Making the triathlon move from Sprint to Ironman

Stepping up to the Ironman challenge

Triathlon has something for everyone, with racing ranging from novice Super Sprint events all the way up to Ironman.  Each one presents its own challenges and rewards and offers great racing to the athlete in their own right.  Many people migrate to triathlon motivated by Ironman and the epic challenge that it presents. However sprint racing is just as much fun. It’s short enough that you can go at it properly but it’s also achievable for most people in terms of training and racing, and obviously not as physically damaging or mentally tough as the longer events.

Written by Will Clarke

Will is a British triathlete. He's a former U23 World and European Champion, competed at Beijing 2008 and has twice been British national champion.  He now competes on the World Ironman 70:3 circuit.

Moving up from sprint triathlon

When choosing what distance to race, it depends entirely on the athlete. Think carefully about what motivates you, your level of fitness, how much time you have to invest into training, how injury prone you are and what you want to get out of it etc. Sprint and Olympic distance is short enough for you to be competitive the whole way through which means you can rev the body hard.

Even if you’re just looking to get round, then you can be competitive sometimes with minimal preparation and the demands on the body afterwards are not as harsh. If you’re racing at a high level as an amateur you can also have the opportunity to race in the ITU World Age Group Champs which is attractive and the pinnacle of this style of racing.

Competing in a triathlon

Handling the differences between Ironman and Sprint Triathlon

Ironman is a different story altogether and presents a whole host of challenges that you wouldn’t have experienced in Sprint and Olympic racing. Often Ironman attracts athletes just looking for the ultimate challenge, which means in some cases that you have many competitors just looking to get round before the cut off (which in itself is no mean feat).

This sort of approach can be quite mindset change from being competitive in a Sprint event, to having the aim of just getting round an Ironman. Almost everyone in the event will find it tough and that includes the pros. After all the hours of training and endurance the race effectively becomes about suffering and trying not to drop below your target pace.

Compared to shorter racing you’ll have to deal with that completely dead feeling in the legs. In addition there will be heaps of other niggling things like saddle soreness from over 5 hrs of time trialling plus blistered feet from all the hours of running.  Having said all of that, most of the event organisers put on a great show and offer the athlete an amazing experience both in and out of the race. That, coupled with the sense of achievement from finishing the race can make for an incredible race weekend.

The best path to becoming a good triathlete is always to start with Sprint racing and work your way up until you find the distance that most suits you and gives you the most enjoyment. This way you have the chance to develop the skills and speed required to race well which will mean if you wanted to move up to Ironman then you’re not limited and you’ll cash in on that extra speed and skill that you have developed during Sprint races

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