(By the way, the answer to the last question is, “I didn’t know. I still don’t know. If I didn’t have pictures and a jacket from that event, I might not believe it myself.”)
So, I do not have any fast and hard answers to these questions, but I do have some ideas.
Sprint to Olympic:
The Oly Distance: 0.9 mile swim, ~25 mile bike, 10k (6.2 mile run)
If you have done a sprint distance race, then you know you are ready to jump up to the next distance (Olympic) when you finish that sprint! Because you will be hooked, first of all. But also, jumping to the Oly provides you an excellent opportunity to train for a longer distance event without losing your mind (that comes later with 70.3).
A couple of things to consider: the swim will be much longer than the sprint. Interestingly, if you can make the swim in an Oly distances, you’re darn near at the 70.3 swim distance. (The bike and the run are other matters, though!) If you are a weak swimmer, plan to give yourself enough time to build up to the Oly swim.
I did my first Sprint (with a pool swim) in October of 2010, and my first Oly (ocean swim) in May of 2011. I think that was a nice spread, but of course, each athlete is different.
Brett Daniels, a Level II USAT Coach with PTS Sports says, “Believe it or not the jump from Olympic to 70.3 is not that big of a deal. The limiting factor for a lot of athletes is their comfort level with the swim however the distance between the Olympic and 70.3 swim is only 500 yards so it is a negligible amount. If you are a novice swimmer it is imperative that you are comfortable with the swim distance prior to race day.” [Swim Bike Mom seconds this too!]
He continues, “That means swimming for much longer distances in training than the 1500 meters you will swim on race day. The bike is not that much of a stretch, as you should be regularly riding 20+ miles preparing for a sprint distance race. Making the jump to the 10k run is as simple as gradually increasing running volume until a 10k feels comfortable.
At an Oly distance, your race nutrition also becomes a factor so you should practice with taking in calories during the bike and run and staying well-hydrated.”
Olympic to Half Iron / 70.3:
The 70.3 Distance: 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run
Half distance triathlons are my absolute favorites. I completed my first in Miami in 2011. Just when you want to die, the race is over. 🙂 Also, the training for a 70.3 is reasonably manageable with work and family and life, but it is significantly longer than Oly training. (But is not quite the earth-shattering time suckage that is Ironman).
Make no bones about it, 70.3 miles is still a really long day at the office. My best advice is swim often, bike more often (for longer) and run after your bike workouts to get accustomed to the brick.
Daniels says, “A jump to 70.3 becomes a challenge through: 1) Time management (which SBM mentions below); and 2) on course nutrition.
The 70.3 distance is long enough that you can’t “fake it until you make it,” or you will end up in the medical tent or on the side of the road.
“Additionally, fitness comes through duration of your workouts. You will build your bike endurance through 3+ hour rides at Zone 2 heart rate — and the fitness will come from the duration of the workout not the intensity. This distance is also where the brick workout becomes extremely valuable in testing pacing and nutrition strategies. These “testing” phases and training days will help deliver you to the start of the run with gas in the tank to actually run (rather than shuffle/walk) the last 13.1.
“I don’t normally recommend stand alone events in preparation for triathlon, but in the case of 70.3 these stand-alone running events (e.g., a half marathon) isn’t a bad idea to work into the training cycle at some point.”
70.3 to Iron / 140.6:
The Iron Distance: 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 marathon run
Well, now were are starting from the proposition that you are not well. Ironman. Whew. What a buncha crazies.
The jump up to Ironman is a big one. Sprint to Oly to 70.3 is kind of inching your way up, a natural progression of sorts.
However, with the Ironman, you’re doubling your distance from the Half – which is already quite the distance. I mean, a 70.3 race day is already longer than a full work day–from showing up to the venue, starting and finishing the race, and picking up your gear afterwards. Even the speedy people aren’t heading home much before 2-3:00 in the afternoon, after an early 4-5:00am wake-up call.
You need the base fitness. Yes. Period. Half marathons, super long swims, metric century rides, and a half Ironman under your belt would be nice… but fitness aside, there are even more considerations.
The biggest question(s) (and commitments!) to consider before making the jump to Iron:
You absolutely must have bunches of time to spend on your bike and/or your trainer. Bunches. Like during the last training cycle, wrap your head around 4-8 hours for your long ride each weekend during build leading up to the race. Not to mention several 1-3 hour rides during the week. I am not sure you can get around this and survive the race. If you can survive an Ironman on 2-3 hours of riding a week, let me know–as the Coach formerly known as Monster used to say, “The Tour de France needs you.”
Nevermind the hours of swimming and running that still has to happen. Fine specimens of athletes can do this training on 12 hours a week, sure. “I did my Ironman on 8 hours a week of training!” (Again, the Tour needs you.)
If you make the time and have the time–and are diligent, the fitness will come. But a strong base fitness (half Ironman!) is a must.
You might train for 15 hours a week, but what about strength training and driving to and from the rides/gym, and physical therapy and running shoe shopping. Time suckage is everywhere. Just have to calculate all of that when you are thinking about the jump.
Is your family on-board with you? And I mean very on-board. Like scary supportive?
Because if they are not, I cannot fathom a way to make it through–not in one piece. Maybe if there’s no kiddos in the picture. You can just get away with it. But leaving your significant other babysitting for those all-day long century rides when they aren’t supportive?? Good luck with that.
Make sure you go through all the pros and cons of the situation and have your family sign a piece of paper with this understanding (or something similar) and stick it on the fridge:
We, ____________(significant other(s) and kid(s)), understand that Ironman is a huge commitment. This family is behind you. I, ____________ (significant other only) also understand that during this time commitment to Ironman, I might have an unfair sense of responsibility of the kids, laundry, cooking and life in general. I am okay with this for this limited time that is Ironman training. I agree to be supportive the best I can, although I will not be a doormat, and you do have to show up to life every so often and participate. I agree to discuss any Ironman-related issues before losing my mind and walking out the door forever.
In return, you (future 140.6 finisher), should execute the following statement and put it on the fridge.
I, ___________________(future 140.6 finisher), am sorry for all things.
I jest. Sort of. In all seriousness, though. It is a mind-boggling commitment that you can’t imagine until you are in the middle of it. Weigh it with the respect it deserves.
Race registration alone will break your bank. Take a careful assessment of what it will cost you to do this race: new gear, nutrition, hotel (for up to 5 days!), airfare, bike transport, wetsuit, bike, shoes, lube, etc. etc.
Yes, you can do triathlon for cheap and without fancy gear. But there are major expenses, I don’t care who you are.
Make a list. And pass this by the family too.
Finally… you can do it!
You really can. It takes an incredible amount of drive and commitment for any race, but it’s all doable. Most of all – have fun! Dream big… and when you are ready, close your eyes and make the leap! Taking a leap of faith and believing in yourself is HUGE. Don’t fear the leap–just be prepared for it. And of course, Just Keep Moving Forward. Pick “your Ironman.”
As a special person recently reminded me…
“Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities!
Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your
own powers you cannot be successful or happy.”
– Norman Vincent Peale