9 Things I’ve Learned Since My First 5K

I will never claim to be an expert because triathlon is a deep and confusing bag of tricks.  I have been writing about Ironman training almost daily for 3 years and can still be baffled by what it takes.  But, I have nearly 1,000 posts directly related Ironman, and –aside from the fact that Ironman hasn’t followed me on Twitter– it’s been an awesome ride.

I started running in the Spring of 2012. I’ve done four Half and three Full Ironman since then. It’s been a long road of hard knocks, so I thought I’d reflect on what I’ve learned so I don’t keep making the same mistakes.

Thanks for reading and sharing over the last few years!  As always, please follow Crushing Iron on Facebook for the latest in overthinking triathlon.

1.  THE MOST IMPORTANT ADVICE FOR ENDURANCE RACING? – One of my friends ran distance in the epicenter of college track and field for the University of Oregon.  I continually pepper this Guru of Run for tips, and every time he simply gives me a sly smile before saying something like, “The only way I know how to be a better runner is run more.”  It’s like something a Zen Master would say to his student, so I’ve sat in contemplation many times with that thought.  I knew he was right, but wanted something more, so one day when he peacefully stood next to me in his robe and sandals, I begged him for the secret to running.  He gazed into the sunrise and without looking at me he said, “You must stay relaxed.”  At that moment, I felt enlightenment. 

2.  ENDURANCE SPORTS AREN’T AS HARD AS THEY SEEM – For 48 years of my life I thought running a marathon was impossible.  It was the furthest thing from my mind.  Now I honestly feel like I could “jog” forever.  My first half-marathon (3 months after I started running) pretty much put me in a straight jacket, but I’ve run three full marathons, all after swimming 2.4, then cycling 112 miles since then.  I’m no spring chicken, but the truth is, I was remarkably resilient during and after those 140.6 mile workouts.  The difference?  The body and mind adapted and began to view it as normal.  It takes time, proper rest, nutrition, and most importantly, belief.

3.  IT’S TOUGH TO MAKE UP FOR LOST TIME – I played baseball from the day I was old enough to walk and even though I haven’t picked up a bat or glove in years, I could probably outplay 97% of the population.  Baseball is deep in my fiber.  But that’s not the case with endurance sports.  People who haven’t swam, biked, or ran in the past have to work much harder to be competitive.  If you don’t believe me, ask someone who has swam since a kid, but hardly trains before laying down a sub-hour Ironman swim.  I’ve seen this with runners, too.  That said, from day one in this sport I’ve been an above average cyclist because of my mountain biking background.  But that hasn’t made me great and I’m sure many people who don’t have a cycling history kick my ass.  No matter how good or bad we are at something, hard work will win in the end.  Most people didn’t grow up training in all three sports, and that’s one reason Ironman is so intriguing.

4.  MOST PEOPLE OVERTHINK TRIATHLON – Nutrition this, gear that.  It goes on and on.  And believe me, that stuff matters, but I can honestly say that whenever I want to blame my race on something like gear or nutrition, it’s just a cover up for not being in shape.  I remember when I first started running, I would be ridiculously thirsty after a couple miles.  Like dying in a desert kind of thing.  But now that my body is more efficient, I don’t need as much fluid.  That doesn’t mean I neglect it, I’m just saying stronger and more pliable muscles respond on their own without gobs of water or sugar.  Breathing right, embracing pain, and working hard are far more important during a race then the latest training tools.

5.  PEOPLE DON’T WANT TO HEAR ABOUT YOUR WORKOUTS OR RACES – When I started, I was really jacked up and thought everyone would be just as pumped to hear about my two mile run at a 9:57 pace!  Not only did they not want to hear it, it pissed them off.  I can’t tell you how many people have slowly backed away from my quest to tackle life!  People are just more comfortable being around someone like them.   And I totally get it.  I thought you people were weirdos, too.  But, occasionally I hear from people I thought kicked me to the curb who tell me how I have inspired them to get back in shape.  So, the more accurate title of this section would probably be “People don’t want to hear about your workouts or races . . . until they’re ready.”

