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First Ironman Advice
CREATED: 09/05/13 by cclark1025 REPLIES: 19
cclark1025's ravatar cclark1025    JOINED: 3/12/12    POSTS: 43
First Ironman Advice
POSTED: 9/05/13 6:32 PM

Hi all,

I plan on signing up for my first IM relatively soon and am hoping for some advice on which one to do. I REALLY wanted Chattanooga, but I didn't get it before it sold out in 21 minutes yesterday.

I want to do an IM brand event for my first one. Hills on a bike are my weakness, so I'm kind of terrified of Idaho, Lake Placid, etc., but I would consider it. I'm also considering Wisconsin or Whistler. Does anyone have any thoughts??


tgalbert's ravatar tgalbert    JOINED: 9/30/10    POSTS: 403
RE: First Ironman Advice
POSTED: 9/05/13 7:06 PM

Oh, man, too bad you just missed our club sponsored "So, you want to be an Ironman" information session on Tuesday! We'll have a lot of veterans around this weekend for the Nation's activities, come out and meet some of the folks and they can help you get a feel for what might be best for your race choice!

dsgrunning's ravatar dsgrunning    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 1409
RE: First Ironman Advice
POSTED: 9/05/13 7:24 PM

Florida and Arizona are flat. It has sold out pretty quickly in the past, but with Chattanooga coming online, I don't think that it will go as quickly as in prior years. Chattanooga took a lot athletes in the SW that normally would do FL. Keep in mind that WTC gave tri clubs in a few southern states slots for Chatanooga, so that pool of potential Ironman triathlete just a little smaller.

Unless you grew up in elevation, I think all WTC races are good for you, except Lake Tahoe. Some people like early season races because they don't want to train in the hot summer months. Some people don't like training in the cold, so they choose a late season one. Decide what you prefer and go from there. Check out the average temp of each race to see what you prefer to race in.

Pretty much every WTC race out there will have a first timer rate of about 40%. They are all good for first timers, depending on who you ask. I would use some of the more measurable criteria that I listed above to choose a race. Everyone has their preference. A thousand people may reply and tell you race x is great, but if it doesn't play to your schedule or preference needs then you are not doing yourself any favors by doing that race.

Don't pick a race because someone else tells you that they will do it with you. Chattanooga is one example why. Just from experience, people will either back out on you at the last minute or get injuries along the way. Pick a race for your own selfish reasons. Is a long day out there. Pick a race that tickles your tummy, not others.


Spot99    JOINED: 4/15/11    POSTS: 40
RE: First Ironman Advice
POSTED: 9/05/13 7:46 PM

This is a link to a site that provides a good statistical analysis of Ironman races.

The stats rank the races in a variety of ways that might help you decide which race is best for you. As for not being good on hills, you probably have enough time to work on that.

There are also a lot of videos on YouTube for the races. Some, like Lake Placid, even have training videos.


kerrie    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 19
RE: First Ironman Advice
POSTED: 9/05/13 9:45 PM

I'd also consider your personal/work schedule when choosing a race. If you can predict your schedule a year out, try to avoid overlapping your heaviest training periods with your busiest times. Have fun! Kerrie

HappyRunner's ravatar HappyRunner    JOINED: 1/15/11    POSTS: 222
RE: First Ironman Advice
POSTED: 9/05/13 11:03 PM

As you research the various bike courses, keep in mind what a veteran once told me: "Wind is like an unending hill." Arizona may seem flat, but you have to factor in the wind. Seems like Florida may be the "easiest" (least hard?) on the bike. WTC says the Chattanooga course has 2100 foot elevation, which seems to be per loop. Online postings (Ride with GPS, etc.) seems to have over 5500 feet elevation.

kev7's ravatar kev7    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 467
RE: First Ironman Advice
POSTED: 9/06/13 7:47 AM

I have raced three different Ironman courses and rank them from "easiest" to "hardest" as:

Lake Placid

The Wisconsin bike course had endless rolling hills, sharp turns, steep climbs, etc. that chewed me up. I like to consider myself a decent climber but that course took a toll on me.

With that said, the Ironman is hard regardless of the course profile. Pick an Ironman that you will enjoy and tailor your training based on it.

Good luck!

dsgrunning's ravatar dsgrunning    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 1409
RE: First Ironman Advice
POSTED: 9/06/13 7:55 AM

x2 on what Mr. HappyRunner says about flat courses and wind. They can be mentally tough since, unlike hills, you don't see the end point. Staying in aero for most of the 112 miles bike ride, while constantly pedaling on only a few gear, can be a challenge to your muscles.

I would take the graph in the URL that Dave posted with a grain of salt ... at least the one that shows the "Ironman Triathlon Challenge Index" based on finishing time.

