How to Choose Your First IRONMAN

Choosing to commit to an IRONMAN is a big decision. Here are the five key factors every first-timer should consider when choosing their first IRONMAN race.

Committing to training for an IRONMAN is a big decision, and then there’s the next dilemma: which race to do? With the increased popularity of IRONMAN, there are more and more races on the calendar to choose from. Here are some key factors to think about before clicking that “purchase entry” button.

Course Difficulty

Ok, there is no such thing as an “easy” IRONMAN. No matter which race you choose, you will still have to swim the 3.8km, cycle the 180km and run the 42km to reach the famous red carpet. However there are some courses renowned as being more “challenging” than others, be it for a rough sea swim, hilly bike or “lumpy” run. My advice to a newbie at Iron distance is to avoid these courses and allow yourself an easier induction into the world of IRONMAN.


Most people expect that there is going to be a significant amount of time involved in preparing for an IRONMAN. Typically you are looking at between 6-9 months of heavy progressive training before you’ll be ready to toe the start line. And because the timing of your race date will dictate when your base and build periods will fall, you should choose your race date with your life circumstances in mind.

At at the simplest level, you should expect your initial few months to be “light” (training-wise) with the really heavy part of the training to begin around two months before your race date. This is worth considering if you know you train better in certain conditions. For example, northern hemisphere folks following a 9-month plan with an October race date will find they are doing a lot of their long bikes in the summer months.

Weather considerations

At this stage of your triathlon career, you should have a rough idea of what conditions suit you best i.e. do you melt in the heat? Or fall to pieces in the rain? Check out the local weather conditions for your chosen race and see how it might work for you or against you on the day!


An IRONMAN race is stressful enough, so for your first time, it’s worth selecting a race that minimizes the required logistics to get set up for the big day.

Important logistical factors

  • Your proximity to the race venue. i.e. Planes, trains or automobiles?
  • Are there direct flights to the race venue or not?
  • Do either or service the venue/race? These services can help eliminate worries about bike transport.
  • Whether it is a split transition—this can add significant complexity.

Other considerations

  • Potential for non wet suits
  • Cost/availability of accommodation
  • Potential for a much-needed holiday location post race
  • Whether there is a group of your training buddies aiming for same race. These can provide great support for the long cycles in the base/build period, and can help divide and conquer race day logistics.

Choosing your first IRONMAN is never easy and nor should it be—it is a huge commitment! But by at least considering the five key points above, you are putting yourself in a better position to select a race that is the best fit for you. One further piece of advice: once you have made your decision and registered – do not second guess yourself. Embrace it and tailor your training and work/life balance accordingly—you are in for one hell of a journey!

Steven Moody

Steven Moody has starred in the corporate rat race but found his greatest source of satisfaction came from his 15 years of endurance racing including numerous IRONMAN finishes and world championship qualifications Realising this fact, Steven abandoned his cubicle and moved into full time coaching. Steven is now Ironman University, Triathlon Ireland and Training Peaks level 2 certified and in 2017, was awarded Triathlon Ireland Coach of the year. Browse his pre-built training plans in training peaks by clicking here or if you have queries on personal coaching/training plans you can contact him via