Ironman 70.3 is coming to Dublin this week, but what exactly does it entail? speaks to Kevin Stewart, managing director of the event about what sort of planning and preparation goes in to endurance events like these

Ironman 70.3

Image: Brennan Linsley / AP/Press Association Images

Imagine swimming more than a mile in freezing water, getting straight out to cover over 50 miles on a bike before finishing off with a half marathon. I can find many better ways to spend a Sunday morning.

But for many athletes both in Ireland and globally, Ironman 70.3 presents itself as the perfect challenge of physical fitness and endurance. The event comes to Dublin this weekend, August 14, and for the second year in a row, over 2,000 athletes will tackle the route.

To be more precise, the event incorporates a 1.2 (1.9km) mile swim, followed by a 56 mile (90km) bike ride and then a 13.1 mile (21.1km) half-marathon all as one race.  The swim will take place at 6.50am in Scotsman's Bay (Dún Laoghaire), before athletes take to the bikes to travel up the coast and through the centre of the city. They'll then loop out to the west of the city and return to Phoenix Park for the run and finish. The first athletes are expected to cross the line just after before 11am.

"Ironman itself started in 1978 and the distances for Ironman are double those in the 70.3 - a 2.4 mile swim, 112 miles on the bike and a full marathon," explains Ironman 70.3 managing director Kevin Stewart.

"It was identified that it was obviously a big step up for people to go those sorts of distances so that’s where 70.3 comes in. It tries to bridge the gap for people for the shorter distance triathlon  and a full distance Ironman.

"70.3 certainly has more athletes competing at that distance. A lot of them are doing it either for training for full distance or as part of their preparation and build up. It’s very popular and we have a higher proportion of women coming to race. There’s just over 20 per cent of women who race in a 70.3 compared to a maybe 12 per cent of women in a full distance Ironman."

The test is grueling and many will conjure up images of athletes struggling to cross the finish line by the end of the race, some collapsing and some being carried once they finish.

So, the obvious question: Why put yourself through it?

"I think because of the variety of the training that they get, meaning that they don’t have to do all running or all cycling. I think there’s a great comradery in the sport and people get to meet lots of nice people. You travel around the world to meet international athletes and it just has a great buzz about it.

"From that point of view it’s interesting for people to come from different sporting background and certainly for people who are giving up rugby or football or other sports at a certain age can then do an Ironman event for much longer." 

Athletes take part in the Ironman 70.3 event in Puerto Rico four years ago. Image: Ricardo Arduengo / AP/Press Association Images

Many seasoned athletes have spent years training for the events, putting themselves through rigorous and demanding training regimes. For first-time athletes, Stewart says that it is best to give yourself plenty of time to get your body in suitable condition.

"I think we would always recommend that you give yourself a year to prepare for it properly especially if you haven’t done any of the disciplines before. We strongly recommend that you join a club because of the lessons you can learn and gain experience from the other club members who have done these types of event and also and you can identify problems with your coach relating to your swim bike or run.

"They’ll be able to get you much more quickly up to speed and they should also help you avoid injuries which is one of the common things that happens with people who haven’t done many sporting events like this before that they jump into the training and find themselves injured because they have been overdoing it. So it’s an important part of the process to make sure that you are building up your strength and your endurance on a gradual basis. 

 "I think one of the things that happens is that people come to the triathlons with one of the disciplines as their favourite and the swim is probably the least common of that. So definitely get swim coaching when you start. Because it’s a technique-based sport the more coaching you get in that, the better you will become as a swimmer. The swim starts the day off so it actually sets you up for the rest of the events.

"Often people will focus on the discipline that they are good at - so a cyclist will continue to cycle and go and train in cycling but avoid the other two. So it’s about making sure you balance your training out because it’s a continuous event.

"The time that you do on each discipline matters when you get to the finish line. You can have the best bike time, but if your run time isn’t up to scratch then you’re obviously going to be passed out by a lot of people. You really have to make sure you keep a focus across all three disciplines."

Ironman 70.3 is a global event, incorporating international athletes in different cities around the world. It returns to Dublin for the second year in a row and Stewart says one of the reason the Irish capital is so appealing is because of the support.

"There are always differences in different locations. With Dublin last year the first event that we had, the crowds that came out to watch the event especially at the finish line at Phoenix Park were phenomenal. It would have equaled events that have been going for a couple of years and for a first year race it was an incredible sight and it gave the athletes a tremendous boost.

"There was a great interest from international athletes to compete in Dublin and we’ve got a big proportion of international athletes again this year who want to come to Dublin to race. That’s been a great atmosphere builder as well because you get to see on people’s bibs - you get to see the different nationalities - it’s a great thing for people to be able to cheer them on.We get people from as far away as Australia or New Zealand to want to come and race.

"Certainly and we have a large contingency of people who travel around the world doing our races and I think there is always those races that people see as iconic and want to tick off the box. Dublin immediately fits into that.

"It’s just a matter of making sure people have time to plan because athletes are doing their race planning a year in advance if they’re serious and we want to make sure that they have the opportunity to choose Dublin over other races that are being announced. Because it’s a relatively new race there’s a huge audience of international athletes to come and Ireland has a huge audience of triathletes themselves."

The distance covered in the amounts to 113km, which by any measure takes a huge toll on a person physically. Nutrition remains another important aspect of the event.

"One of the things to do a couple of days before the event is called carbo-loading. Pasta and those sort of heavy carbs essentially puts fuel in your body.

"The main thing to do is to make sure you’ve tried out supplements and other products beforehand so that your body is used to them and not to think that if you get up in the morning that if you are not feeling too well that if you try gels will do you good, you still have to stick to that plan you have."

For full details on road closures thorughout Dublin during the day and to find out more about the event, click here.