It doesn't paint the entire picture. There are a lot of hidden things that it doesn't tell. For example, it lists the 4 fastest or easiest races as races in Europe. What it doesn't tell you is that European races have 15-16 hour cutoffs, whereas American IMs have 17 hours cutoffs. What this means is that there are more fast people in Europe towing the start line than in America. Obviously, this is going to skewer the average finishing time of the group.

Ironman Germany is listed as the second fastest or easiest. What it doesn't tell you is that it's the European Championship, with a 15 hour cutoff. All of your typical 14:30 - 17:00 finishers aren't going to sign up for a race with a 15 hour cutoff knowing that they either don't have a chance at making the cutoffs or would require a best race case scenario for them to make the cutoffs. This means that you have a lot of more fast racers showing up, which puts a big bias on the finishing time.

I can also tell you that having done 3 European IMs that, among normal age groupers (i.e., non-podium types), Europeans are way faster than Americans. In Europe, you don't see as many walkers on the marathon course and you're constantly looking over your shoulders for bikers passing. When I did IM Germany, I was shocked by the number of people running the marathon leg as opposed to walking it. It's a 4 lap run course so you see folks of all levels and speed throughout the run ... running. When you watch or do American IMs, you'll see that the courses are filled with people doing the march of death. This is a testament to the fitness levels of Europeans and how fast they are as a group.

The graph also lists IM Florida as more challenging than IM France. Anyone who knows anything about IM France and IM Florida will laugh in your face if you make such statement. I've done IM Florida and I have driven on large portions of the IM France bike course. My car had to walk up some of those hills around Nice, France :)


cclark1025's ravatar cclark1025    JOINED: 3/12/12    POSTS: 43
RE: First Ironman Advice
POSTED: 9/06/13 9:24 AM

Thanks, everyone. I'm still pretty bummed I missed out on Chattanooga because that really seemed like a great race for me. Downriver swim, rolling hills...things I can do.

Based on what you all have said, my biggest weakness after hills is heat. My body does not do well in overwhelming heat or humidity. That being said, I trained for my HIM throughout all of last summer, so it's not the training as much as race conditions that matter.

I looked at some of the graphs about weather, and it's really hard to tell. It looks like Idaho, Whistler, and Lake Placid all have similar average temps in the upper 70s. I just feel like Lake Placid has to be pretty humid in July, right? I have family in BC, and I know it's much drier up there, so even when it is 80, it doesn't feel so bad. That being said, I read some not great reviews on the Whistler race this year, but I think I'm maybe leaning towards Lake Placid or Whistler. Lake Placid is obviously an easier location, so that's also something to consider.

This makes me feel crazy that I'm stressing out about this. But I appreciate everyone's advice!

RJohnson1979's ravatar RJohnson1979    JOINED: 9/13/09    POSTS: 82
RE: First Ironman Advice
POSTED: 9/06/13 9:28 AM

You're not crazy. Every IM has its unique features and challenges so it makes it almost impossible to find perfect conditions for training/racing. Pick a location you'd enjoy visiting at a time of year where training fits into your life. Train hard for it and you'll have a blast!


dsgrunning's ravatar dsgrunning    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 1409
RE: First Ironman Advice
POSTED: 9/06/13 10:00 AM

Unless you're willing to pay extra for a charity slot, Lake Placid is sold out for 2014 ... might want to think quickly about the other ones too :)

Idaho is a very cold swim ... like upper 50s lower 60s. Just something to consider. The year I did IMFL, the air temp was upper 40s while water temp was 70. It made for a freezing bike ride for the first hour+. It eventually became perfect in the later part of the bike and run. The year before I did IM Germany, air temp was upper 90s. The year that I did it, it was a pleasant upper 60s/lower 70s ... but monsoon rain from sunrise to sunset.

At the end of the day, they are all tough and have their own obstacles. You're out there for the entire day, so terrain and weather will be change throughout. Like Ryan said ... it's impossible to find a perfect condition because mother nature does funny things to good people :)

The thing about Ironman racing is that you have to think about them a year+ in advance. Many of them sell out so quickly. There are people already talking about 2015 races. It's the nature of the beast.


cclark1025's ravatar cclark1025    JOINED: 3/12/12    POSTS: 43
RE: First Ironman Advice
POSTED: 9/06/13 11:30 AM

Go big or go home, right?

Just registered for Lake Placid.

I figured the extra cost would be about equivalent to flying to BC, and this way, I can hopefully ride part of the course sometime next year.

I'm scared. And will be back for advice on hill training once I digest what I've just done.

JHJ20012's ravatar JHJ20012    JOINED: 2/1/10    POSTS: 181
RE: First Ironman Advice
POSTED: 9/06/13 2:22 PM

Congrats on signing up for your first IM. IMLP was my first this year and it was a fantastic race. While IMLP is billed as a hilly, challenging course, rest assured that there are plenty of nearby routes (Poolesville, Laytonsville, Fredrick) with enough hills to get you more than ready for game day. I wasn't much of a cyclist when I started training, but with consistency and a gradual build up of mileage and elevation, those Lake Placid hills were no problem on game day. Don't psych yourself out. Find a training plan you can manage and a compatible crew to train with, and you'll be all set. Good luck!


