I want to do the IronmanMay 11, 2010
I hear it often from people. Everyone wants to do the Ironman. It’s a respectable goal, absolutely. A daunting one? Undoubtedly. Impossible? Never. However I do see a growing number of people jumping in faster than I would like to see. Yes there will always be the couch to Ironman folks. Some of them even remain with it for years and adapt it as a lifestyle. I love to see that. Some of them get off the couch, take on the distance and then go right back to the couch.
I have a friend who is a kickboxing competitor. He is in phenomenal shape, I mean phenomenal. He competes in his kickboxing world and he is ranked nationally in whatever it is that he does. He asked me about taking on the Ironman, and he admitted to feeling offended when I begged him not to take on Ironman as his first ever triathlon. After all, he’s in great shape, no doubt.
I asked him what his reaction would be if I announced I was going to jump into one of his kickboxing competition things. See, I don’t even know the lingo, culture, I am just going to jump in.
He said he would tell me that I am not experienced enough. Who me? I have done five Ironmans, a thousand triathlons, I train about 20 hours a week, what’s the problem?
But he got it. We are each quite fit, but fit to our specific sport. His amazing strength and weight lifting routine was perfect for what he needed to do, but it doesn’t mean he can jump into 140.6 miles without blinking an eye. Just like I can handle 140.6 miles quite handily, but in a weight room I am pretty much nothing.
Is the Ironman something you have on your horizon? Awesome. But do yourself a favor, take a stepped approach. don’t go buy a bike and then decide this is what you will do. Like anything, I am not saying you are not fit enough, but without the proper background you may be setting yourself up for failure, and injury. Just like if I stepped onto a tennis court and announced I was here to win.
Here are a few tips for a successful progression to Ironman:
1. Start where you are. Build into a triathlon training program slowly, even if you are super fit like my friend. He ran, he would go out and randomly run upwards of 2 hours at a time. He teaches spinning, but we need to get sport specific. Begin a good progression of swimming, cycling and running that focuses first on biomechanics. You might be able to bench press 800 pounds but how do you hold up with 18 hours of training? Do you easily roll an ankle, hurt a shoulder? A big part of Ironman training is building a great big aerobic base which helps to protect against these types of injuries. Ironman training is 80% easy and long. It’s not till much later, maybe not at all for Ironman #1 that you do big hard gut busting workouts. Taking the time to build a resilient aerobic base is absolutely paramount to this distance. I would also recommend a coach. I am a coach, and I have a coach.
2. Get the right equipment. Just as a $200 bike from Wal Mart won’t do for triathlon, my $3 pair of boxing gloves from E bay are probably not going to make do either. Get the right equipment. Get fitted to a bike, getting fitted is probably the most important thing you can do in this process. Don’t measure yourself and guess. Go to someone who knows what they are doing.
3. Start small. I will never understand why so many people try to do the Ironman as their first ever triathlon. That’s insane. There are the little things that you learn from sprints, intermediates and even halfs (70.3) that you can’t learn on your first day at the Ironman. Open water navigation, if you are in Placid how to essentially survive a gun fight of an open water swim. Bike skills. Eagleman 70.3 is a great example of this; many of the women who were drafting (ILLEGAL BY THE WAY) had the worst bike handling skills I have ever seen. I remember abandoning plan because I was terrified these idiots would make me crash. Do you know how to legally pass someone? Do you know what “on your left” means? Do you know how many bike lengths you need to have between you and the next cyclist? Do you know how to corner? Do you know how to descend? Again, things you learn in the smaller sized races. When i suggested a sprint triathlon to my friend he again admitted to being offended. I will never say I am “just” doing a sprint, these are big deals, there is a lot to be done and learned from shorter races. Experience is a big percentage of what will get you through the Ironman. There are so many local races in this area, all you have to do is visit Score-This, Musselman, or YellowJacketracing to find them. It makes me shake my head and wonder why the hell I travel all over the place when so much exists right here? (I love to travel, that’s why!!!!!). So start small. Get through at least a season of sprints, intermediates, and gain experience.
4. Don’t do the Ironman to lose weight. Balancing the nutritional aspect of this training and competing is the hardest part of all of it. I am working with a wonderful girl from New Orleans who is a former bodybuilder. Her diet was geared toward body building competitions and because that nutritional lifestyle was so ingrained in her, she had a difficult time figuring out how to fuel her endurance sport lifestyle. talk about a 180 degree turn! I referred her to the dietician at QT2, the founders of the Core Diet, and she’s made amazing progress ever since. I have known many people who have gained weight training for the Ironman, as they view it as a license to eat. You have to be the right body fat percentage. I like to see someone start off this whole process at 16-20%. Many people consider that high but you get down lower as you go along, provided you fuel yourself right. Starting off at too low of a body fat is asking for a stress fracture. Starting off too high is murder on your knees. And remember knees are expensive. Starting off at the right body composition is paramount in this endeavor.
5. It’s expensive. When i began this whole thing it was $300 to enter an Ironman. Nowadays they are almost $600 to enter. They also sell out within one day. Traditionally at lake Placid, if the race is on July 25th, you’d better have a spot in line by 4am the next morning because it will sell out by 9am. Many were lucky this year that for some strange reason online spots were available. But still, you sign up for this 365 days in advance. WTC appreciates that interest free one year loan I am sure! In Lake Placid you must also secure your accommodations a year in advance and be prepared to pay. There is typically a 5 night minimum and the costs of the regular Joe Schmo $75 per night hotel are $150 per night that week. I like Ironman Florida because its cheap accomodations, it’s spread out and it’s a little more open. But add up the airfare and bike shipping costs and I pay about the same as I would in Placid.
And that is just the race and hotel. Bike… minimum of $2k, wetsuit, $200-$500, running shoes (several pair), bike shoes……. I am not even adding it up anymore because I think you get the drift! Ironman ain’t cheap.
6. Be clear about why. You know why I do the Ironman? Because I get to experience a lifetime of emotions all in one day, because it’s what brings me face to face with me, it challenges me in ways I can’t otherwise be challenged. I love the feeling of being at mile 20, so close but so far, getting cracked like an egg and peeled like an orange. Ironman for me is self exposing.
With that being said I think it’s perfectly rational and probably a better decision to never do it at all. It’s a life sucker. Have your family on board. I have seen plenty of Ironman divorce. Get ready to spend some big time time on this. That’s why the short distances and especially the 70.3 (Half Iron) distances are so great. They are doable with a family, and they are easier to recover from. I admit to my mental illness when it comes to Ironman. I seem to not be able to stay away!
So don’t throw out your Iron dreams, but understand what you need to really do to achieve this goal. Give yourself at least 2 years and have a little patience with that. Rome wasn’t build in one day, and neither was the Ironman.