How To Approach Training For Your First Ironman Race At 52 Years Young


Twitter question on training for an Ironman at age 52

Hi! Thanks for stopping by!

It is my pleasure to provide thoughts on how to approach your first Ironman race, whatever age you are, because of all the mistakes one can make, I’ve made many of them. As we only seem to learn from our mistakes, I consider myself highly qualified to answer this interesting and complex question. I will keep it brief, and to the point.

The short answer is, “whatever it takes to complete the race safely and enjoyably.”

FitOldDog's logoA longer response is presented as a list, below, and I don’t guarantee to remember everything, but I’ll do my best. The goal, safe exercise for better health and enjoyment. Of course I recommend the FitOldDog training wheel approach, if there is time between now and the gun going off. The development of improved body awareness is the real key to injury avoidance combined with optimal performance.

The FitOldDog Safe Exercise Wheel runs clockwise, starting at the top, with reward or celebration as a critical final component of each cycle.

Click for Podcast describing my approach to safe exercise.

General comments:

  • Have a thorough medical (might check for AAA while you’re at it?) and I would include a stress test, just to be sure all is OK. I did for my first full Ironman race.
  • It is essential to train adequately for each component, and for the combination (usually achieved with bricks – e.g. 80-mile bike ride directly into 10-mile run).
  • You must have the necessary aerobic engine, which is achieved through long, low-intensity workouts.
  • You must have adequate strength, including cardiovascular (remember that it’s not a sprint), musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal and mental (the most important of all).
  • Use the gear, nutrition and hydration in your training that you plan to use in the race, as best you can. For instance, don’t have different wheels on your bike for the race, train with the same gear.
  • To do it right, you really need a good coach. I liked the training approach taken by Chris Hauth, of AIMP, lots of volume and less intensity (better for older people – 52 is barely older in my book, so intensity versus volume is your call, but I recommend the latter).
  • Create a checklist of gear needed on race day, or you’ll arrive without something (e.g. stuff to stop chafing, or whatever).
  • Make sure you have a good support team, because just getting your bike back to the hotel can be challenging after the race.

Lake Placid Ironman Swim Start 2010


  • I think that I addressed all the key points in my discussion of how to approach the Lake Placid Ironman swim, in an Chez Ollie.
  • You must develop the necessary skills to stay safe in the rough parts of the swim (see Chez Ollie). I recommend nailing the distance conditioning (my base swims are 5,000 yards), plenty of head up drills for the busy turns, and a few games of water polo, where you become used to being ‘attacked’ in the water (happens if you have the ball!).
  • If you are a good swimmer, watch out for people in trouble and stop to help them.
  • Don’t get grease from your neck (wetsuit glide) on your goggles – it’s a real bummer!
  • Practice swimming straight and pick out your sighting land(or sea)marks before the gun goes off.
  • Draft if you can!
Victor of Bicycle Lab, FitOldDog's bike guy, FitOldDog's bike,

Victor, of Bicycle Lab, after checking out FitOldDog’s bike on the road, and all seems to be well, but we’ll see about the engine!


  • Make sure your bike fits you – that is the most important point of all.
  • Practice your bike skills, as they can save your life.
  • Don’t get killed on the roads, and carry a mirror (I do that in the race, even) or do most of your training on a CompuTrainer.
  • Practice fixing flats and learn how your bike works.
  • Ride, ride and ride some more!
  • Do plenty of short runs directly off of the bike, as bricks, it will save you lots of pain as you leave the bike transition.
  • Read, understand, and apply the race rules on the bike – you don’t want to be penalized or disqualified for some infraction (no handlebar plugs, helmet not CPSC approved, missing mount or dismount line, drafting).
UNC CH Track in the evening, a lovely site for any runner.

UNC CH running track in the evening, a lovely site for any runner, and you’ll meet great runners there, the best teachers – just watch and learn.


  •  This is when the race actually begins, so you had better be ready or it will turn into a ‘death march.’
  • Develop low-impact running skills – this could be discussed for ages, and I talk about it all over my blog because it is the most challenging issue for me, personally.
  • Make sure you work upto at least one 18-20 mile run before the race, not a full marathon as it takes too much out of your legs.
  • Make sure you taper adequately.
  • Nail your nutrition and hydration, for whatever weather you expect to encounter.
  • The goal, as in the swim and the bike, is to gradually increase your pace throughout this leg of the race, leaving nothing to spare as you hit that finish line.
Transition are Lake Placid Ironman

Transition area just before an Ironman race.


  • Remember a reference point for finding your bike, by a tree or something, as you’ll be surprised how hard it is to find it after a 2.4 mile swim with a bunch of crazy people.
  • For the swim to bike it is important to have a simple system, and wear as much of your bike gear as you can in the water (shirt and shorts), as you’ll be wet and a bit shaky making changing a challenge.
  • Practice and practice some more, from layout of gear to sequence of putting it on, or you’ll forget something you need on the bike or the run, like your food or sunglasses. Been there done all that stuff.
  • During the bike to run transition, do what Chris Hauth recommended, take 20 seconds to pat yourself on the back, but ONLY 20 seconds.
  • Take baby steps out of the bike transition, unless you have thoroughly adjusted to this change of activity, or you’ll pull a hip flexor or something -> bad!

FINAL ADVICE FROM CHRIS HAUTH TO FITOLDDOG: Kevin, if you ever feel comfortable during the race, you’re going too slow.

Push gently and relentlessly all day, with the accent on the gently, as it is your first race. Go a little too fast or climb a little too hard on the bike and you’ll crash and burn on the run – I’ve seen it too many times.

The Athlete’s Guide To Recovery by Sage Rountree


  • Stand in the lake or other cold water for 15 minutes to reduce inflammation in your legs.
  • Within 30 minutes of the finish eat some recovery food (you can find information on that, it’s all over the place).
  • If you feel wobbly or ill go to the medical tent!

If you think you have chance of qualifying go to the roll down meeting – I missed a Kona slot this way, as it rolled on by in my absence.

Read other Internet sites on this stuff, such as Joe Friel’s blog, which is streamed to this site (just look to your right near the top), and remember to swim smart, bike strong, and run tough (all true).

Then you’ll be (even though you’re a girl) AN IRONMAN.

-k @FitOldDog

PS You don’t look 52!


Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Disclaimer: As a veterinarian, I do not provide medical advice for human animals. If you undertake or modify an exercise program, consult your medical advisors before doing so. Undertaking activities pursued by the author does not mean that he endorses your undertaking such activities, which is clearly your decision and responsibility. Be careful and sensible, please.