What it's like to become an Ironman

The Ironman; 2.4mile swim, 112mile cycle and a marathon, is often seen as the pinnacle of multi-sport endurance. Hence, it has garnered a cult following in the sporting and certainly triathlon community.


As a young man (or a late teen) I was always drawn to the masochistic nature of the Ironman and held athletes who complete it in very high regard. The closest interaction I had with Ironman growing up was my father who completed Ironman Wales in 2016. For the whole family it was an incredibly emotional day having all known the sacrifices, early mornings and hard days training that took for my father to get there. It was then, seeing the event in all its glory, I vowed that I would become an Ironman myself someday.


However, I did not expect it to happen so soon. Throughout my time at university, I continued my main sporting love at the time and played rugby extensively, both for university and club teams. But towards the end of my degree my time was stretched, and I focused on my studies and put the rugby on the side-lines (if you pardon the pun). Upon the completion of my degree, I had found myself in a unique position where I had no sporting commitments and a summer free ahead of me. It was at this point I realised it would be a now or never moment for undertaking the ironman.

"I vowed that I would become an Ironman myself someday"


After completing registration for Ironman Wales 2018, I donned the trainers and started training. I did start gently with the volume of training to begin with to avoid injuries from sudden over training. But that didn’t stop long days in the pool, on the bike and on the run. As time went by, that is when the long days would back onto one another, and the big day double session would ensue.

Prior to signing up I had a complete appreciation for the shear volume of training that was required for me to be able to finish the Ironman. But there are a few things people are not particularly forthcoming in sharing. Granted the training main goal is get your fitness to a level in which you can complete the feat but its perhaps secondary goal is getting your body able to do it too. I am not talking about developing muscular endurance; I’m talking about getting over chlorine in the eyes, losing toenails, garments rubbing your skin, wetsuit rash, windburn, sunburn, tooth ache from sugary sports drinks. Granted they seem rather trivial in a day to day setting but when your only focus is on getting the session done at a quality standard to derive as much benefit from it as possible, the fewer distractions or niggles you have the better.

Hero Days

It would be of little surprise to anyone for an Ironman to say that they would be an obsessive and perhaps compulsive person. And I am no different. Throughout my training most of my spare time was dedicated to learning better technique, developing a better training plan, tweaking sessions to derive the greatest outcome from them and obsessively trying to understand what made the best triathletes the best.

"the efforts required on the hero days was heroic, they put me in some dark places"

It was from a YouTube deep dive I stumbled across the concept of the “hero day”. The idea being that you would devote a day to a given discipline and go further than required on race day, thus giving you the confidence on the day knowing that each discipline on the day will not be as hard as these hero days. The challenge that is left for the day is to piece them together.

For me, this looked like a 5km swim, a 117-mile bike ride (in the most horrendous conditions ever) with double the elevation of race day course and an 18-mile run, again with double elevation of race day. Granted that the run was shorter than required on the day, but race day was going to be my first ever marathon…

As the name suggests, the efforts required on the hero days was heroic, they put me in some dark places. But they were dark places that I came back from and that gave me the confidence in my ability to complete the Ironman.


From the journey I took through the training one thing became apparently clear to me. It was the build up and the training that makes the Ironman, not the day.

Race day was there to be enjoyed, all the hard work in the months prior is to come to fruition. All that was left to do was to maintain some self-belief, keep the fingers crossed that the bike stays intact and just put one foot in front of the other until that finish line is crossed. 

James Bain 2018 Ironman Wales Finisher