The Cost Of Doing An Ironman Triathlon

What does it take to do an Ironman Triathlon? Well, it takes courage, strength, passion, belief, training, and commitment. Ohh, it also takes a lot of cash! Since I’ve completed two Ironman races, I can honestly say that Ironman is not a sport for either the severely budget minded or the fiscally challenged. Ironman athletes spend a considerable amount on race fees and lay out some serious cash on equipment. The following is a mind blowing tally of the costs incurred by a prospective Ironman athlete. I’ve arranged my tally in two categories (Budget Athlete and Big Spender) to take into account the large variation in triathlon equipment and prices.

IMC Finisher Medals

Here is a cost tally of Ironman Triathlon:

Swim

The Ironman starts with a 2.4 mi. (3.8 km) swim. So you’ll need some gear to get you though the water. You’ll also need some swimming essentials for training.

Swim Gear Budget Athlete Big Spender
Wetsuit $200 $800
Bathing Suit $65 (X2) $120 (X2)
Goggles $15 $50
Pull Buoys $20 $60
Flippers $20 $75
Swim Caps $3 each (X4) $25 each (X4)
Body Glide $15 $15
Pool Pass $100 per year $500 per year
Master’s Swim $60 per month $100 per month

Budget Athlete Total: $1232
Big Spender Total: $3040


Bike

Ironman requires the athlete to ride 112 mi. (180 km) over varied terrain. To go the distance, you’re going to need a bike. You’re also going to need equipment to maintain the bike, ride the bike, and equip the bike (and racer) for safety. The bike purchase is where an athlete can really blow some big bucks or save a considerable amount by buying used. A huge consideration when buying a bike is what frame material to choose. Options include aluminum, steel, carbon, and titanium. A more economical frame tends to be aluminum while carbon and titanium will cost you big bucks. The key point to remember when buying a bike though is fit. If the bike doesn’t fit you, then it doesn’t matter how much you spent (or didn’t spend) as you will be uncomfortable and likely get injured. Before buying a new or used bike, do yourself a HUGE favor by getting your body measured. Biking 112 mi. (180 km) is not fun if your bike is too big or too small.

Bike Gear Budget Athlete Big Spender
Bike $1500 $8000
Helmet $80 $200
Cycling Shoes $90 $350
Pedals $55 $400
Bike Clothing $500 $1000
Sunglasses $25 $250
Gloves $25 $100
Pump $30 $125
Tools $50 $300
Tubes $2.50 each (X25) $10 each (X25)
Tires $40 each (X4) $200 each (X4)
Chain Lube $5 bottle $10 bottle
Water Bottle $3 each (X6) $25 each (X6)
Club Rides $60 membership $250 membership

Budget Athlete Total: $2660.50
Big Spender Total: $12,185.00


Run

The Ironman run is 26.2 mi. (42.2 km). Yes, this is a full marathon. Despite the challenge of running a marathon, the run segment is probably the most affordable part of a triathlon. I have cut costs in running gear by re-using much of my bike clothing. If you select your bike/run gear carefully, you too can give your gear double duty.

Run Gear Budget Athlete Big Spender
Running Shoes $80 (X4) $200 (X4)
Run Clothing $300 $1000
Run Club $20 per month $100 per month

Budget Athlete Total: $860
Big Spender Total: $3000


Nutrition

Nutrition is really the fourth major segment of an Ironman. To get you through training you have to eat. Most Ironman athletes consume an endless number of drinks, bars, and gels in training. I tend to eat bananas and little sandwiches while riding and running to help ease the nutrition budget. I’ve tried to be conservative in my list. I honestly did not keep a tally of how many sports bars and gels I consumed in preparation for an Ironman race.

Sports Nutrition Budget Athlete Big Spender
Sports Drink (powder) $50 (X4) $120 (X4)
Bars $2 (X50) $3 (X50)
Gels $2 (X50) $2 (X50)

Budget Athlete Total: $400
Big Spender Total: $730


Medical

Ironman training is very hard on the body. Many athletes require massage and physical therapy just to maintain healthy muscles and joints. Many athletes also suffer from one or more injuries during training and need some medical help. Putting a medical list together is very difficult as each athlete’s needs vary. If you are considering an Ironman, be sure to calculate some massage and physio into your budget. Everyone gets sore and tight muscles.