6.  YOU DON’T GET FASTER GOING FARTHER, BUT . . . –  I put this one in here, but I’m still not sure about what’s right in regard to racing Ironman.  My theory has always been: Try to make your goal-race-pace feel easy in training.  For example, I wanted to make 20 mph feel easy on the bike this year in hopes of holding it at Ironman Chattanooga.  Well, I did hold it, but I didn’t have the long distance training on my legs, so my “easy run pace goal” of 9 minute miles wasn’t attainable.  So, in a nutshell, to me it’s becoming more obvious that my theory is right, and speed work is essential, but it won’t do you any good if you haven’t built strength through long-slow-mileage.

7.  CYCLING IS WAY HARDER THAN PEOPLE THINK – I hear it all the time . . . “I could never swim, or do the run, but I could do the Ironman bike.”  Oh, is that right?  Before getting into triathlon, biking was my only history.  My biking “claim to fame” was completing the Fat Tire Festival, a forty mile off road jaunt in northern Wisconsin.  That kicked my ass and cycling continues to give me the same feeling.  But, after 3 Ironman races I’ve finally realized that being incredibly strong on the bike is the crucial to have a good run.  Cycling is really the weirdest sport of the three because your body remains relatively stiff.  Many times my neck and back give out before my legs.  But what a way to build your run engine without all the pounding.

8.  NOBODY KNOWS WHAT YOU NEED BETTER THAN YOU –  You can always read and learn, but there’s a lot of crap out there (including this blog a lot of times).  There’s a million ideas on how to train, but only you know what works best for you.  The catch is, you really have to be honest with yourself.  What’s “best” doesn’t mean easiest or most convenient.  In Ironman training, there’s simply no substitute for work.  If you’re putting in the effort and miles, you will be fine.

9.  FINISHING AN IRONMAN ISN’T AS HARD AS IT SEEMS – I’m not saying the road of training isn’t hard, but for most, the hardest part of training is motivation . . . and putting in the time. Rarely have I seen anyone finish a long workout and crawl back to their car.  More and more people finish Ironman every year and when you see someone “just like you do it,” you start to believe. Belief is the battle.  Especially your first time.  I honestly didn’t know if I could finish that first time.  But I did it in 11:58.  That’s 5 hours from the cut off.  The range of Ironman finishers is incredible.  Old, young, tall, short, overweight, slim, sick, healthy, anxious, confident.  Ironman’s tag line is, “Anything is Possible,” and while I can’t speak for your desire to do “anything,” I can certainly say, without a doubt, that if you put in the time, you will be able to run through the finish line and hear those incredibly sweet words, “You Are An Ironman.”



IRONMAN LOUISVILLE 2015 VIDEO – Race Day Highlights

IRONMAN LOUISVILLE 2015 VIDEO – Race Day Highlights

Here’s the official Crushing Iron Video for Ironman Louisville 2015.  Please share with friends, family, and training groups.  Also, if you know any Race Directors who may want a professional video, let them know I’m available for hire at very reasonable rates.  Make sure to follow Crushing Iron on Facebook and subscribe to the Crushing Iron YouTube Channel so you’ll get all the race videos, training tips, and unique perspectives on triathlon.  Previous videos from Ironman Louisville, Chattanooga, and Wisconsin are listed below this video.  Hope you enjoy and keep Crushing Iron!  







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Guest Blogger Program

Crushing Iron wants your input!  We’re looking for guest writers and there could be a FREE Crushing Iron T-shirt in it for you!

The program is simple.  Contact us about a story idea you have that is relevant to Ironman racing, training, or psychology.  Once we agree on the direction for your piece, you write it, the we post it here.  When your story reaches 1,000 views, you get a free and awesome t-shirt like this!  (See below for more details).


Once approved, we’ll happily link your blog or product, or whatever.  Take advantage of the growing audience of CrushingIron.com and get a sweet t-shirt in the process!  Email Mike at mtarrolly@gmail.com and put Guest Blogger in the subject line.

Please share with your Ironman writer friends.  Thanks for reading Crushing Iron!

