From Couch Potato to Ironman — In 20 Months

Susan Lacke at the finish of Ironman Wisconsin, just 20 months after deciding to run her first 5K.

In 2009, I made a New Year’s Resolution to run my first 5K.

I assumed I’d run the 5K, cross the accomplishment off my bucket list, and go back to being a couch potato. But that didn’t happen.

Instead, that 5K led to something else: 20 months after making that resolution, I completed my first Ironman triathlon, a race which consists of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run.

Anyone can do an Ironman

After the Ironman, I wrote a post which was titled with the one statement about Ironman I firmly believe: “Anyone Can Do an Ironman.”

If you sit on the sidelines of an Ironman finisher’s chute long enough, you’ll believe this statement, too. There’s such a wide cross-section of Ironman triathletes, from chiseled studs to 80 year-old nuns. After sitting at enough finish chutes, I decided I didn’t want to be a spectator anymore. I wanted to know what it was like to be on the other side.

The next time I saw an Ironman finisher’s chute, I was running down it.

When I made that resolution to run my first 5K, I had no idea I’d complete an Ironman 20 months later. I was a couch potato who was trying to quit smoking (again). Ironman triathlons were something crazy people did, and though I was happy to spectate with a beer in my hand, I never saw myself as one of those people.

Besides, training for a 5K was hard enough. Training to run 3.1 miles was difficult and time-consuming.

Covering 140.6? No freakin’ way.

The 9 things that helped me do it

It was a series of bold choices, hasty mistakes, happy accidents, and – finally – focused planning which took me from couch potato to Ironman in just 20 months.

Everyone has their own way of doing things when it comes to Ironman, and when you train for one, you’ll discover yours. For now, here are what I found to be the nine most important keys in going from zero to Ironman faster than most people think is possible.

Key #1: Start small

For those people who think “I’d like to do that someday,” don’t make Ironman your first goal. Start small, like with running a 5K, and then gradually build from there.

My initial goal, in 2009, was to run a 5K. The race was so much fun, I wanted to run another one — so I did! I spent an entire summer running 5K races before deciding to make a jump to the half-marathon distance that fall.

As part of my half-marathon training plan, I started doing some cross-training – a little swimming here, a little mountain biking there, a few weights there – and all the while, had fun and enjoyed my new hobby.

Key #2: Commit

If you’re thinking about doing it, stop.

Plenty of people think. They have dreams and ambitions and goals, and they’re beautiful… but you need to become a person who stops thinking and starts doing.

In 2009, a friend of mine minimized his 12th Ironman finish by humbly telling me, “Psssht! It’s nothing! Anyone can do an Ironman.” I wondered aloud if I could be one of those people. He chuckled condescendingly and patted my shoulder: “Sure. Maybe someday.”

I signed up for Ironman Wisconsin 2010 shortly after that, before I had even finished a half marathon. My “someday” was circled on the calendar, 364 days away.

If you want to do an Ironman, the first step is the most important one: Pick a race and commit to it. Nothing lights a fire under your ass like the e-mail confirming your registration for an Ironman… and the 500-plus dollar receipt that comes with it.

Key #3: Find those who know

No one expects you to be an expert in triathlon before beginning your training for Ironman. But what is expected is that you’ll be willing to seek out those experts.

Having never done a real triathlon before, I knew I’d need help preparing for an Ironman. Many of the training plans contradicted each other: some said to do lots of long, slow rides and runs; others said to focus on intense speedwork with a few endurance workouts built in. I had only been active for about 9 months – hardly enough time to understand all that Ironman training entailed.

Instead of trying to decipher tri-speak on my own, I asked for help. I joined a Masters Swim group for training workouts, began doing track workouts with a free group, and enlisted the help of triathlete and cyclist friends to explain training concepts to me and suggest shorter triathlons to do as part of my training calendar.

I became a frequent customer at my local triathlon shop, asking endless newbie questions about gear and race nutrition.

I read every book and article I could on Ironman training, and practically tackled anyone, even strangers in the grocery store, wearing an M-Dot (the Ironman logo) to ask them questions.

I went to every race in my community, and some that weren’t.

I spent just as many, if not more, hours learning about Ironman than I did actually training for the Ironman itself.

Key #4: Build gradually

Focus on the next race, weeks away, not on the Ironman months away.

