg is the best leg for eating and drinking -- it's been described as a "112-mile rolling buffet" -- if you eat or drink too much, you'll be bloated during the final running leg when you are already suffering from the effects of the first two legs.
As "Scientific American" documented in 2011, people die during an Ironman. A man and a women died in the 2011 New York Triathlon, a much shorter race than an Ironman. Between January 2006 and September 2008, 14 people died during triathlons in USA Triathlon events. All but one of the deaths occurred during the swim leg. The overwhelming percentage of deaths during the first leg of the Ironman initially defies reason, since contestants are less fatigued when the race starts. However, researchers think that the swim leg is particularly dangerous for a number of reasons -- contestants are amped up with adrenaline, many are less adept at swimming than biking or running, swimming in open water is much harder than training in a pool, it's harder to take a break in the water when you are surrounded by so many other bodies and it's harder to be seen or to call for help if you get into trouble.
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.