I first trained for a marathon because of some stressful personal circumstances and a not extremely athletic looking coworker mentioned they had completed a marathon. I asked him how he could do such an impossible feat and was inspired to change my life and attempt one. While learning about marathons I came across something called an “Ironman” where “nut cases” (my exact words) not only did a marathon but also swam an impossible distance in open water (a far cry from 200m “distance” events on the swim team) and biked over 100 miles. I looked at them in awe and viewed them not just as someone who was casually crazy, but truly had a screw loose. I have since respectfully joined the ranks of the “nut cases”.
There are two important counter balancing points when considering an Iron distance triathlon:
1. Do NOT underestimate an Ironman. It is like fire, to be feared and respected, and from that respect you may attain it. It is not something to be trifled with or the decision to become one taken half heartedly. It requires dedication, sacrifice, research, planning, time, and support from important people in your life. A marathon is not twice as difficult as a half marathon, neither is an Ironman twice as difficult as a 70.3 or a marathon. You are pushing your design limits. Not many people die from an Ironman, but lots end up in the Medical tent and only a tiny fraction of the population can claim the title.
2. You do not have to be a greek god to become an Ironman. It is attainable by mere mortals. The cutoff times are such that dedicated everyday people can accomplish this goal. In this case, the guy who says he can’t and the one who says he can are both right. People missing arms, legs, eyes, octogenarians, ALS, diabetics, formerly obese people have all become Ironmen. You can do this. It is very difficult, not impossible.
So once the dream has taken you, or in maybe your case it was an alcohol fueled bet, what do you do next?
Signing up You frequently have to sign up 364 days in advance. That is right; you have to pay several hundred dollars a year in advance. There are several ways for normal people to sign up. 0. Do an event and sign up before anyone else. 1. Volunteer at an event and sign up during the event. 2. Travel to a race and sign up the day after. 3. Hope that there are still slots available and sign up on active.com. Sometimes the window to sign up on active.com is measured in minutes and the form is several pages long, so you must have a plan. There are often more expensive charity slots available for a longer period of time. You will also have to plan to be at the race site for 5-7 days during the event.
Cost An Ironman experience is not cheap; it is also priceless. Race fees are often over $500, plus food, lodging, shipping and travel. There is a substantial list of gear, books, advice, food and usually doctor’s visits. You don’t need the latest most expensive equipment, but you need to buy for quality.
Schedule and Real Life Look hard at your schedule and think about where you could fit about 10 hours per week of training with one rest day and one day where several hours are available as a block.
Share your dream with your family and get their agreement. You cannot do this without their support. Do not neglect this part. They need to support you when you are gone for long bike rides or fall asleep an hour earlier because you are so tired. You must work with them on a schedule that includes the kid’s soccer games, your work presentation and a date with them. An Ironman is stressful on them, just their concern and watching you go through that much pain is hard on someone who loves you. See if they will take the journey with you and you can cross the line together.
Try to find a group in your area which has people going to your Ironman. They are a great source of support, advice and camaraderie. You frequently see participants and spectators with Team X shirts. An Ironman will take you through emotional and physical highs and lows, from crying to jubilation, from a bonafide zombie death march to feelings of physical power and confidence. Do it with someone, if you can.
Charity There are a number of charity fund raising slots in an Ironman. Additionally Ironman has a program where you can raise money for your cause, called "Your Journey, Your Cause".
Safety Buy the brightest dang strobe lights (2w+) you can find for your bike, front and rear and use them everytime you get on your bike. Buy several even. Wear Safety Orange or Yellow jersey, gloves, shoes, helmet, etc. Get a reflective belt, laces, RoadID, Mace, open water swim bouy from ISHOF. Join a bike advocacy group. You can't cure road rage or stupidity, but you can put the odds in your favor if you are seen; I don't care if it isn't fashionable. Get an annual physical.