It took me a while to learn, but when you focus on the training that needs to be done for the sprint, then the Olympic distance, then the Half-Ironman, then the Full, you gradually build your distance in a way that won’t overload you, burn you out, or have you peaking too early.

Over the first few months after registering for the Ironman, I progressed to a full marathon in February of 2010, then did my first sprint triathlon in the early spring of 2010. I did multiple Olympic-distance triathlons and built up to a half-Ironman distance over the summer, before finally racing the full in September.

Ironman is the big picture, but it’s made up of a lot of little brushstrokes. Focus on the brushstrokes.

Key #5: Make mistakes

You will make mistakes. Lots of them. Too many to count.

Anyone who says they didn’t make at least one mistake while training for an Ironman is a liar. Mistakes happen. It’s the people who are willing to admit and learn from those mistakes who truly succeed in moving past them.

I ignored friends who told me I was doing too much, too soon – they warned of burnout, and I certainly experienced it… to the point where one of my friends came over to ride with me one morning, and I was in bed, crying.

Please don’t make me get on my bike today,” I begged. Finally, I understood what my friends meant by “burnout.”

I would skip rest days, feeling like those were a luxury I couldn’t afford. I only had a short amount of time to prepare, I worried, and every second wasted resting was a second which could have been spent getting stronger.

I was given a mantra to repeat every night: “You get faster when you rest.” It became a meditative phrase, keeping me in check when I felt antsy.

I focused too much on the physical nature of training, and not enough on mental focus. I learned both are equally important.

I made mistakes in refueling after workouts, until I finally realized that good post-workout food made it so much easier to get up the next day for another training day. I made tweaks to my diet, many of them based on Thrive author Brendan Brazier’s advice.

Key #6: Balance, not sacrifice

Triathletes, by nature, are exaggerators. They’ll look at a short rolling course and declare it mountainous. They’ll loudly complain that a bad race was not their fault – it was always something (or someone) else. They’ll brag about sun-up to sun-down workouts and ravenous buffets to refuel. They’ll tell you they spend more time with their bikes than with their spouses.

Such declarations are extreme. (Okay, not the ravenous buffets. That part is actually true.)

Ironman training is time consuming, yes. Depending on the training plan and what phase of training you’re in, you can expect to spend anywhere from 5 to 25 hours per week swimming, biking, and running. There’s also significant time spent maintaining gear (for example, cleaning your bike), preparing nutrition, and, perhaps most importantly, getting adequate food and sleep to fuel the training.

But it doesn’t have to negatively impact your work, family time, or social life.

Most Ironman triathletes have learned that it’s not about sacrificing time with friends and family, it’s about finding the right balance. While training for my first Ironman, I moved from Wisconsin to Arizona; balanced a full-time job, part-time teaching, and part-time writing; did work on my doctoral program; maintained my social ties; and somehow still managed to live a balanced life.

It wasn’t always easy. I’d often wake up at 4 in the morning to get my training done before work, and sometimes I had to skip or cut short a workout so I could meet a deadline instead. I was known for skipping out on happy hour in favor of an 8 PM bedtime, but everyone also knew I’d make it up to them by taking them out for a post-ride brunch on Sunday. I knew my priorities, and constantly sought to maintain balance.

Key #7: Have a support system

Having people to support you goes hand-in-hand with finding balance. A support system will know when to say “Quit being a baby!” and when to say “Oh, you poor baby!” They’ll understand why you fall asleep during the afternoon matinee, and will happily give up their French fries when you ask, “Are you gonna eat all that?” They’ll smile when you have a good training day, and give you a hug when you have a bad one.

And when you finally do run down that finisher’s chute, they will cheer louder than anyone there. In a way, it’s their big day, too!

After finishing my first race, I spent so much time writing thank you notes, giving out hugs, buying people dinner, and letting people know how much I appreciated their support. When I signed up for my second Ironman (Arizona, November 2011), I couldn’t wait to share the journey with my friends, family, and readers again.

Key #8: Blinders on

I hate the word “impossible.” Hate it, hate it, hate it.

Anyone who does an Ironman needs to learn to hate that word, too. You’ll hear it a lot during your training, and it’ll sneak into your thoughts now and then, after a bad run or when you panic during your first open-water swim start.