8 Thoughts on KONA

Who would have guessed that when I saw a bunch of crazy people on TV doing Kona back in the 80’s, someday, I would want to be one of them.  If I were completely honest, I would even tell you, I’ve had Kona in the back of my mind every time I’ve raced, including my first time at IM Wisconsin.

Yeah, it was a complete long shot, but I felt like, on some level, I was in the ballpark, and during Ironman, anything can happen.  Even last year when I went to Louisville, I was secretly anticipating pulling a miraculous rabbit out of my hat, though I was way undertrained in the run.  This year, I actually put it out there, and once again, it wasn’t really that close.

Anyway, watching KONA really gets me jacked, and here were 8 Things that caught my attention.

1.  THE MASS SWIM START IS AMAZING – The online video coverage of KONA is so incredibly cool.  They helicopter and underwater cameras were great, but for me the coolest thing ever was the tight shots from a boat that rolled along with the pro swimmers.  I could literally watch that scene for hours.  They are just hammering through that water with the smoothest form and power.  The fact that I find that so exciting is kind of weird, because watching swimming seems boring, but not when you have “been in that situation” and understand how it feels.  At one point in the broadcast, the announcers mentioned something like, “It looks like Matt Chrabot is escorting Lionel Sanders through this swim,” and that little line set off a firestorm of debate on the internet.

2.  THE RACE INSIDE THE RACE About a week or so before KONA, I interviewed Ironman Chattanooga runner-up, Matt Chrabot about what was one of the closest finishes in Ironman history.  That race was two weeks before KONA and Chrabot had qualified and planned on racing.  To mortals, that seems impossible, so I was very interested how he would handle KONA.  Most assumed he would use it as a chance to do recon on the course.  I actually asked him a swim question in my interview:

8.  You’re clearly a great swimmer, do you change your game plan at all for a downstream course? 

Not really. Just get in that front pack and hope the deficit on the other contenders is sizable.

Not much there, but during KONA some accused him of being a Domestique (servant) for Sanders in the swim because they had the same swim time and Chrabot is typically a much faster swimmer.  Drafting in the swim is technically legal, but the debate is over whether or not Matt purposely compromised his race to help Lionel.  I’m not sure what to make of it, but there’s tons of fodder here if you want to dig in.

3.  I GOT TO TRACK FOUR PEOPLE I KNEW – The first couple times I tracked KONA, I knew “of” a few people racing, but this year I actually knew four people.  Dave Richter, Arlo Hartley, Vicki Updike, and Emily Rollins.  Dave is from Wisconsin, and we met through a mutual friend (my race body guard, Pete) while I was watching Chattanooga last year.  Ironically, he wound up scooping the last KONA slot from another guy I know, Brad Rollins (Emily’s husband).  Arlo Hartley was a year ahead of me in high school back in Beloit, Wisconsin.  I actually beat him by a couple places at Ironman Wisconsin, but he came back the next year and kicked ass on his way to landing a KONA slot.  Vicki and Emily are both from Nashville and I see them all over the place.  By all of their accounts, KONA was a completely different beast.

4.  THE POWER OF THE BIKE – I didn’t get to watch much of the bike stuff, but the power these pros drop on the course is mind boggling.  10-15 guys in the front pack going back and forth in devastating heat and wind, holding a 25 mph pace for 112 miles.  The race seemed wide open as they neared the end of the bike, but Jan Frodeno had other ideas.

5.  BIKE FOR SHOW, RUN FOR DOE – Jan was second out of the water and first off the bike.  He then decided to lead the run from start to finish with an average pace of 6:34/mile.  I can barely stand the pressure of holding off friends in training, but here he was squashing dreams of some of the best triathlete runners in the world.  Just an impressive day for Frodeno.

6.  THE CELEBRITY OF KONA – Every year there are a couple celebrity types that pay big bucks to race KONA.  This is always a sticky topic with Ironman traditionalists because most people have to earn their way to Hawaii through other races.  That was not the case for celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and everyone’s favorite football underdog actor, Sean Astin, otherwise known as “Rudy.”  I definitely have mixed emotions about letting guys like this in, but there is usually a big time charity donation component that’s hard to argue with.  Somewhere in all of this may be the answer to one of my biggest questions about KONA:  How does this race have all the best triathletes from around the world, yet often people don’t finish (see Gordon Ramsey’s result) or even make the swim cut off.  Rudy finished with a 15:30.

