7 Ironman pitfalls to avoid

The very nature of Ironman means that many people fail to get to the start line, the finish line or their goal time – it stretches the mind and body to, and beyond, their limits. So be warned: there are pitfalls and you need to be ready for them…

(Image: Jonny Gawler)



Running: the hardest sport on your body and the one most likely to cause an athlete to come unstuck and contemplate a DNF somewhere over the course, normally due to pain from a niggling injury. Therefore, you must be aware that a previous running injury should guide your run mileage and not what our plan says or how many miles your mate is putting in this weekend.

Don’t run too fast, or always on hard surfaces, or without taking on adequate nutrition. You’re not a marathon runner or a sprint triathlete; you’re an Ironman, so your training must be different.


A swim takes up around eight to 12% of the total race time. You need to be efficient; that means not spending 50% of your week trying to alter your race time that yields just 1% on the big day. Unless there are real problems with your ability to complete the swim, be sure to dedicate no more than 25% of your weekly time to the first discipline.

Swimmers take note: you might have an awesome sub 55min swim, but it could take that long to walk the last three miles of the race. If you hear and believe that Ironman is all about the swim, you’re likely to be the same person who responds to e-mails that say there’s a million pounds on its way to you from a dead relative.


Aero bikes look awesome but they require a helluva lot of power to get them to the finish line. Train the body and use the race bike to feel fast from time to time, but don’t think it’s going to dig you out of the mire because you failed to ride further than 50 miles at any point in training. Bikes go as far and as fast as the owner’s legs can take them – and no further.


If you get a serious virus or chest infection and still keep training you need to question your sanity. Ironman athletes are fit – but they are healthy, too. If problems arise you must attend to them and ease off the training for however long it takes. Don’t get off the 3:1 work:rest plan but adapt the amounts so you build back into it.
It’s just a guide: your body dictates what can be done, not a coach, not a previous training year and not because you want to be a hero.


Ironman forgets the last race you did so you’re always starting with the chance of failure – even more so if the last solid race or the last time you got anywhere near the distance was three, five or even 20 years ago. Remember: be humble and you can crack the distance; be arrogant and above your ability, and it will eat you alive, spit you out on the run and leave you puking your guts out by the roadside.


Normal people do Ironman, but it also attracts the slightly abnormal who just can’t do anything but train. The Ironman distance gives them an excuse to do so.

Do the race but be sure to pay back all those who help you with added interest. Better still, if you’re going to
be a hero, be one for a charity and do some good at the same time. Ask yourself, why has the London Marathon attracted so much attention? Because normal people do it and raise money and awareness for the less fortunate.



Unless you’re going to be an Ironman monk, you’ll still need your friends, work associates and family for when all the training and racing is over. At all times, balance training with what is around you; it keeps the last and most important ‘P’ in clear focus: perspective.

Free Ironman training plans

How to train for your first Ironman

15 Ironman training sessions from the pros

Preparing for an Ironman: group vs solo training

Ironman run training: how important is the weekly long run?