Medical Costs Budget Athlete Big Spender
Physiotherapy $50 (X12) once a month $50 (X52) once a week
Massage Therapy $50 (X12) once a month $50 (X52) once a week
Orthotics $0 $500

Budget Athlete Total: $1200
Big Spender Total: $5700


Race Event Costs

If you want to play you have to pay. Ironman race day is expensive. Race entry fees alone are a gob smacker to any new athlete looking to fulfill an Ironman dream. Along with travel costs to the event, you also need a place to stay for several days. Much of these race expenses can be avoided if you happen to live in the host race location. Since I don’t live in the host town for Ironman Canada (Penticton B.C.) I’ve had to add this cost to my tally. Fun.

Race Day Budget Athlete Big Spender
Race Fee $500 $500
Hotel $100 (X5 nights) $250 (X5 nights)
Travel to Race $500 $3000

Budget Athlete Total: $1500
Big Spender Total: $4750


Odds and Ends

I have added this category to cover all the extra costs an Ironman athlete may consider. Since I’ve done Yoga, had a trainer, and used a heart rate monitor, I feel the need to list these items. Also, many of my friends have gym memberships for strength training.

Odds Budget Athlete Big Spender
Heart Rate Monitor $50 $400
Race Belt $10 $25
Yoga Classes $0 $500
Trainer/Coach $0 $2000
Gym Membership $0 $2500 per year

Budget Athlete Total: $60

Big Spender Total: $5425


Conclusion

Indeed, Ironman triathlon is a very expensive sport. The good news is once you’ve acquired the gear, the next race is soooo much more affordable. Here’s the total price tally:

Budget Athlete Total: $7,912.50

Big Spender Total: $34,830

Given my own experience, my Ironman costs are closer to the “Budget Athlete Total”. I did save some money by buying used equipment and hitting the winter sales on clothing. However, I am certain I spent closer to 10K for my first Ironman. Despite the cost, I am beyond thrilled to call myself an Ironman Finisher. For me, the cost is moot considering Ironman has always been a lifelong dream. Realizing a dream is priceless.

Your two cents:

  1. hydrateme February 14th, 2008

    Instead of the gels you might want to try a device called AquaJoe. It makes carrying & dispensing drink powders as easy as using a gel pack and its environmentally friendly. There is a video of it on aquajoe.com.

  2. Beth February 14th, 2008

    You forgot to mention that some of these costs (bike, wetsuit, cycling paraphrenalia) can be amortized over many races, so the more you do IMC, the cheaper it gets!
    By your 10th IMC, think of the deal you’ll be getting πŸ˜‰

  3. fox February 17th, 2008

    Hi HydraFello, I’m not really sure if you are for real or not..but I am feeling generous so I let your comment through. πŸ™‚ I took a peek at the product you mentioned cause I fully do agree gel packages are not environmentally friendly. Albeit, the product thinger you mention looks like a bit of a science project. I often wonder why triathletes as a group tend to flock to all these weird gizmos. Eating and drinking should not be this complicated. Just my 2 cents…

  4. fox February 17th, 2008

    Beth: The thought of training for and doing 10 ironman races is overwhelming. But you are very right about the cost decreasing per race. I’ll tell you what…you enter your 10th ironman and I’ll GIVE you my bike. πŸ˜€

  5. thomas langenberg March 27th, 2008

    Hey fox, i really enjoyed the article! One thing that might also be wort mentioning is the food you buy. As for myself, I found that I am spending much more now on healthy food that you need during your training periods. It is difficult to estimate but I found that it definitely increases the monthly “food-budget”!

  6. fox March 27th, 2008

    Thomas: So true on the food intake and budget increases. I would come home after a 7 hour bike ride and eat, well, everything. I scared my “better half” once when I devoured 3X his meal. It’s funny how the body craves healthier choices when training. Are you training for an ironman these days?

  7. Mendou January 21st, 2009

    Hi Fox,

    I was reading this article and i found it veru interesting… do you have the training plan that you did for your first Ironman?

  8. TriathRon May 28th, 2009

    Your budget athlete should really be a middle category – he/she is wasting TONS of money – most of your categories are unnecessary and/or overstated.

    (just as an example, I did 2 Ironmans on a bike that cost less than half what your ‘budget athlete’ paid for theirs.)

  9. Kerry May 28th, 2009

    @TriathRon There’s a huge variation of costs from country to country and I totally agree bikes can be bought used for less. I wanted to paint a realistic picture of the costs of this sport – and these were my costs several years ago. Today buying a used women’s road bike is far more likely – they just weren’t around in my neck of the woods years ago. I do believe that the majority of items listed are needed for ironman distance races.

