I am a runner, a trail runner in fact and I love just getting out the door and running for miles or hours…so when my friend and I decided to try something a little bit different and challenge our bodies in a new way, the IronMan was our first choice. I have always enjoyed cycling, but swimming has always been my weakest discipline, so for me this was my biggest focus during training.

I had previously done four triathlons ranging from Super Sprint to Olympic distance so it made sense to step up and enter into the half distance of an IronMan (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run). I chose the IronMan brand as although there are a lot of half distances available, I wanted to do my first IronMan distance with a highly recommended organisation. I opted to go to a town called Callela, just outside Barcelona as the race was scheduled for May which guaranteed good weather and it was a convenient time of year before I went into my race season on the trails and mountains. My aim from this challenge was to become stronger, strengthen my swimming and to improve my overall performance as a runner. I had a big fear of swimming in the sea, so it was going to be tough.

Ironman triathlon training

I started training in December to allow 5/6 months of training which is recommended for this distance. I contacted my coach who luckily trains triathletes, but had never coached this distance. She took on the challenge with me and we worked together on a plan, combining both of our experience and knowledge. I had previous training plans for swimming sessions and turbotraining sessions for the bike but to put all the elements together is something I had no experience in, so to have a coach building a plan for me kept me on track and showed me my progress the whole way through.

I started off with pool swimming as due to the time of the year it was near to impossible to get in to a lake with temperatures at minus degrees. I had two sessions a week in the pool, one on drills and the other on consistency. This was to help build a better level of fitness and strength in my upper body. Using a pull buoy was also a key part of my training kit to support my technique before I headed to the outdoor lakes. Throughout the 5/6 months my training increased and I was swimming three times a week, running four times, cycling three times and also doing two strength sessions a week. As a runner I still kept my level of running high but the cycling introduced a turbotrainer session and two outdoor cycles a week. A Turbotrainer is a device that enables you to ride your bike stationary and indoors and is a great addition to your training if you can’t get outdoors to cycle.

Throughout the training months I did notice how much time was being dedicated to training and although I didn’t think I would manage to fit it all in, I did – but it was tough! I had to dedicate a lot of time and commit to longer training sessions, this can take a toll on your social life but if you’re really committed then you will stick to it.

I soon realised my fitness levels were getting better and I was getting stronger in the pool. At this point, I started to swim in the lakes in the two month lead up to the race which was still pretty cold but with a wetsuit it felt manageable and I covered the distance I needed to.

Ironman triathlon – race day

I chose to take my bike out to Barcelona for the race, but you can hire a bike if you don’t want the hassle of dismantling your bike and putting it back together again when you arrive. I also had to hire a bikebox to store my bike in for the journey on the plane which is quite a large box but easily moved if you hire a plastic one rather than a material one.

When I arrived in Callela I went for a run/cycle to test out the legs and get used to the environment. I also went for my first sea swim the day before the race to test my nerves and see how I would perform as this was the part I was most worried about, but thankfully I enjoyed it! The day before the race I had to leave my bike in transition and pack my transition bags for each discipline – Bike/Run- these bags were colour coded for ease of finding them for each change and I had to ensure I had enough nutrition in my bike bag and my running bag to keep me going. My nutrition consisted of Soreen mini malt loafs, Gu gels, Cliff Shot Blocs and Whitworths fruit and chocolate shots. I’m not a fan of electrolyte drinks so I just stick to water for hydration.

I woke up on race day feeling nervous but also really excited to pull all my training together. I chose to start my swim in the 50 minutes pen and managed to come in under 50 minutes which I was very happy with, considering I had no real indication of how long it would take me. I came into transition and changed from my wetsuit into my cycling kit, surprisingly with a lot of ease and then headed out onto the open road. The cycle for me was the hardest part. The course was so steep I decided I would take it consistently steady on the ups and build speed on the downs. However, the roads were very technical and I couldn’t go as quick as I would have liked to which cost me some time. I came into transition from my bike and then headed out for my run. It was a particularly hot day and it felt extremely hot on the run which took its toll on my energy levels, but I pushed through and came through to the finish line to get my medal and tee.

The organisation for this race was amazing and the location was even better, having a beach to relax on the next day made the recovery so much more enjoyable. I didn’t think I could achieve the swim on this challenge due to my fear of the open water, but with the right training plan and focus I achieved my goal. I would recommend anyone to try new challenges and the Ironman will certainly give you a sense of achievement! Would I do another one? Probably not. As much as I enjoyed the time working on the other disciplines I realised how much I loved running and missed getting out for long trail runs.

About the Author

Mountain and ultra trail runner

Connect with Maggie Dempsey

Maggie works in London for Nike and loves to share her passion for well fitted, stylish and functional athletic clothing. Outside of work, she is a mountain and ultra trail runner.

Maggie started running in 2009 and not long after completed London marathon. After ten additional marathons and with a love for long distance, she took to ultra running and slowly built up an impressive list of achievements. These include Threshold Sports in the UK, Sciacche Trail in Italy, Skyrace in La Palma and most recently Javelina Jundred with Aravaipa Running, which is a 100 mile race in the Arizona Desert.

She decided to share her passion for trail running by starting her own running community, Wild Trail Runners based in London. Their sessions consistent of hills every Monday in West London and monthly trail runs outside the city.

Besides her love for ultra running, Maggie is currently training for a Half Iron Man and she also enjoys strength training. She is also a qualified Running Lead with UK Athletics and a pacer for Nike Run Club.