Getting Started with Ironman VR

Stepping back to view the big picture, it’s fascinating to see how the COVID-19 pandemic is changing us - as a society and as individuals - for the better. Those who prepare for and face challenges will come out stronger in the end. Endurance sports are all about challenging ourselves, and many of us continue to pursue our fitness goals and adapt to our world of stay-at-home orders, self-isolation, closed gyms, and social distancing. With a bit of creativity, some have found ways to enhance their overall fitness by being forced to do things a bit differently. There are opportunities to have fun - if we look for them.

For some of us, competition is the fun, and indoor technology has evolved enough to allow that to happen. Virtual races have been going on for a couple of years now to give us a chance to feed our competitive nature. You can look at the event lists on Zwift, Rouvy, or CVRcade and find several races on any given day. For many, these aren’t a replacement for the “real” thing, but for some, they can be a fun racing fix.

Faced with a global pandemic, virtual racing is getting some extra attention - looking through some of the event services, you’ll see more virtual running races or similar events being offered where you run on your own, submit your time from your Garmin or similar device, and get a virtual or real reward sent upon completion. Some events that are being cancelled, such as the 500 Festival Mini Marathon here in Indianapolis, are offering virtual alternatives. Our community is doing the best we can with what we have, and it’s really not half bad - we can make our own fun.

Enter IRONMAN: the brand synonymous with presenting difficult challenges to those who seek them. Faced with having several Ironman events around the globe cancelled or postponed, they have introduced IRONMAN VR, which is the virtual race event component of IRONMAN Virtual Club. At first glance, the website doesn’t give a lot of information unless you sign up. Let’s dig in and see what we can learn.

The IRONMAN Virtual Club

The broader component that we need to understand first is the IRONMAN Virtual Club. This is the online Ironman web application that is described as the “go-to hub for all things IRONMAN.” Anybody can join and it’s free - you just need to register and create an account. As you create your account, you’ll walk through a few information panels that start to clarify what you’re getting into. It would be nice to have that information before registering, but this has come together rather quickly, and things like this can be forgiven. As a member of the Virtual Club, you can access IRONMAN+ articles on training, fitness, and nutrition, shop for IRONMAN gear, and participate in challenges and races, such as the IRONMAN VR series.

The main view is your dashboard, where you can track your training, earn rewards, and access events. The events such as the VR races are all based on tracking your training, so the primary task you need to do once you’re registered is connect to your training tracking application(s) such as Garmin Connect, Under Armour’s MapMyRide/MapMyRun, Fitbit, Polar Flow, Nike+, and a few others, as shown in the screenshot below.

You may notice that one of the most popular tracking apps missing from the list is Strava. You can find more details about what happened there elsewhere, but for now, you can’t use Strava as your tracking app.

One indoor training app that can connect directly to the Virtual Club is Rouvy. Rouvy was announced as the Official Virtual Cycling Training partner for IRONMAN, and as part of that partnership, Rouvy can directly import your training efforts to the IRONMAN Virtual Club. This doesn’t suggest that Rouvy is the only means to record your cycling efforts - you can use other applications such as Zwift or Peloton, as long as you connect those indoor training applications to a training tracking that is supported by both the training application and Virtual Club. Of course, you can also just go socially distance yourself outside and complete the sessions the old-fashioned way.

The net result is that you track your runs, swims, rides, etc. like you normally do, regardless of whether they are indoor or outdoor. As long as you track your workouts, you will get credit for the work in IRONMAN Virtual Club. So, for example, if you like to run outdoors and track your runs using your Garmin watch, once you finish a run and upload the workout to Garmin Connect, that effort will be subsequently posted to the Virtual Club dashboard without any additional effort on your part. As you can see in the following screenshot, I did a run and 2 rides that were uploaded to Garmin Connect. These were actually done in Zwift, which I have connected to Garmin Connect via Zwift’s connection tool. I finish a workout and almost immediately see the results in Zwift, Garmin Connect, and IRONMAN Virtual Club at the same time.

The information regarding your workouts in Virtual Club here is minimal - you’re not going to see mile splits, graphs, or any deep analysis of your workout. You’ll simply see the time and distance logged, along with points and credits earned for your effort. This is one major value add of Virtual Club - you can get rewarded. In the screenshot above, I earned 27 credits and 136 points for my 3 workouts. Points are earned based on the distance traveled and are then converted to credits that can be redeemed for rewards. The rewards currently available are discounts towards goods offered by IRONMAN partners. For example, if you earn 1000 credits, you can use it to get $100 off a ROKA wetsuit. Earn 20000 credits, and that’s good for $2000 off an IRONMAN VR edition Ventum One bike.

Are you Ready to Race?

Once you’re connected and logging your efforts, you are now ready to participate in challenges or virtual races. So far, there have been three virtual IRONMAN events - VR1, VR2, and VR3 - held over the last few weekends. VR4 is the next race on the calendar, and happens this coming weekend, April 24 through April 26. You can register from your dashboard. There is no cost and no qualification. The format of VR4 is a duathlon consisting of a 3km run, 40km ride, and 10km run. VR3 was a similar format, but half the distances. VR2 was the same format and distances as VR4. VR1 was considerably longer, consisting of a 5km run, 90km ride, and 21km run.

If you’re the person that likes to plan ahead, this might be a bit frustrating - currently, there isn’t any indication of race distance of upcoming races, or when they are. If you want to treat this virtual race with all the respect and preparation you would for an outdoor event, it would be nice to know what’s coming up over the next few months. Is VR5 going to be as long as VR1? I expect this to improve soon, but until then, you’re going to be jumping into these events somewhat spontaneously.

When race weekend comes, you have the weekend to finish your virtual race. You can do the legs of the event in any order and over any time during the weekend, starting after 6:00PM GMT on Friday and wrapping up before 11:59PM GMT on Sunday. Whether you are riding indoors on Rouvy, running outside, or running in Zwift, you just need to have your connections in place and do the minimum distance for each leg, or session. On that note - don’t go too far, either - you are allowed up to 1 extra km for your session.

Once you are all done, your results will be posted to the leaderboard and you will earn a badge on your dashboard. Is it anything like having Mike Reilly announcing “ - YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” and having a finisher’s medal draped around your neck as you head through the finish line? No. But can it satisfy your urge to compete? You’ll only know if you try.

Get out there and do it!

In summary, it’s a pretty simple process:
  • Create a free account at
  • Connect to your training tracking applications (Garmin Connect, MapMyRide, etc.)
  • Register for a race
  • Complete the sessions of the race during the given time period, tracking your efforts on your fitness watch or via your indoor training application
  • Buy race swag (yep, they have stuff available for each race)
So, there you have it - that’s how you race a virtual IRONMAN event. If you would like to see it in action (or are really, really bored), check out the live stream of my attempt at VR4 on this coming Friday evening, April 24, at 6:00 PM EST. I’ll be doing all three sessions back to back on my treadmill and trainer set up in the Vector Cycle Works fit studio. Considering I haven't run a 10k in years, this might be rather frightening...