“Impossible” is your mind’s way of tricking your body into quitting. “Impossible” is what you say when you’re too scared to keep trying. “Impossible” is the easy way out when you begin to doubt yourself.

Fear and self-doubt can be powerful, but the only way to overcome them is to face them head-on.

I won’t lie: I had a lot of “oh, <bleep>” moments, especially in the days before the race. But I also had a lot of really good people who were able to talk me down before I gave up altogether (see #7, above).

Key #9: Enjoy it

Most people sign up for one Ironman, finish it, and then rack their bike in the garage, never to be ridden again.

I’m not that person. I love this sport, and have continued to train and race since last year’s Ironman. If there’s one thing I learned in going from couch potato to Ironman in 20 months, it’s that 20 months can change a lot.

And I enjoyed every single second of it. I still do.

I don’t mean to oversimplify the sport. If I’ve given you that impression, I apologize.

It’s work. It’s dedication and commitment and perseverance. But it’s still fun. I wouldn’t do this sport if it wasn’t. Race day is one day, the culmination of many days of training, each of them bringing their own little victories and joys.

Is it for you?

Many people train for much longer than 20 months before even thinking about registering for their first Ironman. My path just seemed to be a little shorter. It’s not the path for everyone, but it worked for me.

I still stand by my assertion that anyone can do an Ironman. It’s just that most people won’t. Many are content to let it be a fantasy, always on the “maybe someday” list; or worse, they’ll focus on all the reasons why they won’t instead of all the reasons why they can. They stand on the sidelines of the finisher’s chute, watching but never acting.

Don’t get me wrong — the sidelines are pretty cool.

But actually being in the finisher’s chute?

You’ll never understand what it’s like until you find out for yourself.



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  1. This is an awesome and inspiring story, Susan. Thank you so much for sharing and good luck in November!

  2. I can’t express how much this hit home. Thank you!

  3. This was such a great story! (I also clicked the links to read more of the posts about your journey, which are all awesome as well!)

    You really ARE a true inspiration. I recently gave up the idea of running a marathon and have been considering giving it a go in May, but haven’t signed up yet (though it is a ways away). I’ve done one half marathon after thinking I could never do it (having been quite a couch potato myself, 35 pounds ago!) so the idea of even a marathon is scary to me.

    An ironman sounds so scary, but if I ever truly want to do one, I know it is possible after reading this story!

    Keep it up!

  4. THANK YOU! (and contratulations!)

    I call myself a ‘power walker’, having done 13-min miles during eight 5-10Ks in 2009-10, but spent the last menopause-year fighting just get out of bed. I’m on the way back thanks to estrodiol and massive doses of vitamin D, and this time my goal is to RUN (which I’ve always called ‘thudding’).

    I’ve always walked and hiked, but not much more, and signed up for that first 5k before I was near ready, so I heartily agree with that philosophy.

    I’m switching to another window NOW to find a race nearby and, whether I run or walk it, I really appreciate this encouraging kick in the butt. Again, thank you!

    (As an aside, everyone needs to get their vit D levels checked annually. It’ll change your life!)

    • Renee Pagnucco says:

      I was wondering if you could tell me some of the symptoms that you’ve experienced with menopause and the vitamin D defficiency. I’m very motivated to run but am experiencing uncomfortableness that I attribute to being overweight but I’ve been heavier before without feeling like this.

  5. That’s all great advice for a beginner, and you should be so proud of yourself for all your accomplishments!

  6. michael holzberg says:

    Susan you have reaffirmed and Inspired me to go forward. I have decided to goal an iron-man for 2013. I have run 5k, 10k, a couple of half-marathons and a couple of full marathons. I received an email to register for a sprint triathlon close to my house, I registered and came in third in my age group. After reading this, I am ready to fully commit to the training to do it. Thanks for writing this article.

  7. Thanks for posting such an inspirational story! I really needed to read this today.

  8. Thank you for sharing this story. It is so inspiring! I don’t know you but I feel as though I do because I felt so proud of you as I read this! You are awesome!!

  9. Love this! it home on so many levels… I signed up for my first 70.3 back in March. A few months into training, I decided why not just do “a little more training” and sign up for an iron distance? My friends who were training with me for the 70.3 think I am crazy. I think you just know when the time is right for you. My 70.3 is this weekend. My 140.6 is October 29th.