Injury It is possible to go from couch to Ironman in a year, but starting with a basic fitness level makes it easier. Your body has to learn a lot about three sports and it must happen in a slow and methodical fashion. When you start getting into the higher mileage, more and more of your unique physical characteristics, technique and form errors, nutrition issues and weak muscles will show up and need to be identified and addressed. The more of them you identify and address early the better off you will be. Get checked out by a sport chiropractor, coach and sport doctor before the injury. Do not neglect your core exercises.
Coaching If you have the money and can find a respected triathlon coach or coaching group, then spend the money. It is probably not a large sum in comparison to your race fees and equipment. You will find training groups, camaraderie and you will progress faster than those without a coach.
But for most of us, money is tight and we need to focus our coaching expenditure. Coaching works hand in hand with the Sport Medicine practitioner. Most of us have some kind of physical issues that need to be discovered and treated, and technique issues which need to be corrected; with the extreme distances involved, they will surface. Coaching should address this need. I do not look for someone to count my reps and say, “Good Job”. Find a swim coach who understands open water endurance swimming (not just 50m sprints) and pay for enough hours with them to evaluate you and correct your technique. Find a strength coach or physical therapist, not a body builder, to evaluate you (like FMS) and determine which issues you need to address first. Get someone who knows running to do a gait analysis and prescribe drills to correct your technique.
At this level, the goal priority is personalized injury prevention, then efficiency improvement; speed is way down the list, but you will see huge improvements in that area. Find an experienced professional to tell you what you do not know and prescribe exercise and drills to fix it. You probably need it in the exact area you think you do not need it. If you end up not needing it, then you spent less money on the session than a doctor’s visit, suck it up, at least you got a workout. Shin splints, ITB issues, gluteal amnesia, runner’s knee, stress fractures, plantar fastitus, Achilles tendonitis, etc. the goal is to find out if you are doing anything which is a standard cause for these issues and within reason correct it before it ends your season.
Training First buy these items. Marathon: You Can Do It!, it will explain the run/walk protocol and start you on your running training. Try some of your long runs on trails. Trail running is more of a total body workout than road running. Easy Freestyle Swimming by Terry Laughlin will explain how to swim efficiently. Unless you have lots of open water distance swimming experience, do not brush this one off. Stop, take the time to progress through the drills and relearn your stroke. Training Plans for Multisport Athletes: Your Essential Guide to Triathlon, Duathlon, Xterra, Ironman & Endurance Racing This book provides lots of good training information and training plans for specific events. It is an excellent guide to get you started. Be sure to do the treadmill and the plyometric workout sequences about midway through your training season. First Triathlons: Personal Stories of Becoming a Triathlete This is candy, pure motivational reading from real people who went through what you are doing. Read two or three a week. There are two other similar books for adventure racing and ultrarunning. TKO Anti-Burst Fitness Ball (75cm) with Pump and Instruction Chart. Immediately start doing the core workouts included in this 3-5 times a week. You cannot start these soon enough. Look up Crossfit leg exercises and start doing them. Specifically the stepups, air squats and lunges. Start slow and perfect form. Toes UP on the step up, do not push off the floor with the down foot. Mack's Ear Seals Earplugs 1pr These will dramatically lower the probability of getting ear infections and will also reduce the chance of getting motion sickness during the swim. They will get you started and will take a few weeks to absorb and begin to implement.
At this point you should be doing: Run: one slow distance run with a 10% increase in distance/time per week. Bike: Finding a riding group, starting to a slow ride once a week, 10% increase per week. Buy a Safety Yellow bike jersey, a Planet Bike Blinky Superflash Turbo 1W Tail Light and a Planet Bike Blaze 2Watt LED Headlight and use them in strobe mode in the daylight. Swim: Total Immersion DVD drills 3 times a week. Core/Strength: Swiss ball workout 3-5 times a week, especially Hip Thrust/Bridge. Planning: Start to lay out a workout routine, include at least one day per week where you take a nap for the workout. Food: Add two additional daily servings of fruits and vegetables. Start to be aware of and wean yourself from high sugar foods. Read labels. Start with cutting out all soft drinks. Fuel: Drink water _during_ your workouts, especially the running and biking.
