Known as a great first-time Ironman event, Ironman Florida draws so many first-timers that, in any given year, well over half the field competing in sunny Panama City Beach is brand new to full-distance racing.
While there is no such thing as an easy 140.6, Ironman Florida does win points for being extremely straightforward: The course is flat and the weather is consistent, which is more than we can say for a lot of other 140.6-mile events.
What Is the Swim Like?
A two-loop ocean affair, the swim at Ironman Florida represents one of the biggest challenges most of the competitors will face all day. This is especially true for those competitors looking to use the full time allotted to complete the swim. Salt water, light chop and 2,000 of your best tri-friends can make for a difficult first-time Ironman swim.
You have a beach start to find some room, but remember: there's no rush to hit the water first! Whether there's chop or not, you'll need to have your form dialed in so you can be as smooth and efficient as possible in the ocean. You'll find there's a rhythm to the flow of the water, so try to work your effort into the same pattern of ebb and flow.
Remember there will most likely be a good sandbar just offshore. If you have to walk during the swim because it's shallow, be slow and smooth. The only thing harder than swimming in a wetsuit is running in one.
Historically, the water has been rougher on the second lap, so enjoy the brief beach respite (there's a full aid station) before finishing off the first leg of your day.
I've Heard the Beach Transition Is Pretty Tricky. What Do We Do With all That Sand?
They actually have this pretty well set up. You'll run on some turf, get your wetsuit stripped, and then have a light water shower option (think hoses dangling from above) to rinse off the salt water. Be sure to do this!
By the time you are done with all of that—and the run to T1—you really don't have much sand on your feet at all. It just takes a second to wipe your feet off at this point, and we recommend you put a small towel or rag in your T1 bag especially for this purpose.
I've Heard the Florida Bike Is Not That Tough. What's the Real Deal?
To be clear, 112 miles over any terrain is tough. The bike course consists of two parts: a 10-mile "administrative" stretch along Front Beach Road, then essentially one big loop before returning back to T2.
Due to the course layout, there is minimal spectator support on the bike. It's just a very long, quiet ride. The loop shape of the course means that regardless of where you are, you will have a headwind at some point.
The bike starts off pretty "hot" with lots of competitors crowding Front Beach Road and riding quite fast. It's very tempting to chase the competition early on, but remember that there's a very tough marathon still on the schedule—that's where the true potential of your race will be realized. Also note that the worst winds are typically off the water in the last ten miles before transition, so be sure to pace yourself well so that you don't fade here.