  10. Wow, what an accomplishment! I am a former smoker, who just completed my 27th marathon (the number includes 4 ultras). I, too, never dreamed that I would be performing at this level…or that I would even LIKE it.

    I have completed three sprint distance triathlons and have had an Ironman in my “someday” list for a while (ever since I volunteered at an Ironman Wisconsin and caught the “bug”). I only have one year to go before I have both of my boys in school and will feel more comfortable with the time commitment!

    You are such a great inspiration and your story – as mentioned by Jasmine – really hits close to home. Thank you!

  11. Brooke Kroto says:

    Wonderful write up! It IS on my ‘maybe’ list. And I do stop short of committing for many of the reasons you named: the strongest being I am not sure I can do it (mainly the swimming) and I’m not sure I want to invest the time needed for training. (oh yeah, and the fear of wrecking on my bike.) But rationally, I do know I can do it. And I know it would be HARD work and take a good dose of courage. Thank you for giving me a shot of belief and courage to move this idea out of the ‘wish list’ and onto the ‘do list.’

  12. Love it! Anyone going 140.6 is an inspiration. When it’s a couch to iron story, all the better! I especially love #8. Thanks for including that.

  13. What an amazing story! I can only hope to get to a half marathon some day, but the tendonitis in my ankle has prevented me from being much of a runner lately. You have a lot to be proud of!

  14. Wow. That is so fantastic! You are amazing. You go, girl!

  15. Thank you for this wonderful piece – I really enjoyed it!

  16. Wow! What a great testament to setting a goal and working hard to achieve it!

  17. Absolutely amazing. Inspiring. I have no excuses now!!! Thank you.

  18. This was inspiring! I’m 14 months out from my first full Ironman, and going through the ups and downs you describe. Thanks for being brave enough to go ahead of the rest of us and leave a trail for us to follow!

  19. True – all true. As another vegetarian who went from a super-sprint (300M/11m/2m) to an Ironman (StG 2010), but who took 24 months, I salute your ability and willpower.

    It really is very simple. Its not easy – but it is simple, and its very possible for almost anybody.

  20. Great job with running the race! #9 is the key, enjoy it!

  21. What an inspiration you are!!! I’m not a couch potato but an Ironman is quite a feat – bravo!!!

  22. Elaine Perangelo says:

    I was chubby as a child, “big boned” as a teenager- I had athletic ability but no confidence.

    I think it may have been the very first time Wide World of Sports televised this thing called Ironman. I was about 18-20 years old, popping “black beauties” in my effort to lose weight… mind you while watching this thing called Ironman, I was eating a back of potato chips. I thought to myself “if I could do that, I would be in really good shape”… “some day, I want to do that”.

    Fast forward 20 years, and I had lost 120 pounds and met a guy who had done IM Hawaii (in the day’s when you could just sign up or there were only 10 people in the lottery!) and said to him, “I want to do an Ironman” to which he replied “well, why don’t you sign up”? I told him I didn’t know where to go to sign up!!! He said that people could no longer just sign up for Hawaii but I could apply though the lottery… okay, I entered the lottery just assuming I would get selected… this was in February 2000- My friend, Dave asked me “what if you don’t get in through the lottery???” to which I just shrugged my shoulders- he said, there’s always the iron distance Great Floridain you can sign up for, so I said “okay… I do that if I don’t get into Hawaii”.

    I had never done a triathlon much less an Ironman… needless to say, I didn’t get in to Hawaii but I did sign up for Great Floridain- for the next 3 months I trained… my first triathlon EVER was a half Ironman which was NOT pretty… I thought… I better do a few more of these before Great Floridian which was 4 more months away! Much to my amazement, I finished Great Floridian. I went back to my hotel room and went to bed only to force myself to wake up every hour or so as I wasn’t sure if I really had finished or was asleep on the side of the road.

    I have done 8 Ironman races, finished 7, finished 3rd & 4th in my A/G but never got a spot to Hawaii… I’ve entered the lottery every year but have never been selected. When it all started, all I ever wanted to do was this thing in Hawaii called Ironman… I’m now 53 years old. I am not nor have I ever had a wish to be know as a triathlete- all I’ve ever desired is to do 140.6 miles of swimming, cycling and running in Hawaii… just like John Collins. Yes, I am an Ironman… I’ve heard Mike Riley say it as I run down the finisher shoot several times but it’s not Hawaii, it’s not MY Ironman…

  23. Spent the last 11 months getting in shape. Did alot of 5k to 13.1 mile races, 5-6 Olympic Tris, and a couple Half Irons. Last Monday, 3 minutes after they opened online registration, I was registered for Ironman Madison. Unless I do one sooner it will be my first Ironman. This article is so true.

