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7 Tips for Taking on the Ironman from Donna McConnell

Renata Chlumska  - Adventure athlete who became the first Swedish and Czech woman to climb Mount Everest and in 2005 did a circumnavigate of the lower 48 States of the United States by her own power.

If you’ve ever had an inkling that Ironman could be an exciting challenge, it may be time to dive in. Donna McConnell came on the Tough Girl podcast to share her experience taking on the Ironman in Barcelona and express the need for more women and diverse groups in these races.


The Barcelona Ironman was only Donna’s third triathlon event and her first time running a marathon. Donna proves that nothing has to deter you from taking on a challenge like the Ironman.


Curious about the Ironman? Keep reading for Donna’s tips and experience gearing up for this renowned triathlon. 


Donna’s Tips for Taking on the Ironman

1. Get Inspired by Others


While Donna had a great interest in fitness, it wasn’t until age 46 that she signed up for her first triathlon. Before long, she realized that she enjoyed regular training for endurance events. The Ironman triathlon was something she’d always heard about but thought she would never be able to go the distance.


When she started seeing posts from 10IronWomen, a group working to get more women into triathlons, Donna was inspired. She followed along as the group trained for the Ironman Barcelona and was wowed by their experience in the race.


Seeing their achievements made Donna decide now was the time to commit. “If I want to do something, no matter how hard it seems, I should just give it a go,” Donna realized.


Finding an inspiring community of Ironman competitors can help motivate you to get involved. Check out the Tough Girl Tribe and other groups to find peers who will inspire you to commit. 

2. Make the Commitment


Taking the next step to sign up and commit is where so many women struggle to follow through. Making the dream a reality requires a lot of courage. For Donna, signing up was somewhat of an impulse and a desire to do something big and bold.


One aspect that pushed Donna to sign up was the desire to represent Black women in the triathlon space. She had seen a great lack of participation of women and women and color. Donna felt that if Black women could see her competing, they might feel encouraged and see that they don’t need to wait until age 50 to do it.


Unsure if you’re ready to commit to the Ironman? Consider your “why”. If you have a purpose that you’re passionate about, following through becomes much more fulfilling.

3. Focus Your Motivation


Training for an endurance event as part of the 10IronWomen group lit a fire in Donna. She’d found that working out just to look good wasn’t very motivating, but working to achieve a goal and compete in an event unlocked a new level of motivation.


“When you have to train specifically for an event, you forget about how you look,” Donna shares. “Those concerns become secondary. What becomes primary is the speed you’re running at and your swimming form. There are so many things to think about that you don’t think about the superficial aspects of fitness.”


Getting into the training for an endurance event like the Ironman can be intimidating. However, with a different point of view, you may gain more from it than your average work out.

4. Enjoy the Moment While Training


Working toward a long endurance event, Donna knew she wanted to do everything possible to get into the ideal place to compete. That began with a training program recommended by the 10IronWomen group. Donna began training for an hour at most during weekdays with more time spent on the weekends. She realized the training was very doable, especially if you’re used to working out.  


“You have to enjoy the training as much as possible,” Donna notes. “That’s how you’re going to be spending the majority of your time.” After training for a shorter event, Donna showed herself that she could train for anything. That gave her greater confidence as she faced more challenging events.


“The more I can stick to my training plan,” Donna adds, “the better I’m going to feel on the day because I know I did everything I could.” Rather than seeing training as something you have to get through, think about how it can be a positive experience of self-growth.

5. Strengthen Your Mind


Donna listened to affirmations every night to strengthen her mind before the big race. When her thoughts would say she would never finish, she put energy into changing that negative voice in her head. Even up to the starting line, Donna was combating that voice and focusing on the affirmation, “I can do hard things.”


Remembering that training didn’t need to be perfect was a key part of Donna’s plan. “Even if I don’t do it today, I can try again tomorrow,” she told herself. Instead of focusing on the Ironman’s distance, she aimed her focus at the training plan for the week.


When you’re training for a triathlon like the Ironman, don’t forget to train your mind. Having doubts is natural. Working to actively change your thoughts is as important as building physical endurance.

6. Keep Your Stride with Support


On the day of the Ironman Barcelona, Donna felt like she was in her own movie at the part where everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Yet she knew she couldn’t be battered by it and decided to stand firm in the middle of the madness.


From a late start to wild waves, the morning was full of the unexpected. Throughout it all was an amazing amount of support. Seeing people out on the street cheering her on through each leg made a world of a difference. The little girls who watched Donna with wide eyes pushed her on.


As she ran the marathon, someone from the race followed her on a bike as she was near the last of the group and continued to cheer her on as she pushed through. Despite the great distances she was taking on, Donna singled her mind on the thought that her body would carry her.


Nervous the day of an event? You might be surprised by the amount of support you find. Keep an eye out for those cheering you on and use that positive reinforcement to keep going.

7. Unlock a New You


After training for over a year and pushing herself consistently, Donna felt that she crossed into a new version of herself when she crossed the finish line. Before getting into triathlons, Donna felt like she’d become complacent in her life. Signing up for the Ironman showed what she was truly capable of at an age where it’s easy to coast.


By signing up for a new challenge, Donna learned that she was so much more capable than she thought. She learned that she could push herself, do hard things and enjoy doing it.


You are capable of taking on an exciting challenge. Remember how thrilling it will be to see how much more you can do.


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