Is an Ironman worth the price?

>> 8.23.2012

I know that I'm not a fitness blogger and most of you could care less about triathlons, but I thought this topic might be helpful for some people who might Google search the blog or want to participate in an Ironman in the future. 

Fun fact: the largest group (by far) of athletes at our Ironman were the >40 men. To these guys who normally have well-paying jobs, the cost of an Ironman doesn't usually become a big factor in their planning. According to the race organizers, the average salary of the participants was >$150,000! For a <30 female with a husband also participating and a very tight "fun money" budget, the value of the experience was definitely on my mind!

An Ironman is a multi-sport endurance triathlon consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and 26.2 mile run. The professionals finish in around eight hours while the rest of the group has to finish in under 17 hours. It begins at 7:00 am and ends at midnight. The race is responsible for providing a safe course, food, drinks, medical staff, volunteers and clean-up for the event. The athletes have to provide their own equipment, attend mandatory meetings, and get from point A to point B.

The price:
The entry fee alone was.... wait for it... $650 (each).
Yep. Doesn't sound super thrifty does it? This fee covers things like road closures, food, medical staff, etc. Seeing as there are iron-distance triathlons out there that do it for $100-300 cheaper, I'm not sure how much of the fee was necessary and how much we were paying for the name brand race. We, of course, had to do this event at least once because we wanted to be "Ironmen" officially and not just "Iron-distance men."

Their professional pics cost a lot of money, but we were both feeling sick afterwards so pre-swim pics are all I have!

The extras:
They make you come into town the Thursday before the Saturday event for mandatory check-in/ so that you spend more money at the local hotels. I can't imagine any non-local wanting to drive home after 10+ hours of exercise, so there's really a minimum of three nights of hotel stays for each athlete, or around $600. Personally, I ended up buying a tri-specific bike last winter for $1,300 and needed to buy a gym membership for $25/ month so that I could train for the swim in the winter.

It's easy to get sucked into buying logo merchandise after the event. I bought these cookies and a logo shirts as well.

What they give you:
For Ironman Texas, we received: a finisher's shirt, a finisher's hat, a medal, and a really nice backpack. I'm not sure that you get the finisher's items if you don't finish because they hand them to you at the finish line. 
There were also two non-race meals (pre/ post race) included in the entry fee (family had to spend $30/ ticket). The amount of food/ drink that they offered during the actual race was really impressive and the medical tent was a big bonus as well. Nate and I both had IVs afterward for dehydration at no extra cost! I also saw plenty of people taking advantage of the bike's mechanical support- they had extra tubes and even wheels in case anything went wrong.

The value:
I went into the race upset with myself for feeling the need to do a name brand race. As we did a 100-mile bike ride during our training, I thought, "People pay a lot of money to participate in century bike rides. Why are we paying a lot for this Ironman. We could just do the same distances on our own!" It wasn't until I was participating in the race itself that I really understood the value of the experience.
  • The crowds/ volunteers that show up for an Ironman (vs. iron-distace) are amazing. 
  • The organization and support provided by the company is absolutely top-notch.
  • A racing environment is actually fun. Doing a 14-hour workout alone at home is not so much fun.
  • I know that I'll be able to refer back to this race at age 90 and impress great-grandchildren similar to the way people can bring up climbing a certain mountain peak or running a marathon.
In the end, I did pay a lot of money, but I also felt like I got a lot back. I'd give the race as a whole a B+ for value. I can't promise that I won't do an off-brand event in the future, but I don't regret spending the money on Ironman at all.

My tips for first-timers:
  • Train to finish in <14 hours.
  • Arrive before transition opens.
  • Park near the bike transition. 
  • Remind your friends/ family to take pictures of you. 
  • Follow your nutrition plan! Don't make any decisions during the race.
  • Don't stop during the race unless you need to stop.
  • Don't allow yourself to think quitting is an option. Plan on crawling across the finish if you need to.
Are you going to do it again?
Probably, but not in the next five years. I'd like to improve my time/ feel stronger at the finish.