  24. You are so inspiring! Went and cheered on 3 members of our running grp at tri-rock san diego couple wks back. I was amazed at their success. Currently getting ready for 3rd H marathon, and my 1st Marathon in Jan. Good luck with Ironman coming up!

  25. Dear Susan,
    Very inspiring read! I would love to do the Full Ironman but I have two issues:

    1) I have gone through two Arthroscopy operations (one on my left and the other on my right knee). I wear a very tight knee guards when I run and I’m worried that I will REALLY damage my knees if I do the Full IM. Nevertheless, I still take part in at least 2 Half IM each year and numerous ODs. My concern is pushing my self beyond my physical limits.

    2) My family is not that ‘crash hot’ in my Triathlon pursuits. They don’t even come for races unless I prod them to. Its rather disappointing. But I’ve learnt to bear with it and instead focus on my sport.

    As such, to a greater extent, I’m quite envious. Anyway, I wish you well and hopefully ONE day, I’ll be able to run down the finisher’s chute!
    All the best for your race in Arizona.

  26. I’m sitting here right now, 5 months and 18 days from the day I decided to make my health a priority and started taking triathlon training seriously. I’ve since lost 40 lbs, and am in better shape at 42 than I was at 22. The couch potato thing hit home!

    I am now five weeks out from my first 70.3, training has been amazing and the fitness is right on point…but as of this Sunday, I have a calf injury that has just SLAMMED me mentally…so I completely get the self-doubt thing now too…

    I am also now approximately 14 months from my first IM (IronMan AZ 2012)…I know now that truly anyone can do an IronMan. Am I there yet? No, but I know for a fact based on my training and the transformation in my fitness and health, that this goal is achievable. Fortunately I have an amazing spouse with the same goals, that loves me, pushes me and supports me in equal amounts; and I have great friends and teammates like Susan Lacke that are always there to share a great story (and an occasional beer/cupcake/brunch). Thanks for another great article Susan.


  27. “When the student is ready, the master will appear.” I am a three time cancer survivor, five time triathlete and aspiring Iron-woman. “Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake.” I am a believer in “meant to be” and the “law of attraction”. It was absolutely meant to be that I read this post, at this moment! Because, I am now…”m-dot” bound.

  28. Preparing for my first marathon and your words were inspriational and ‘fuel’ for my continued training.

  29. Thank You, I needed that!

  30. Thanks for this inspiring post. I’m a marathoner and sometimes triathlete preparing for my first half-Ironman distance race in 2 weeks. I am scared to death of not finishing, though in my head I know I can do the distances. Thanks for the psychological boost!

  31. You have just inspired me to do it. I just completed my first sprint tri last month, am training for my first marathon next month, and have always had ironman dreams. I thought it would be years before I would get there, but after reading this, I am thinking why not now? Thank you!

  32. I loved this whole post! I’ll be doing my 2nd IM at AZ this November as well – good luck!!!

  33. Thanks for the post! It was exactly what I needed. I’m preparing for my first sprint race this weekend and I’ve been having “oh ” moments all week so far. Thanks for #8 especially. I think I may have just committed myself to doing an Ironman!

  34. Congratulations Susan. I have goosebumps after reading that. What an achievement – you’re an inspiration.

  35. It was great to read your progress and preparation for your event. You should take great pleasure in the comments to your post. You have obviously inspired quite a few people.

    Here’s my triathlon story (sorry for the rambling):

    I am a runner. I own two bicycles, one for commuting (a road bike), and the other for touring (a cyclocross bike). However, I do not consider myself a cyclist. I can’t swim to save my life, but I sure can doggy paddle better than anyone else I’ve met.

    A tri buddy of mine has been pushing me to do a tri for quite some time. Because I can’t swim well and OD triathlons have a swim leg almost as long as a half ironman, I figured it was to my advantage to just do a half IM. So I signed up for the Big Island 1/2 IM in June, 2010.

