“You think about it at some point during the day . . . almost everyday. If not every day . . . maybe every couple hours.” — DH in reference to IRONMAN from the Crushing Iron Trailer
It’s that time of the year when prospective “Ironmen” are obsessing about their upcoming date with destiny, so I thought I would share a little bit about my background what it “felt like” training for my first (and only) Ironman. It was not easy getting from point A to point B, but I really believe, that with the right attitude, commitment and patience, anyone can tackle this beast.
My Swim History
I was probably 12 when I passed the swim test at the “Big Pool” in Beloit, Wisconsin. Across the pool and back for deep end privileges, and that was probably the most “swimming” I did that summer, or for the next 20 years. My pool time was focused on girls.
I liked water. I could tread water. But I couldn’t really swim that well. Maybe 8 or 10 laps, mostly breast stroke, on my best days. The thought of freestyle swimming 80 “down and backs” seemed impossible.
My Bike History
I always loved biking, and it was by far my best sport going into triathlon. But the furthest I’d ever ridden was around 40 miles.
I’m convinced most people can ride 40 miles, but the difference between riding 40 and racing 112 is a bloody big one. It’s not in proportion at all. I would contend 112 is at least 4 times harder than 40. Ironically, even though biking was my best sport, it became my least favorite of the three and proved the hardest.
My Run History
I lived on the Country Music Marathon course for 5 years and without fail I would be inspired to “start running” the next morning. I’d put on a cool t-shirt, dusty running shoes, and tear out of the complex onto Music Row.
Each time I would run 3-5 blocks before turning around to my walk of shame. I just couldn’t understand how people ran that far and put away the shoes till next year. In January of 2012, I committed to starting and sticking with a Couch to 5k program. My distance climbed slowly, but on the morning of my IRONMAN, I still had never run more than 14 miles.
The Power of the Mind
It took an incredible suspension of belief just to enter the realm of IRONMAN training. I had to let go of everything I knew and trust the process. I had to build fast, but retain a seemingly unreasonable amount of patience.
I literally remember how hard ONE lap of freestyle was in the beginning. I continue to fight swimming panic to this day, but I am getting much better at relaxing in the water. Letting go and swimming as opposed to trying to stay afloat.
Biking was the biggest test of my patience. My legs could handle it, but my ass and back revolted. I was a mountain biker at heart and somehow had to fall in love with long, boring road rides on a tri-bike. It wasn’t easy and I never fully enjoyed cycling. But I trusted the process and can honestly say race day was probably my favorite bike ride of the year.
My running limit in the beginning (a year and 8 months before Ironman) was probably 3 or 4 blocks . My Couch to 5K program was based on it. Run 3 blocks, walk 3 blocks, repeat. And build. Don’t try to grab it in one swoop. Run with others, take yourself just a little further each time.
How I Got Over The Hump
I suffered continuously in the water until I figured out how to “jog in the pool” and not get so winded. It was a major breakthrough and confidence builder. Learning to “coast” while swimming is one of the hardest things to do because the thought of sinking scares the shit out of you. But the more I swam, the more I relaxed, and the more I settled into my stroke. Practice fast, race under control.
I put in 2, 3, and 4 hours on a bike trainer and thought to myself, “Hell, add a little scenery and I can do 6 hours.” I just stuck with it and kept showing up. I put in a ton of two hour trainer and 3-4 hour outside rides. I was comfortable with 80 miles, but wasn’t sure I wanted to go much further before the race, mainly because I hated being on a bike that long. Then one day I discovered pace lining and it changed my perspective. That day I rode my first “Century Ride” and most of it was in the rain. I started to “sort of” like cycling again.
I’m not sure I ever got over the running hump in training. I thought about the marathon portion of the race every day. I just was not going to come close to the distance in training. I’d built from a 5k to 5 mile to a 1/2 marathon and had no choice but to leave the rest to my imagination. I never felt great about my running base and didn’t want to risk it, but had no choice but to trust the biking mileage was building my base and the short, sprint and hill run workouts were enough to get me through 26.2 miles.
How Long It Took
In essence I trained for about 8 months to do an IRONMAN.
Progress was slow, but one thing was constant. I kept showing up and those breakthrough moments kept surfacing when I needed them most.
In July, I waded into the water for a 1/2 Ironman in Muncie, IN. All of my previous swims were met with some kind of panic attack, but that day in Muncie, I swam strong and under control the entire way. When my hand scraped against the beach, I felt strong and knew I was on track to finish a full in two months.
It took a while to build up, but one day as Ironman neared I was scheduled for a 5 hour ride on Natchez Trace. Halfway through agreed with my coach’s suggestion to make it 6. We rode 110 miles of brutal hills that day, all in the rain. Nothing would stop me now.
One training run stands out more than most. It was the first time I ran the treacherous 11.2 mile loop in Percy Warner Park. I battled the tough climbs and steep downhills before finishing with a sprint. It was that day that I started to think of myself as a runner.
Trust the Process
I know all too well how training for an Ironman can get into your head. You can’t get enough information on the race and search for hours on end for that one tip that will put you over the edge. But it really comes down to working hard, patience, and embracing pain. I really believe my race was made on those long solo swims, trainer rides, and runs in the rain. It is in those moments that you confirm to yourself that you are tough enough to make it to the finish line. You’re forced to find something extra that refuses to let you quit. Build those moments throughout the year and the incredible energy of the spectators and race day will carry you into the finisher’s chute.