  10. Britishav8tor September 4th, 2009

    Your post was very informative and really opened my eyes as to how much to expect to spend on this.
    I have long dreamed of starting and finishing an Ironman and now have the time and some money to do so and want to do it while I’m still young-ish πŸ™‚ I was wondering if you could help a first timer with things like books to read, training tips and anything else you can think of to point me in the right direction.

    Thanks in advance.

  11. skier10800 November 9th, 2009

    This is a great article showing that either way, competing in Ironmans is an expensive sport. I recently read an article stating that the average household income for ironman participants was 161k yearly. It’s sad to say, but I feel Ironman is becoming the rich person’s sport. Back in the day, it was considered an inspiration to many to even complete an Ironman; now days, it seems like it is who’s got the dough to compete. Personally, If I had money, I’d compete in 10 Ironman’s or more a year, heck, I’d do one everyweek!. I believe anyone can compete in an Ironman with 3 months of training or less. It just disappoints me that Ironman seems to not be about desire but about who’s got money to spend on entry fees and equipment, more so the fees. The only thing keeping me from doing an Ironman is it’s high costs. It’s as if the Ironman is becoming the standard physical feat like completing your first 5k. Equipment will always be expensive but why do entry fees have to be so dang high?

  12. Bill Morgan March 17th, 2010

    That was a very timely article as I want to do a triathlon when I turn 50 in a couple years but don’t have that kind of money (given I have 3 kids entering or in college) for something like this.

    I guess I’ll have to wait until I’m 60 when the kids are paid off (oops… I forgot about marriages).

    By the way… what type of time did you allocate daily to this?

    Bill Morgan

  13. Kerry March 17th, 2010

    @Bill The cost of doing an ironman has decreased over the last few years — mostly because the cost of bike equipment is less and it’s easier to buy used gear. Albeit, the entry fees for many Ironman races has increased. For training times it depends on the season. In the winter I trained 5-10 hours a week. In the summer my training time doubled. The challenge is getting the training time on the bike. Since the bike portion of the race is 112miles, it takes hours of ride time to get fit enough to ride the distance and still be able to run a marathon afterwards.

  14. Robby May 26th, 2010

    Congratulations on your Ironman finishes.

    The list you compiled is a real eye-opener. My husband is a three time Ironman competitor, two time finisher. He’s in the midst of training for his fourth Ironman this summer. I continue to be awe struck by his drive and determination.

    I would say he falls firmly in the middle of the budget and the big spender triathlete. From our experience Ironman can be a selfish sport if you let it. Not only for the money spent on gear, training and upkeep, but also for the time commitment and the other areas of life that fall off the radar because of it. Every now and again he needs to be reminded that there’s got to be a balance between Ironman and the rest of life.

  15. Tim Richardson, PT March 21st, 2011

    The run club membership seems a bit steep. Also, why would the club charge the big spender $100 per month but only charge the budget racer $20 per month?

    Are the club members also in favor of a progressive income tax? πŸ™‚

    Tim

  16. gene March 31st, 2011

    As a competitor in a Subaru-sponsored race, you can save $500 on a new Subaru. πŸ˜‰

  17. gene March 31st, 2011

    Sorry, it’s $750 savings on a new Subaru.

  18. Kerry March 31st, 2011

    I can save thousands by buying a used Subaru. πŸ™‚ See my Subarus here: http://www.squawkfox.com/2009/06/10/buying-used-cars-online and here: http://www.squawkfox.com/2009/04/13/the-costs-of-a-car-crash/

  19. gene March 31st, 2011

    Agreed, buying a new car is a horrible way to suffer the ravages of depreciation. I decided to buy new because I can afford it and plan to drive it into the ground. Hopefully 15 years plus.

    It would make more economic sense to buy a car a few years old and run it into the ground, but I felt more comfortable buying a car for my small family without having to wonder how the previous owners drove and maintained it. If we ever add a second car for zipping around town in, I’d probably get a used one.

    Thanks for the reply, Squawk Fox.

  20. Josh Kraplan April 8th, 2011

    That seems like an overestimate. Two big things here:

    If you have competed in any of those disciplines before you already own those things.

    You do not need to belong to a club or masters swimming group to have great training partners.