    The problem was that the race was only 6 weeks after my spring marathon. I nailed the marathon, took a few weeks off to recover, and started training for the half IM. Because I had just had a great marathon, I couldn’t force myself to train seriously for the half IM. My longest swim was about 400 meters in a pool and I must have looked like I was having a seizure the entire time. I just couldn’t force myself to try to get it right. I figured if I couldn’t finish the race, at least I had a nice trip to Hawaii.

    I did about 2 bike rides longer than 10 miles to prepare for the race. The beauty of being in good running shape, is that running translates very well to cycling. I knew this, so I continued to just put the miles in with my running shoes.

    I decided to rent a bike in Hawaii to save money, and also because my 1970s Fuji road bike isn’t the bike I want to race 56 miles on. I didn’t want to do the bike jersey thing and I wanted to let everyone know that I was a runner, not a cyclist or swimmer. So I decided I would swim, bike, and run in my running clothes.

    I had never swam in open ocean water before, so I was worried about the waves, but hopeful the saltwater would keep me afloat better. I made it to the first buoy before realizing I bit off way more than I could chew. From that point on, I doggy paddled until I was about 100 meters from the end. I gave it everything I had and made it out of the water with 9 seconds before the cutoff.

    I transitioned to the bike and ended up doing quite well in that leg. However, had I not been so stubborn and gotten padded shorts, I’d have done much, much better. The running leg was the easiest for me. However, triathlon course designers do not know how to design running courses. I was in Hawaii, running on a damned golf course!!! Really? Is that the best you can do? I race (running) 20+ times a year and this has to be one of the worst running courses I’ve been on. Either way, I was actually quite shocked I was able to finish, given my lack of preparation.

    If someone as lazy as me was able to complete a half ironman, I would agree: Anyone can do an ironman. One of these days, I’ll take swimming lessons and register for an IM and actually take the training seriously.

  36. LOVE this post! I am in the infant stages of trainign for my first half-ironman in July 2012, and this is such an inspiration. Thank you for making all things seem so achievable (including vegan baking).

  37. GREAT ARTICLE! I thought the list was super practical. After having a baby it can be tough to maintain the energy to aspire such an athletic feat.

    Thanks for the post!


  38. This exactly sums up how I feel about my new years resolution- I achieved it today actually, 125 pounds by summer!! SO fulfilling 😀

  39. Such an inspiring story! I think we often fool ourselves into thinking we can’t do something, but the first step is always convincing yourself otherwise. Congrats Susan!

  40. I’ll be at water station 9 on the run, can’t wait to pass you a cup!

  41. Very Cool. And true. Most people don’t think in increments and just can’t imagine themselves doing lots of stuff, so they never start. Always inspiring to hear otherwise!

  42. Thanks for the great article! Your story and approach are inspirational. I find that a lot of my triathlete friends are incredulous about Vegetarianism. Slowly but surely I’m introducing them to lentil burgers, non-animal protein sources, and hoping they will make more healthy choices in the future.
    From a fellow vegetarian Ironman finisher – rock on!!

  43. Superb post Susan!! I started running a few years back, then took a break, started again, etc etc. I am really keen to start competing in ultra races in the future, perhaps I should set myself a 50 miler for next year, something to work towards?

    I really love the way you have written this post, lots of useful snippets, and some great motivational stuff too. You are a real inspiration.

  44. I feel very lucky to have found your post right before I do a 70.3 this weekend.

    Isn’t it funny how a calendar gets so much shorter when you have a race posted to it?

    364 days seems to just fly!

    Can’t wait to read more of your posts. 🙂

  45. Loved this post. I especially love enjoy it. For most of us these are hobbies and hobbies should be enjoyed.

  46. Whatta story.. now this is the kind of post that changes lives! I’m just starting out my journey and signing up for a 5K on Oct 29th. But I gotta quit my smokes before that.

    I’m glad I came across this article.

    Thanks again.


  47. Jason Venema says:

    Awesome story. Thank you so much for sharing. I can’t wait for mine next year ! Keep writing and I will keep reading.

