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.”