Run: Keep extending your distance 10% per week with a pause in the progression every 4th week. Bike: Find someone who can give advice on technique and form, single leg drills, spin ups, etc. Increase distance/time 10% per week, but concentrate on learning technique. Swim: Total Immersion DVD drills for half of each swim session. Core/Strength: Pilates/Stability ball 3-5 times a week. Start on one of the strength workout sequences in the reading material. Include sinlge leg balancing and squats. Planning: Your personal workout plan based on the reading material should start to take shape. Back off every fourth week and concentrate on a new aspect every 4 week period. Food: Increase fruits and vegetables even more, especially raw. They should be a conscious and significant portion of your food volume. Deprecate processed foods; as a rule, eliminate obvious refined carbohydrate content. Increase protein intake. Fuel: >1hr workout teach your body to accept Heed, >2hr Perpeteum Sleep: By now you should be needing at least an extra hour of sleep per night; make sure you are getting it.
Anecdote: At a recent Ironman event, my wife was at the local mega 'Mart to pick up disposable and last minute supplies. She felt a disturbance in the usual "'Mart Force", something wasn't quite "normal". Then she realized that the fresh foods section was abnormally full of low body fat individuals hanging out in the organic section or generally reading food labels and the produce and chicken section was nearly cleaned out. Ever seen that happen by mid afternoon at your local mega 'Mart?
You should now be extending your distances and need some equipment. Now buy: Long Distance : A Year of Living Strenuously This is a well written memoir of someone doing what you are doing. Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen This describes the world of trail running, describes barefoot running and is generally a fun and useful read. Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes. More information about sport nutrition and how it specifically relates to endurance training. Compare to the Paleo diet book you previously read.
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You have created a solid base with the exercise ball and Pilates; now add the TRX military routines to your strength and core training. Even if you have access to a full gym, get a TRX and use it. The routines will kick your butt and you will have the strongest dang core you can imagine. For strength and core. I recommend alternating TRX and Pilates and then doing the strength specific exercises mentioned in the Triathlete’s training Bible in the recommended periodization sequence. Timex Global Trainer Speed and Distance with Heart Rate GPS Watch GPS, cadence, heart rate monitor, interval, chronograph watch. This allows you a lot of freedom on your runs and bike rides and data to analyze. The interval timer is essential for the run/walk.
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This allows you to carry 40oz of water and gels on your long runs. Bodyglide Anti-chafe Balm .45 Oz – essential triathlon equipment to reduce chafing and blisters. FuelBelt Gel Ready Race Number Belt This allows you to quickly clip on your race number. I like one with a pouch for gels or at least loops. and Clif Shot Dietary Supplement, Recovery Protein Enhanced Drink, French Vanilla, 2.13-Pound Plastic Jar By now you need to start thinking about recovery drinks. They are a big help after races, long runs and do a lot to keep from feeling blasted after a long or intense workout and to prepare you for the next one. Only use on the longer ones or if you are doing multiple workouts per day.
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. This is a long workout staple. Carbs, protein, fat. Train your body to use it. Hammer Nutrition Endurolytes- Electrolyte Replacement Supplement-Dietary Supplement, 120 Count. You also need to start supplementing electrolytes on workouts >2 hours, especially hot ones. Take electrolytes to absorb the fluid. Sodium is a subset of electrolytes. Read up on the science of water/electrolyte/carb/protein ratios. This is serious business in an Ironman. If your stomach rejects your fuel and fluid your probability of a DNF goes way up.
Spend a sometime on YouTube with a search of “Ironman Triathlon”. Watch the homemade and professionally made videos. It is OK to cry when you see Team Hoyt in action or watching Julie Moss.
If you have gotten this far, then all that is left is more training and enjoying the day. Soon, you will stand on the shore with 2500 others in your wetsuit, looking hotter than Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie, as a helicopter circles, waiting for the cannon to go off to start the final step of your journey of becoming an Ironman. Enjoy it. Savor it. Revel in it. It truly is a journey, not a destination.