JayC101's ravatar JayC101    JOINED: 2/27/11    POSTS: 105
RE: First Ironman Advice
POSTED: 9/12/13 10:09 AM

I've done Louisville, Lake Place and FL. Based on your weaknesses you listed I would say FL would be your best bet but see you went on and signed up for Placid.

Placid's bike course isn't that bad, you just have to ride it smart and not hammer it in the beginning because the hills come at the end of the 2 loop course and I don't think they are that bad, but after being on the bike so long and all, taking those hills for the second time on the second loop can be a bit mentally exhausting.IMO what makes Placid hard is the run course which was the hardest of the 3 IM's I've done and you will def want to practice running hills for it.

All in all though IMO getting physically ready for an Ironman is the easier part, its building the mental toughness and making sure you get your nutrition down right that's the hard part. Placid is a great course though with a lot of energy on it so you should have a good experience with it.

afava's ravatar afava    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 258
RE: First Ironman Advice
POSTED: 9/13/13 11:13 AM

Congratulations! I'm confident that you won't regret picking Placid.

I LOVED the bike course. You'll likely move more slowly than on a flat course but your body and mind will appreciate the variety of the terrain over 112 miles. There are hills but I found that the hills on the course were actually easier than many of those that we trained on locally. And it's not all hills. There's a nice 15ish mile flat section and you get to that twice!


cclark1025's ravatar cclark1025    JOINED: 3/12/12    POSTS: 43
RE: First Ironman Advice
POSTED: 9/13/13 11:42 AM

Thanks, all. I know that Florida or Arizona would probably be the best for flat riding, but in the end, I opted for scenery and the atmosphere, which I hear is great.

I'm cool with going slow on the bike. I guess I just need to buy some winter riding gear and get myself to the hills.

Wasn't there also a winter spin thing last year? Riding alone on my trainer may get old pretty fast if it's a bad winter.


MikeyPMA's ravatar MikeyPMA    JOINED: 2/16/13    POSTS: 20
RE: First Ironman Advice
POSTED: 9/14/13 9:10 PM

I've only heard amazing things about the IMLP atmosphere. For 2014 I am planning on volunteering or just hanging out, so I can experience it all, even though I am not in it. I am sure you will enjoy it!
I am going IMChattanooga because I signed up for a charity slot, that particular date has really significant meaning to me, otherwise I would have probably gone IMLP too. This will be my first full distance also!
I am not sure where you normally train but I live in Gaithersburg and work in Germantown, right near some of the best hill courses in the area (River/Senaca to Poolesville and Germantown/Boyds to Frederick). I typically cover 1200ft in 30 miles and thats not even the hilliest part!
If you are anywhere near that area I would absolutely recommend riding those hills. I can either send you mapped rides or shoot you and anyone else invites for rides. I am actually hoping to get decent small/medium sized group rides going out there this year.
If you are 1/10th as excited and motivated as I am about this 2014 season, then I know you'll have a blast (even if it doesn't seem that way sometimes) doing the training and research. Hope to see you out there!


Gizmo's ravatar Gizmo    JOINED: 10/19/13    POSTS: 37
RE: First Ironman Advice
POSTED: 10/19/13 10:21 AM

Lake Placid was nice you wont go wrong with it.

chris913's ravatar chris913    JOINED: 9/23/10    POSTS: 103
RE: First Ironman Advice
POSTED: 10/23/13 2:37 PM

Congratulations on taking the plunge!

As for the hills, remember that there is a silver lining: It can be nice to recover the legs a bit going downhill. The climbs also give you the opportunity/excuse to get out of the saddle & strecth. It can be a slog sitting in aero for 5:30!

Good advice above about not going out too hard on the bike: do the bike you should, not the bike you could. Especially with a hilly run to come.

I have my second IM next month & I agree with your thought about WTC events. Last year (IMFL) was an incredible experience. I was really bummed when it was over. Enjoy the whole atmosphere & experience!

With that said, you mentioned a downcurrent swim...beach 2 battleship is a fun & very well run non-WTC event with a VERY fast swim. Maybe for #2.

Good luck!


Gizmo's ravatar Gizmo    JOINED: 10/19/13    POSTS: 37
RE: First Ironman Advice
POSTED: 10/23/13 2:54 PM

Also on the bike put your blinders on! you will see everyone riding like they are doing an Olympic distance. But if you just keep a steady pace you will start to pass them as if they where standing still starting at about mile 70. And ontop of that you will still feel good once you start your run. I was told to do this and I had the same bike spit for second loop as the first and still had a good marathon.

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