    Borrow a wetsuit if you can. Maybe I am unique but if I wanted to pay for an iron man now I would get: 2 pairs of running shoes, borrow a wetsuit, camp out to reduce lodging fees, not go to an iron man that costs 500$ in gas to get to and get a couple tubs of gatorade from wal-mart (plus race fee). I have free access to a pool and all gear listed here at college. I have all bike gear and got a hand-me-down bike that is usable. I have friends who like to train.

    I guess I am particularly lucky. I think I could do this all now for I think around $750 with 2/3 of that being race fees. I think I would buy a GPS or at least mileage device for my bike, but I get discounts on that so maybe 150$ more for a luxury item.

    I am very lucky to be in college and have access to so much around me. I have never done an iron-man but competed in all three disciplines before so maybe there is something I am not realizing.

    anyways, I drive a used Subaru!

  21. Josh Kraplan April 8th, 2011

    and physiotherapy.massage..really,? I guess I’m being a little critical of a point your just trying to make. Pick up the whortons book of stretching and maybe a significant other to give you a rubdown. After all that training and tapering, they’ll probably be excited to get to touch you anyways.

  22. George April 25th, 2011

    Interesting article. Thanks. I would add, though, for a more accurate economic analysis you much include opportunity costs of your time. Back of the envelope…. Let’s say you train 20 hours/week for 6 months (most would try for more months than that). Without Ironman, you’d “work out” an hour a day to keep yourself healthy, so 7 hours a week. Thus, doing Ironman adds 13/hours week for 26 weeks (ignoring setup, setdown, etc.). So, very roughly and probably conservatively, you just gave up another 338 hours of your life. If your time is worth $25/hour that’s $8,450. If you time is worth $500/hour that’s $169,000.

    The equipment is cheap :-).

  23. George April 25th, 2011

    Josh – Agreed that you can probably do it cheaper than the “budget minded” above if you “already have” most of the equipment, but no way you can do an Ironman for $250 excluding race fees (unless you are a pro and everything’s sponsored)! Doing a full Ironman is definitely not the cheapest sporting goal on the planet. I probably do it as cheap as anyone (ignoring opportunity costs) because I get hand-me-downs, share hotels, and a host of other things, but even just little necessary nits and nats add up to way more (by orders of magnitude) than $250 on stuff other than race fees. I agree, don’t do WTC events and you’ll save a lot, but not that much. Tubes, tires, chain oil will take that much! If you really add it all up – for full 140.6 race – you might be surprised at how much actually went out the door.

  24. Ben May 6th, 2011

    Ive done one ironman and getting ready for the 2nd. Rented the wetsuit for $50. Got a used bike. Spent $150 on race outfit and sunglasses. But was already a triahtlete so had pretty much everyt ing else. A lot of people work their way up to Ironman so the gear and base you get over time is really already spread out..

  25. Simon September 11th, 2011

    Why are iron man events so expensive – I’ve just completed a 70.3 and even though it is just twice as long as a typical triathlon it was four times more expensive?

  26. Tim Riker December 22nd, 2011

    Interesting article, but I spend way less on my equipment here in Sacramento.

    I only participate in local races and triathlons which often include race shirts with the fees which I use for training. For races, I rent a road bike which includes pedals for $40 a day from City Bicycle Works and a wetsuit from Fleet Feet Sacramento for $40 a week.

    I am a member of the Sacramento Bike Kitchen which costs $50 a year and includes access to tools, used bike parts, lube, etc. I bought my training bike used for $50 there and tricked it up a bit with new and used parts. Other members assist me with making repairs, teach me how to maintain my bicycle, and share bicycling tips.

    I am a member of the Sacramento Triathlon Club which costs $75 initially, but includes a race shirt, bike rack at races, training, support, etc. This membership includes a lot of discounts at local stores which saves a lot on clothing.

    I am a member of 24 Hour Fitness, which cost me $200 for 1 year and includes access to multiple gyms which have swimming pools with lap lanes. After 8 PM, most swimming pools are lightly used.

    Rather than spending a lot on clothing, I usually just buy a couple triathlon shorts mainly for bicycling. I wear race shirts and technical tees I get from various races.

    I spend less than $1,000 a year on triathlon expenses.

  27. Aidan February 28th, 2012

    This is a very helpful list, but it seems some of these costs aren’t exactly necessary. I’m not an experienced swimmer, but I would think one would not need both a wet suit AND a bathing suit. I would also think that running and riding clubs would be a luxury that someone disciplined enough to run an ironman would be able to train without, especially since almost any smartphone could download an app to track how far you run or ride. Again, not an experienced swimmer, but why would flippers be on this list. I understand they are not usually allowed in the swim portions of Ironman.