  48. Susan, Thank you for this post. I’m here in Panama City waiting for my husband to race his third IM while I volunteer. I’ve been planning to sign up for next year but am having waves of second thoughts when I see all of the incredible athletes here to race. It is intimidating! I’ve done 4 marathons, several shorter triathlons and one half iron,and I felt like I was ready until I get here. Your article here has reminded me that it’s about me and not about anyone else. I need to do this my way and not compare myself to anyone else. I’ve been planning for months to sign up and I need to do it. It’s just something I need to do for myself. THANK YOU for sharing your experience. Hope to read more about you and your adventures.

  49. Amazing post — I’m still one of those people with IM on my “someday” list but you’ve definitely given me inspiration to edge my way into action.

  50. Thank you! Thank you!! I have now done 3 half marathons. I just registered for my first full marathon in Dec 2012. I am going to do a Half IM in 2013….after that I might do the full IM in 2014…right before I turn 50 :).

    Thanks for sharing your journey!!

  51. First off, Congrats on finishing an Ironman-this is quite a feat that few have accomplished. Thanks for the insight and I would agree that there are times when your body says enough is enough and you have to use your mind to control your body and push through.

    I am getting ready for my first triathlon in 11 days and I have made plenty of mistakes training for this event, the learning curve is vast but the training is extremely fun as I have not been pushed this hard since high school sports.

  52. Thanks for the article, really appreciated,I was the same as you, new year resolution 2010, got up in the morning early as usual, decided that I was going to run a full marathon, Ottawa , may 30 2010, I had basically never ran more then 2 km, 2 years before I used to weigh 315lbs I had dieted but I was still at 250, every one was saying that I clould not do it (including my children) well may 30, 2010 finished my first race ever and it was a marathon 42.2 k in 5:28h not the beast time, but I finished it,

    What next I said, how about the Goofey challenged at Disney, how about a haft on Saturday and a full marathon on Sunday, done that January 2011,

    Then I fell off the wagon compleatly, like nothing zap, new job, new location, extreme stress, this lead to a heart atack July 12, 2012.

    While on my hospital bed , I asked myself , why did I quit this training,? What do I have to do to get my health back, the answer was simple, get back to training, I wanted to do an IRON MAN FOR MY FIFTY FIFTH BIRTHDAY THIS IS NEXT YEAR!

    I M now at home Asking my self was the job worth my health? The answer was defiantly not so i started to,look forniron mann trainingn it then,I stumbled on you article, and again I make the decision to do something about it,

    I am going to register for some ironman somewhere for late 2013, after doing research on it, I even told my cardiologist about it , now I am telling you and others that anyone can do what they put their minds to!

    Thank you for your inspirational article

    Marc Mousseau

  53. Matt-
    I found your site when I searched for exactly couch potato to Ironman.

    It is August 13, I am thinking about registering for the Wisconsin 2013 Ironman. I have swimming experience in my youth (I am 44) and I ran a full marathon 10 years ago. Otherwise, I am starting from an exercising dead stop.

    If I set my mind to it, do you think a person could train and complete a full Ironman in 12 months?

  54. Awesome testimonial! I just watched my first live Ironman event. You can feel the amazing human spirit. After completing 4 marathons and cheering my brother on in a half ironman, I am almost ready to commit. Thank you for the inspiration! Cheers!

  55. Fantastic article, well written and truly inspirational, well done! I finished my 1st marathon 2 days ago, now I’m looking for a new challenge, I need something to aim for. I have done 80+ miles a number of times on the bike previously however my swimming is very very poor, I need to work at that….In 10 months time (Aug 2013) I’ll be an Ironman

  56. Hi – great post

    I’m early in my own journey to Ironman glory and so much has changed already. I’ve discovered that I have a weak left knee so doing weights to correct it. By having a long term goal (my event is 18 months away) it takes the pressure off, and puts the enjoyment back in.

    It’s also led me to working towards a plant-based diet, something I hadn’t even considered.

    Above all, it’s inspired my two young kids into more exercise. They are 8 and 6 and are more active now than they have ever been.

    Thanks again


  57. Susan,
    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I have been an “Iron Mom” for almost 2 years. I was at Iron Man Lake Placid last summer & could not help but say “I want to do this”!!! At the time I had only done 5K’s, was running in my first 10K the following week, & was also in the midst of training for my 1st Half Marathon later in the Fall. I have since completed 3 Half Marathons & am now training for my 1st Full, the Marine Corps Marathon this Fall. My daughter thinks I should make this a 30 month plan not 18 months. She’s competing at IMAZ in November. I plan to go & once again be that “Iron Mom” constantly on the move so I can cheer her on at several points along the swim, bike & run course doing this either before or after my volunteer assignment. I will scream like crazy when she crosses that finish line. But I will be up early at the crack of dawn to register for 2014 IMAZ!!! Again, thanks for the words of inspiration!!!

