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Do I Need a Coach to Train for My First IRONMAN?

BY Heather Casey

With a good coach, you're getting more than peace of mind that your training is on track. Here's why getting some guidance is key for your first IRONMAN.

You’ve done it — you’ve signed up for your first IRONMAN distance race; a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and a 26.2-mile run. Those distances on their own are intimidating, but to do all of that in 17 hours or less takes the intensity up a notch. 

Regardless of whether or not you have prior experience in the sport, jumping up to IRONMAN distance is a huge undertaking. Between work, social commitments, and training, things may start to seem overwhelming. 

In order to have a successful first IRONMAN, it may be wise to consider hiring a triathlon coach with IRONMAN experience. But is it the right choice for everyone?

What Do I Get With a Coach?

Working with a triathlon coach takes the guesswork out of your training. A good IRONMAN coach will guide you through all the building blocks of a periodized training program, from laying the foundation and growing your aerobic engine during the “base phase” to what is known as the “build” (the hardest block of training) to your race. Having access to data analysis and performance suggestions will help clarify every step of the way.

It’s good to have the logistical part of training covered, but a coach will provide you with so much more than just workout regimens. A good coach is generous in delivering guidance in everything from what to eat before the big day and what to pack in transition bags, to how to navigate the mounting nerves that appear upon arrival to the race venue. They’ll also help you adjust your training when life doesn’t go as planned, helping you stay on track to reach your goals no matter what curveballs you’re thrown.

With a truly fantastic coach, you end up with a friend, mentor, and fellow triathlete to whom you can entrust your dreams, frustrations, fears, and successes. 

Can’t I Just Train With My Triathlon Friends?

The short answer is, sure, of course you can train with friends. However, be wary of simply following their workouts. Every athlete has different needs, goals, strengths, and weaknesses. Relying on your friends’ training schedules means the individualization for your specific needs is lost. This could result in training without significant performance gains or even more serious issues like injury. 

A better way to incorporate social training is to work with a coach or trusted triathlon pal to establish which sessions are best done together, and which are best done solo. This way, you have time to focus on your goals, but also have sessions where you and a friend can motivate each other. This is a delicate balance to strike, but it’s not impossible to design this type of training schedule on your own. 

IRONMAN Is Expensive. Is Adding a Coach Worth It?

Registering for an IRONMAN is expensive no matter how you look at it. The equipment can be pricey, the travel is hard on the wallet, and adding a coach to those line items might cause your bank account to shed some tears. 

However, not all coaches come with hefty price tags. Platforms like TrainingPeaks will match you with your ideal coach for free (coaching rates vary) and offer both educational resources and an array of training plans at various price points. Coaching companies like Peak State Fit offer tiered pricing for one-on-one coaching, and a squad membership which allows athletes to purchase a training plan with additional benefits like webinars, team discounts, and the opportunity to schedule a consultation as needed. 

In the end, a coach is worth it precisely because IRONMAN is expensive. You’ve already invested so much in getting to the start line — why not invest just a little more in making sure you cross the finish line happy?

What’s the Verdict?

Hiring a triathlon coach for your first IRONMAN is a personal decision. At the end of the day, each athlete needs to think about their time commitments, personal life, and finances. Whether you’re hoping to transition from short-course to Iron-distance, or just hoping to finish, a coach will certainly make the journey a lot more enjoyable, educational, and rewarding. 

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About Heather Casey

Heather Casey, CSCS is a USAT Level 2 and Ironman Certified Coach living in Salt Lake City, Utah. Heather owns Peak State Fit with her husband and fellow coach Pat Casey. Peak State Fit specializes in triathlon coaching, bike fitting and corrective exercise training. Heather has several training plans for sale on the Training Peaks store. Visit PeakStateFit.com for more information.

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