  28. Doug July 23rd, 2012

    Very fair cost estimate. I did Ironman Lake Placid in 2011 and it does cost money. I did not have a coach or go to a training camp and I did it on a old 10 speed STEEL bike from 1995, which was $325. I slapped some aero bars on there, but there are so many “little” things for an Ironman that add up. Sure, can you borrow a wetsuit? Yes, but that’s corny. You can also borrow a bike and get hand me down running shoes too-also corny. The article is fair. A “cheap” tri bike is around $1500 and yes your body takes such a pounding during training that you are going to need massages at least once a week-especially after an 80 mile bike ride or 15 mile run. The nutrition adds up to-if you want gels, powerbars, endurance powder such as Hammer Perpetuum, etc..it all adds up. Believe me, you need that stuff. You are not going to get by on a few bananas. You are going to need a swim membership too and some good running shoes, cycling shoes…Also, the hotel near Lake placid cost $300 bucks a night and you have to spend 3 nights there minmum…so you see where this is going. I was lucky because I didn’t have to fly to my destination and send my bike via airplane too, which costs big bucks. When you are at the Ironman, you see many people with high priced bikes on their roof racks, rocking the fancy aero helmets, talking about which Ironman they will go to next(around the world). I think its safe and fair to say that to do multiple Ironmans in a year, either your loaded or just look that way. To be a local triathlete is affordable, but to do Ironmans really is becoming a sport for the 1%

  29. Wendy September 8th, 2013

    Very good cost estimate, and there were several things on your list that I had forgotten to put into my budget. Thank you!

    Just a few things I would add/update:
    – I just registered for Ironman Chattanooga. The entry fee is now up to $650, but you also have to pay active.com fees, so even being an Active Advantage member, it came to a total of $691.72
    – I can’t imagine training without my GPS watch, and I think it’s a staple for most people nowadays ($150-400)
    – No way could I train as hard as I do without regular chiropractic care ($30 twice a month)
    – My neuromuscular therapy sessions are $70 each, but if you know you’re going to be a regular, you can get good package deals that drive the price down to almost half
    – My laundry has more than doubled, so I’ve seen an increase cost in detergent and my monthly water bill
    – I’ve got travel and race fees for two smaller practice races factored into my budget (most 70.3 races are $200-300 in entry fees alone, and while I have a 140.6 in my backyard, there aren’t any halves nearby)

  30. Dan September 10th, 2013

    Just registered yesterday for IM Wisconsin 2014. To get priority sign up you also have to volunteer the year before for the Sunday race, then register on site on Monday morning. That ads at least one more night of Hotel. Registration was 650 + 65 in active fees. I stood there looking at the volunteer as he held his hand out for my credit card and I thought… “Well – you could have said any price… because my mind is made up” … that being said my wife did the math… 2800 athletes at 715/athlete is over $2 million in registration alone. When is IM going to be publicly traded?!?!

  31. Joe October 17th, 2013

    Numbers look about right but 25x tubes? 25! You triathletes may not be aware of this, but it is possible to attach that air pump you bought for $30 and re-inflate before you pinch flat and replace a tube every 2 weeks.

    Also, your true cheapskate would spend $6.25 in patches and ride those tubes into oblivion.

  32. Rama Sivamani March 12th, 2014

    As mentioned above if you are planning on doing more than just one race the cost of buying a bike and a wetsuit get amortized over the number of races that you do. And this is more than just doing Ironmans, since you can use this equipment on shorter local races as will (sprint distance, Olympic distance,…etc.). If you are only planning on doing one Ironman and not doing another triathlon of any distance again in your life then the bike and wetsuit cost are daunting. The other costs that are specific to the race are things that do add up (although for shorter local races some race companies will give you substantial discounts or even free entries for volunteering for them on their races). I may only do one Ironman in my life but I plan on doing shorter local races quite regularly.

  33. Neoprene Wedgie October 11th, 2014

    This is a very bad article because it can frighten people away. I did my first Ironman on a $700 bike and had zero medical costs. And most other categories I did at half the “budget” costs.

    Triathlon is an expensive sport but there is no reason to exaggerate it like this.

  34. Roland Fernandez September 23rd, 2015

    This is really discouraging =/

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