Was it harder than you thought it would be?
Yes and no. I knew going into it that I would/ could finish and I had experience with doing a half Ironman before. The Ironman was just so exhausting! I started crying during the bike at mile 85 when I realized that I had two more hours of cycling then, during the run, I was thisclose to laying down on the side of the trail and taking a nap.

I've said before that a 5k race can be just as hard as a half marathon depending on how hard you're pushing yourself. The Ironman doesn't even compare to any race. A half Ironman is easy compared to doing a full. EASY. Still... I think that any able-bodied person that puts in the training can complete an Ironman.

Did you stop and take breaks?
I did stop/ walk a few times. I mostly tried to keep up a good pace so that I could bank the time in case of a flat tire or other issues. I stopped twice during the bike to stretch my legs/ use the restroom. Then, on the run I walked through a lot of the water stops while I re-hydrated/ re-fueled... up until mile 19 where I started throwing up. I sat at the medical tent for a while to regroup and then ran/ walked until I threw up again. I walked the last 4ish miles because my stomach was upset and it was really nice to have that option because I had the extra time built in. Remember, finishing after midnight meant "not finishing."

How do you go to the bathroom?
Porta-Potty. They had food/ restrooms every 10ish miles on the bike and every mile on the run.

Why do it?/ You're crazy.
I like a good challenge. More than anything, I like to impress myself. I still remember the first time that I ran five miles without stopping nine years ago because I was so proud of myself. If you would have told me that day that I would eventually finish an Ironman, I would have laughed at you... and that's why I think it's so great that I actually did it!


m @ random musings August 23, 2012 at 12:55 PM  

Thank you for your post! I was talking to someone at church (they do triathlons of the ironman-distance variety for charity) and really couldn't nail down how much of the entry fee was the cost of running the event and how much actually goes to charity. (I don't think the person actually knew ). I'm glad you had a good experience... uh, is the puking & IV part common?

Kasey at Thrifty Little Blog August 23, 2012 at 1:05 PM  

@m~ I should have written something in the main post about the charity because it's a big thing that I dislike about triathlons in general! Most triathlons are self-serving events. They're for profit and for the fun of the athletes. Ironman is a corporation like any other- they do give to charity, but it's not really why people sign up for races. It's like buying shoes from Target and feeling proud because you're supporting charity (again, every big business gives some money away).

I don't think that everyone necessarily throws up/ gets IVs, but the medical tent was giant and full of people. Also, >10% of the people that started didn't even finish so there are assorted problems across the board! I'm just glad that I avoided blisters :).

Kasey at Thrifty Little Blog August 23, 2012 at 1:13 PM  

@m~ I just reread what you posted before... Your friend could be part of a charity team like Team in Training- they solicit donations from friends and family separate from the entry fee. I believe that they do donate a large amount to charity.

There's also Ironman Foundation which basically charges a larger entry fee with more of it going to charity. It's over $1,000.

When I want to raise money for charity, I usually do events that were created with the intent of raising money for charity. We have several good runs for charity in our area, but the only triathlon that I know was created for charity and not profit was a kid's tri. I think triathlons are just too expensive to produce to be a good fundraising choice.

Allison August 23, 2012 at 1:26 PM  

Congrats! I'd love to get into triathlons but I don't think I could ever handle an ironman.
Maybe some day.

Klever Girl August 28, 2012 at 9:57 AM  

Good for you! It's always amazing to look forward to goals and even more impressive to look back and KNOW you've achieved them.

Truly inspiring :)

chacha September 3, 2012 at 8:42 PM  

For the amount of organization and support they give, I think $650 isn't really that bad. Compared to some of the marathon entry fees out there.

I just can't get into the multi-sport thing. I think in my lifetime, I want to run 50 mi, then 100K. Not sure I want to do 100 mi though. Maybe I can assess that if I get to 100K!

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