“Ironman – what is that?”


Its a question which sorts you into one of 3 groups:

  1. You can answer the question from personal experience.
  2. You know someone who has completed the event.
  3. You have never heard of Ironman (or you think it is something to do with Ky Hurst and Nutrigrain) – these are the people most likely to ask the question.

So which one are you?

I first heard of Ironman when I was a teenager and it took until I was 28 for the full magnitude of the event to sink in to a point where I could contemplate doing one myself! For over a decade my brain had struggled to conceive the times and distances involved. When I answer the question to someone for the first time I usually get as sense of awe and disbelief from the other person. It goes something like this:

Q: “What is ‘Ironman'”

A: “Its a long distance triathlon which takes a full day to complete. The distances are 3.8km swim, 180km bike and a full marathon of 42km running to finish. The clock doesn’t stop and times can range from 8 to 17 hours.”

“Oh my gosh! I could never do that?”

“How do you know that for sure? Anyone can do an ironman if they really want to.”

There are remarkable people who overcome old age, missing limbs and even Team Hoyt – a father and disabled son whose love moved dad to carry his son around the whole course. In Kona I witnessed octogenarians and people with artificial limbs completing the distance. It just disabused me of my notion of ‘impossible’ to see that.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that everyone should want to do an Ironman. It isn’t for everyone! And I will say this:

“Ironman is one of the most memorable things you can do in your life. The training will make you fitter than you have ever been in your life and race day will break your body down, minute by minute. There will be unforeseen challenges and you will find a way to accept them and use them to your benefit. You will experience intense emotions across the full spectrum: frustration and despair that you can’t imagine, unimaginable joy and amazing bursts of energy that make you feel unstoppable. As you cross the finish line you might burst into uncontrollable tears or collapse exhausted (this is common and there are wonderful people who catch you and then put a medal around your neck). Whatever happens you will feel more alive than you have ever done before. Beforehand you can only imagine how it would be to complete an Ironman and afterwards you will feel your brain stretching to embrace a new reality. Something that seemed impossible at first has now been achieved and your whole being has grown. Whatever happens on race day it is an experience that will change you deeply.”

If your heart stirs and you are drawn to the experience then I wish you full courage as you take on the challenge. It is exactly as possible as you believe it to be, no more and no less! And whatever your experience, don’t forget to share it with anyone who asks. It is a gift of pure inspiration.

Those of us who haven’t raced in the last year or so might be lucky enough to witness the story of someone who has. We have just come to the end of Ironman season in Australia and New Zealand and here are some results. If you took part in one of these events I would love you to post your story here on this blog for others to share.

Tenacity is one of the qualities I admire most in a person and when I met Will Pack at our workshop last November he told me two things. Firstly that he had only recently learnt to swim and secondly that he was training for his first triathlon. It just happened to be an Ironman! At the time Will was swimming 100m in around 3 minutes and was exhausted after 15 min in the water. His initial aim was to swim 2km in 1 hour. Recently he got in touch with his latest update:

So i did my first ever triathlon – the NZ ironman. My swim time was 1h29, which i’m happy with having been a non-swimmer less than a year ago. Couldn’t have done it without your help!

I’ll be back to work on my swimming, maybe chop 10 or 20 minutes off my swim time – but first i need to chop 1 or 2 hours off my run time.


It makes my day to get emails like that. It is humbling to see what people can achieve when they just don’t believe in ‘impossible’.

Tony High was there too:

Hi Dunstan and Sarah,

I just wanted to let you know I completed the NZ ironman last weekend at Lake Taupo.

The swim was AWESOME.

Prior to your course, I would have been happy with 76 minutes, which is the time it took me, however, before doing the TI course I would have got out of the water pretty tired.

BUT, as you would well know, using the stuff I learnt with you guys, I just literally glided the 3.8km’s, sat on some feet in front, relaxed shoulders, head down, marionette arms (from the video), kept swimming in the tight barging of the start instead of pausing, not too many head lifts to check direction, etc.

So I got out of the water feeling completely relaxed and like I’d just done a cruisy 500 metre warm up. Seriously! It was amazing. Plus, Lake Taupo was crystal clear freshwater which made it even better.

I then just kept cruising on the bike and run (telling myself to “go slow” due to my very limited amount of training because of all my o/s travel, AND 4 kids, AND playing in a band), so I managed to complete my first ever ironman an hour less than I thought I would (14 hours) – the whole day was fantastic.

So thanks again!

I’m now looking at doing Pt Mac in 2011, so will probably be back for an easy speed workshop, as next time I’ll now be doing the ironman for a specific time, rather than just to finish.

Hope all is well with you guys. 



Clearly a 3.8k swim is no longer a big deal for Tony. Just like a walk in the park… I LOVE it!

QLD based TI Coach Steve van Bodegraven was there too. He got a PB for the swim leg and took 20 minutes off!!! his overall best time.

I had my best IM swim at NZ and I attribute it to several skills and techniques I have learnt through TI and practiced. I’m more than happy to write abut this experience. A title of ‘Relax in the pack’ comes to mind.

I’m excited to read more from Steve…

Congratulations to everyone who was in Taupo. I will share some more IM stories  from Port Maquarie later in the week,



2 Responses to ““Ironman – what is that?””

  1. Sarah Anne Says:

    Anyone who steps up to this distance in the water, on the bike and on foot is a hero in my book!

    Whether you’re racing to win, to beat a previous time or complete your first race, the time needed to train for an event of this distance take so much dedication, commitment and often sacrifice.

    As a TI coach being able to play a small part in people’s epic journeys to becoming Ironmen and Ironwomen is hugely inspiring.

    Well done to all at Taupo and Pt Mac. Who knows….. one day this girl may step up to the ful IM distance one day. I know I’ll have lots of people to come to for motivation and inspiration!

    Sarah Anne

  2. Port Macquarie – Aussie Ironman Champs « Swim all Day Says:

    […] Swim all Day Total Immersion helps swimmers who struggle in the water and want to swim with ease and grace « “Ironman – what is that?” […]

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