7.  THE FINISH LINE CELEBRATIONS ARE A BIT MUCH – I was in Louisville watching random KONA finishers cross the line on my laptop, and had to turn it off after about 20 minutes.  The over-the-top posturing is really kind of embarrassing.  I mean, I get it, you finished KONA, but allegedly most of you have had pretty good success in Ironman races.  Do we really need the “rolling across the ground finish,” or the “fake bow and arrow shooting” pose?  Stand tall, be proud, and act like you’ve been there.  That said, I’ll probably juggle flaming torches or something if I ever get to that point.

8.  I BLEW MY KONA PREDICTIONS – A few days before the race I went on record with my KONA predictions for the pro men.  They were at best random guesses, but non-the-less, I could have done much worse.

Prediction      Actual Finish   Net                               Comments
Sebastian Kienle                      1st                     8th            (-7)            Had a great swim, maybe it took a little too much?
Jan Frodeno                             2nd                    1st            (+1)            Just a solid year and a great race.
Brent McMahon                      3rd                     9th           (-6)            Solid race, really rising in the ranks.
Frederick Van Lierde             4th                     31st          (-27)          Was right there, but obviously had major issues on the run.
Ivan Rana                                 5th                     12th          (-7)            Great run and race, just a little too far back off the bike.
Matt Hanson                            6th                    DNF                            He may have been ready to run, but a bike accident ended his day.
Andy Potts                                7th                      4th          (+3)           May have heard my advice to hold back a tinge on the swim.
Andraes Raelert                      8th                      2nd         (+6)           He’s always there and put together a beauty.
Ben Hoffman                           9th                     36th        (-29)          Had a big target on him this year. Too much on the bike.
Tim Don                                  10th                   15th          (-5)             Right there all the way through.

BONUS:  Here’s a picture my friend Dave Richter sent the day after the race.  Only in KONA.  




Ironman Louisville Run Highlights (Video)

Ironman Louisville Run Highlights (Video)

Here’s some pretty cool shots from the run course at Ironman Louisville 2015.  We’re working on one that combines all three and should have that up soon.  Please follow Crushing Iron on Facebook (or by email on this site) to get much more from Ironman Louisville.  (And Chattanooga, which we still have to finish as well).  Not to mention an onslaught of general talk about Ironman.  Also, if you like what you see, please share with friends, groups, etc.  Thanks for reading Crushing Iron.

Ironman Louisville – My Top 10

Ironman Louisville – My Top 10

1.  I absolutely LOVE Ironman Swim Starts.  While I was shooting video at Ironman Louisville, the scene brought a tear to my eye.  The music, the crowd, the energy . . . all electrifying. Some athletes were loose, some were tense, but all were minutes from a wild ride.  I loved it the first time I went to Louisville four years ago, and loved this one just as much.

2.  The water looked pretty good (or normal) to me.  Hopefully there weren’t any cases of algae fungus or whatever that stuff causes.  I could be wrong, but it also looked like a slower current than usual and it sort of played out in the times of people I was tracking.  But, who knows with open water swimming.  Lines are so important, and as you can see in this picture, straight, isn’t always the first choice.

Overhead shot of Ironman Louisville Swim.

3.  I didn’t go out and watch the bike. It’s kind of a weird thing with me because I love watching the Tour de France and Crit racing, but the Ironman bike segment is always a tough view.  I stayed in town and got back to transition just in time to see the overall winner, James Burke, dismount.  So, that was cool.

Wisconsin boy, James Burke, dismounts his bike on way to the overall win at Ironman Louisville.

4.  The temperatures were perfect for racing, but the sun was out the whole day and there is absolutely no shade on the run course.  I thought it was bound to have an impact on some people.  I also wondered if some underestimated how hard an Ironman actually is because of the perfect weather.

Moving Ironman Louisville from August to October made a bit of a difference in the weather.

