Thursday, October 13, 2011

How to Play for Less: Ironman!

Hello, all!  I received quite a few emails from my guest post on meals and miles regarding Ironman, which inspired me to write a new series for the blog.  Each week (or so) I'll pick a new area and share my thoughts and experiences on how to save some $$ while "playing".  First up? Ironman, of course!

Triathlon is an expensive sport, no doubt.  You can start out relatively cheap (sneakers, bike, helmet, swimsuit, goggles, done) but once you start to ramp up your distance, it gets a bit pricier, of course!  When I started out in 2005, I had a 50 dollar target bike, a swimsuit, a borrowed wetsuit, and 30 dollar running shoes.  It got me through my first two tri's (sprint and Olympic distance), no problem.  After the first season, I realized that this was something I wanted to do long term, so I decided to make a few investments.

A 400 road bike (I shopped at the end of the season for sales).  150 clipless pedals and cycling shoes.  Better sneakers. And of course, padded bike shorts.  (A Godsend!).  Add in a few other clothing items and it came to about $1000 investment.  Not bad- this bought me two more years.  Then I signed up for a half ironman.  Now, truthfully, I would have been just fine with the same bike (Specialized Allez).  But fate was not on my side, and I got hit by a car while riding 8 weeks out from my race.  Bad luck= having a grade 2 separation in my shoulder and not being sure whether or not I could compete (I did.  I'm dumb, or determined.  Your call).  Good luck=the check from the settlement allowed me to buy my own tri bike!
Aside from the bike....there are a ton of expenses when taking on long distance racing.  Here are some tips as to how to save a few pennies (that I learned along the way, at least!):

How to save on....

Equipment.  Play around online.,, and all have deals on athletic gear that are new on a daily basis.  You also can go to ebay, or google discount codes for (fill in the blank) to find a good deal on your gear.  I even got 10% off my bike for being a USAT member.  (Which doesn't sound like much, but it was a $1600 get my drift).  Check out end of season sales.  When doing an Ironman, you typically commit yourself a year in advance, so you can peruse deals in October when people are getting rid of their stuff.

Coaching.  Do it yourself.  I would never underestimate the power of a good coach, and I think they are extremely helpful if trying to hit a time goal.  However, they are quite pricey-anywhere from 100 bucks a month up around here.  You can find a plan online for free, or for pretty darn cheap that works well for you.  I did my last two Ironmans self-coached, and while I didn't top any podiums, I met my time goals, so I considered the plan a success.(Note-you need to really be disciplined to do this...if you know you won't do the workouts without a kick in the pants, get a friend or spouse to help you out!)

Nutrition.  Of course you want to train with what will be available on race day.  Please do-there is nothing worse than a messed up stomach at mile 10 of the marathon.  However, you do not need a million dollars worth of gu, perform, endurox, and shot blocks.  Have them on hand, but experiment with real food (I know, a shocker).  I ate real food for 80% of my bars, fig newtons, peanuts, jelly beans, and even fruit.  Not a gourmet meal, but much better psychologically and easier on my wallet.  (Disclaimer:  I pretty much have a stomach of steel and did experiment heavily during training.  Make sure it works for you on long rides and brick before you do it on race day!)

The GymSince most races are in the summer, your training won't start (typically) until the beginning of the year.  Shop around for deals on gyms in January...most wll have great deals on memberships due to New Year's Resolutions.  You don't need a fancy fancy gym....any gym with a pool will do!

The Race.  Of course you have heard my debate over M-Dot and Iron distance, but there are some darn decent races that are not WTC affiliated and thus are much cheaper (Rev 3, HITS, Beach to Battleship, Vineman, etc.)  I still would recommend shelling out the $$ for your first, but it also depends where you live.  Can you drive to the race site?  (much cheaper than flying, obvi!)  When determining lodging, can you stay a few minutes out of town to save a few bucks?  How about reserving a place that has a microwave/fridge so you can make your own meals?  (Also good for your GI before a race!)

I would say these five areas involve the highest cost for your race.  Estimates vary, but a decent ballpark for Ironman is about $8,000 (including everything) for a "budget athlete".  I didn't keep track of every penny, but my latest Ironman (non M Dot) cost me less than $2200, including race fees, hotel, gas, gym membership, training plan, nutrition, equipment replacement and training camp.  Not bad for 9 months of work!


  1. $8000!! who spends that on an Ironman? I spent under $8000 for both of my Ironmans combined this year

  2. lol, I know! I think they assume you are starting from scratch, which isn't too far off the mark. But even doing your second can get expensive with travel, gas, food/nutrition, tune up races, equipment, replacing tires/tubes/bike maitenance, training camp, coaching, gym membership, etc.... I was actually amazed at what I spent!

  3. Yay! Another athlete with an iron belly. I am always the odd ball amongst my friends with lemon drops and real oatmeal cookies to use as fuel. We may not be the norm but our food is much more tasty.