First Ironman Goals & Time Predictions

My first iron-distance triathlon, Vineman, is now 11 days away. When I first set my sites on this race, I took a wild guess and set a goal of 13 hours. For a long time, as I was training, I had my eye on breaking 12 hours. As my long rides and runs have gotten closer and closer to race distance, it has become clear that 12 hours is too conservative a goal. But I like multiple goals for an event as big as this. After six months of reading, planning,¬†training–basically obsessing–a binary success/failure based on a single time seemed too simplistic. So instead of one, I have five goals. ;^>

After the base goals of A) getting to the starting line healthy, and B) getting to the finish line smiling, I’ve had the following three goals bouncing around in my head during my long workouts lately:

No disasters: 12 hours

  • I will be disappointed if I come in after 12 hours. 12 hours is a respectable first ironman time, but I know I’m capable of faster. If I’m slower than 12 hours, it means something went wrong — I went out too hard on the bike and ended up walking a bunch of the marathon, or I botched my nutrition and ended up befriending the portapotties on the run course, or something like that.

Median Probability: 11:30

  • If I had to boil it down to a single goal, it’s 11:30. It will take a solid race, but it’s a race I think I am capable of running. As we’ll see below, this requires splits in the range of 1:50/100 yards swim, 18.4 mph bike, and 8:45/mile run. Those paces are routine in even my longest training sessions. But the trick of the ironman, the reason there’s such a mystique around it, is that huge unknown of how your body will respond to a full day of racing. The question I’ll answer 11 days from now is whether I’ve prepared my body’s aerobic system for 11+ hours of racing in the heat and hills. If I have, I should cross the finish line before 6pm.

Stars Align: 11 hours

  • But, I don’t know how my body is going to respond. I’m a rookie. But if everything works out just right — if it’s not too hot, if I pace just right–treading that line of pushing my speed on the bike without fatiguing my legs and crossing over into the realm of the walkathon-marathon, if I get enough calories in on the bike to fuel the marathon without causing my stomach to shut down, and if my body is as well-tuned as I think it might be–in short, if everything works out perfectly–I think I have a shot at going sub-11. That would be joyous, and it would mean I’m quite a bit closer to the goal of Kona-qualifying than I thought I could be at the end of my first season of ironman.

On my long rides, I sometimes fill the mental void by calculating what my race splits would be at certain paces. Today I got a little more precise. I found this neat race time calculator, and used it to dial in exactly what it would take to hit each of those goals. The following three predictions represent my “90% confidence intervals,” which I’ll give to my cheering team, so they can decide when they need to exit the winery tour and come watch me run my marathon!


Pace Split
Swim 2:00 1:24
T1 7
Bike 17.5 6:24
T2 5
Run 9:30 4:08:00
Finish 12:09

Best Guess

Pace Split
Swim 1:51 1:18:08
T1 5
Bike 18.4 6:05:13
T2 4
Run 8:45 3:49:15
Finish 11:22


Split Split
Swim 1:40 1:10:24
T1 4
Bike 19.1 5:51
T2 3
Run 8:20 3:38:20
Finish 10:47


Thanks to Mr. Data Converter for converting my Excel tables into html tables!


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