Posted On:
Tuesday, July 11, 2023
Updated On:
Sunday, December 17, 2023

Coach Tip Tuesday: See More Than the Tip of the Iceberg

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An iceberg floating in the sea with a glacier in the background.

July is a big month for endurance athletes in my home region of Upstate New York; the Boilermaker Road Race, IRONMAN 70.3 Musselman, and IRONMAN Lake Placid all happen within 14 days of each other.  Every year, so many local athletes set one (or two!) of these events as goals.  Happy finisher photos and celebratory posts will abound on social media.  That will quickly be followed by “Registration for next year is open!” emails from the owners of these races and others like them.

Every year, I watch athletes get caught up in what I have come to call “Race Registration Fever.”  They watch their friends and loved ones - either virtually or in-person - cross finish lines and reach big goals.  That inspires them, so they pull the trigger on their own race registration(s).  I’ve urged caution when registering for races before, and in that same spirit, I’m urging all athletes to be sure they truly understand what they’re taking on if they do decide to register for a race - especially a long-course one such as an IRONMAN 70.3, IRONMAN, half marathon, or marathon.

Make no mistake about it: What you’re seeing in social media posts from your friends and family and in marketing materials from race owners is the tip of the iceberg.  Look beyond that, and see more than the tip of the iceberg.

The Truth Behind Glorious Finish Line Photos

Using this past weekend’s IRONMAN 70.3 Musselman as an example: The average finish time for an IRONMAN 70.3 race is 5:51:25 for age-group men and 6:18:13 for age-group women. When you watch someone on race day or see their photos from their race, you are seeing a small sliver of a six-ish hour day. You are seeing an even smaller sliver of what it took to make that six-ish hour day possible.

Assuming a 26-week preparation (which is the minimum amount of time an athlete should use to safely prepare for a race of this distance), the average athlete who successfully completes an IRONMAN 70.3 and/or achieves a performance-based result will spend approximately 260 hours in workouts training for that race. (Yep, if it was an IRONMAN, that total would be higher.)  This total time does not include the “extras” that support that training time, such as gear maintenance, nutrition and hydration preparation, sufficient sleep, recovery time, and more.  If you add in the time for the extras, the average athlete will spend approximately 400 hours preparing for an IRONMAN 70.3 in the six months leading into the race.  Since there are 4,320 total hours in six months, this means that those athletes have spent 9.2% of the available time on IRONMAN 70.3-related items only.

The race itself accounts for approximately 1.5% of all time dedicated to training for and executing the race.  When you see a social media post, hear your friend talk about a race, or see a finisher photo, you are seeing a moment in time - less than 1% of what it took to achieve that exact moment that is posted about or talked about.

How Much Time?

To fully illustrate my point, I think it’s helpful to write down (using real numbers from actual, real data) a sum of the hours that people spend on basic human things like working, eating, sleeping + training time in a six-month period:

400 hours - Training Time & Necessary Supporting Activities

+ 200 hours - Eating Time

+ 960 hours - Work Time

+ 1,440 hours - Sleep Time

= 3,100 hours - Total Time


This leaves 1,220 hours remaining over a six-month period for everything else one might want to do.  Breaking it down further, that equals 200 hours per month and 50 hours per week for everything else.  This includes, but is not limited to, the following things that most people need and/or like to do:

  • Appropriately and successfully parenting their children
  • Spending time with family
  • Spending time with friends
  • Going to concerts
  • Going to sporting events
  • Doing yard work or housework
  • Going shopping for their households
  • Commuting to or from things like work, kids’ sporting events, going to the store, etc.
  • Going to medical appointments
  • Scrolling social media (the most cringe-worthy item on this list, but one that people definitely spend time on!)

Willingness to Allocate Time

Finishing events like IRONMAN 70.3s, IRONMANs, half marathons, and marathons both looks and feels glorious, there’s no doubt about that. That’s true and it’s also true that most people are honestly probably not willing to give up the time that they would truly need in order to prepare sufficiently for these events. Remember: Time is a Zero-Based Budget. Multitasking is a myth. You cannot say yes to something without saying no to something else.

If you are tempted to sign up for an event like this, I urge you to consider the following questions before you impulsively click “Register”:

  • How many hours do you spend on “must-dos” every week?
  • What are you willing to give up to make time for this training?  (Spoiler: It should not be sleep.)
  • Are the people closest and most important to you on board with these changes?

It might hurt to hear it, but most people do not have an accurate awareness of exactly how much time they spend on each category of activities each day/every week.  Because of this, many, many people think they have the time to train for activities like this, that they will be able to “find” the time to do so, and/or that they will not have to actually give up something else to make it work well.  I can tell you after over a decade of coaching athletes that this is not only false, it is a recipe for burnout, frustration, and very grumpy Peak Phases.  

Using a free app like Clockify to record what you’re spending your time on can be illuminating, as it drives accurate self-awareness of what you’re really doing. Once you have an accurate understanding of exactly what you’re doing on a day-to-day basis and how much time things take, you can make an informed decision about whether or not you (and those closest to you) have the time and mental bandwidth to take on a long-course goal.

The Bottom Line

In many cases, you are only seeing the tip of the iceberg when you learn about what your friends and loved ones have accomplished in long-course endurance sports.  Seek to see more than the tip of the iceberg, especially if you are considering a long-course event for yourself.  Make an informed, deliberate choice to set yourself up for a pathway to that goal that is fulfilling, enjoyable, and successful.


Coach Laura Henry

Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.

She can be reached at

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