  58. Awesome article and VERY motivating, well done 🙂

  59. I’m definitely a college couch potato. I thought with having an 18-hour school schedule AND a part time job, my schedule would be too packed to add in proper fitness. Your story is a true inspiration and it let me know that it is definitely possible for me to get fit. I’m glad you added in starting off slowly. I, being a very impatient person, tend to do things way to quickly and burn out just as quickly. Thank you. Just thank you.

  60. Congratulations to you, very inspirational!! I am considering completing an IRONMAN next year which gives me 9 months to train. I have done a few 5k and 10k races, as well as a half marathon, full marathon, pier to pier swim and a half ironman, however these were over the space of 3 years. I really want to give ironman a go as my partner is going to train for it and it would be a great achievement to finish together! Im just so worried about my physical ability. However your story has made me feel better about it all.Would you say 9 months is enough training and doable for someone who has only done one triathalon before (half ironman) ?!

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  61. I am literally holding back tears here. You are an incredible human being! I signed up for a marathon because I know that I won’t get peace before I finish Ironman. I have to do it. And you have been a great inspiration!

  62. Very great words and thank you for sharing your experience.

  63. this is brilliant article, I am on the same type of journey. I am trying it via a group Tri-Camp, they basically do Triathlon boots camps and they people from zero fitness but are hungry enough to make the effort to Tri-Elites. my programme is 1yr of as many 10kms, next year of half marathons and Tri-sprints; then moving in month24 to decent race standards of True Tri and Iron mans. Tri Camp organises Camps everywhere too. but well done for your success and a really motivating article. see you at the top!



  65. Brian McKitrick says:

    I loved your post! Ironman is more mental than physical.

    When I started, people told me that I was crazy! That there was no way that I could accomplish that goal with less than 12 months to prepare. And that is exactly what I needed to hear! Accomplishing things that others can not or will not do has pushed me to prove them wrong.

    The only race I did before finishing Ironman Forida is a local sprint race in Greenville SC. With three kids who play on 3 different baseball teams, 3 different basketball teams, 2 cross country teams and working a full time job (with a wife that travels for work), balancing your life becomes a must. ITS NOT IMPOSSIBLE!

    I have since completed my 2nd Ironman (Ironman Chatanooga) and have begun training for my third (Ironman North Carolina). Still to this date, I have only completed 3 triathlon races (1 sprint and 2 Ironmans).

    Your post and ways to get there are almost identical to what I went through over those 1st 12 months. I trully believe that “ANYONE CAN DO AN IRONMAN”

  66. So, I am overweight (need to loose three stone). Tonight, I am verbally committing that I am going to go IRONMAN WALES in 2018! Your story has inspired me with lots of similarities in our lives. Here’s to the start of a great journey!

  67. Millie Chodorow says:

    I have read read this and other articles you have written so many times. It never gets old. I went from couch to a sprint this year. I rode my mountain
    Last year, I couldn’t walk a mile last and cried. So I started to swim. Now, I’m doing my 2nd sprint with open water next week. I am using a friends bike. Not sure I can afford one on my own but that’s my next goal….get a decent bike.
    I volunteered at Texas ironman last week and have got the itch bad. Not sure I can afford it all, so I will take steps. Olympic is next….I’m sure I will keep reading reading your articles. Like every ironman/woman I know, you are nothing less than extraordinary, humble and inspiring. That’s what I want to be too♡

  68. Just watched my brother and friends finish yet another ironman as I have been their Sherpa and support team through out their entire races- over the last Decade. This past one I left saying just that, Anyone can compete and Ironman, after eating every demographic imaginable cross the finish line and say to yourself, if they can do that so can I. So coming home I started looking at training plans and came across your post. Every inspirational and made me day even more, I can do that. I am looking to do one before November 2018.

    Congratulations to all who commit to the journey of completing a Ironman

    I would love to know if anyone had a particular training/ diet plan that worked best for them as a “newbies”

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