5.  Standing on those downtown Louisville streets brought back a lot of memories, and not necessarily good ones!  Something seemed different to me, then I realized that everyone was actually running out of T2.  In years past I was always shocked by the amount of walking on mile one.  Not only was no one walking, they were smiling . . . and . . . seemingly in good form.  Conditions were definitely more favorable than years past, but if I know anything about Ironman, it’s that it’s hard as fuck, and struggles were very apparent on the second loop.

My buddy, Marc Swain, cruising along to his second IM Finish.

6.  It’s been interesting to watch Louisville develop over the last four years.  The once sleepy downtown is starting to buzz.  There’s a lot of construction and the scene at the Finish Line is dramatically different.  Fourth Street Live was once anchored by a few independent restaurants but now there is a TGI Friday’s kind of vibe, and I’m not sure it’s a good thing.  Even the overhead bridge that I use for finish line video shots has a full scale bar.  Between the perfect weather and the new sports-bar-atmosphere, I think the Louisville finish line was as crowded as I’ve ever seen it.

Downtown Louisville is growing up and produced a huge finish line crowd in 2015.

7.  After the swim I walked downtown to get some spectator nutrition for the long day.  As I walked up on the corner of 4th and Liberty I saw a group of four cops and asked them if they had any good suggestions for places to eat.  The words were barely out of my mouth when one of them took out his gun and pointed it across the street, “Yeah, there’s a Dunkin Donuts right there.”  He didn’t really pull out his gun, but the donuts part is true.  I ate at Einstein Bagels.  Later in the day I stopped back there, but they were closed.  As was Starbucks in the Marriott.  The one in Seelbach was open, but only until 5.  I had a pretty good burger at Gordon Biersch before heading out for my final viewing around 6:00.

8.  Earlier in the day I ran into Jason, who I met with his wife (Lisette) while doing Challenge Knoxville.  They are the coolest people and drive around to races and spend their weekends in a tricked-out van down by the river with their dogs.  Lisette was racing and Jason and I waited in special needs for her to come through.  She was having a good race and right on the fringe of a potential Kona birth.  Eventually we saw her and she looked good.  So, after our burger, we went out to catch her finish.  I followed her with my camera through the finish line and was pumped to see her, but she was a little out of it and didn’t recognize me.  Ahh, the perils of supporting your friends all day and seeing them sink into a state of delirium.  (Sounds like a twisted blog post topic for the future).  Lisette finished 5th in her AG and they only had 3 slots.

9.  As much as I loved spectating Louisville, Ironman isn’t quite the same without pros in the race.  Pro triathletes add a different kind of energy to the game, and it’s just cool to see them blow by you on the course.  I would even go as far to say it’s inspiring for the racers to have pros on the same course the same time.  I know it is for me.  I always do that little fantasy push for about 5 seconds, like I’m going to run or bike with them, when they pass me on their second loop.  And it just occurred to me that the last two races I’ve done have had remarkable pro finishes.  Last year at Louisville ended in a shaky-leg-death-sprint, and of course this year’s photo finish at Chattanooga.

10.  There’s nothing like watching an Ironman to pump you up to do an Ironman.  It’s how I got started in this business and it’s how I will continue next year at Wisconsin (which is still open if you want to join me).  I’ve come to the conclusion that Ironman is a little like golf in the sense that every time you “play” you always do just enough good stuff that you want to come back and try again.  Sure, you slice the ball into the woods and miss a few easy putts, but it always seems like you make a great shot on the last hole.  And in triathlon, you make similar mistakes, but there’s nothing that will bring you back to the starting line like running through that arch and hearing a booming voice call you an Ironman.    









Ironman Louisville Swim Start 2015 (Video)

Ironman Louisville Swim Start 2015 (Video)

Here’s a glimpse of the scenery surrounding the Ironman Louisville swim start.  Spectating an Ironman is almost as enjoyable (and painful) as doing one.

I have tons of stuff still on the way and hope you follow this blog by email or Crushing Iron on Facebook so you don’t miss them.  And please feel free to share this stuff!  Hope it brings back good memories.