1) It is possible to condense 6 months of Ironman training into 6 weeks:
You register for an Ironman with great intentions of training properly, allowing for a gradual mileage build up, with plenty of long rides and runs while still getting enough recovery. You even plan to put in more time in the pool, so that you can actually enjoy (and not dread) the swim. Then life gets in the way. Daughter goes study abroad and you go visit her during the summer. Son has a weeklong soccer tournament in Louisiana. Work gets busy, house needs repairs and more travel come up and suddenly the race it’s only a few weeks away. Sound familiar? Yeah, it was July and I felt completely unprepared for an early September Wisconsin Ironman. However, with a careful and almost reckless plan, I was able to do 6 months of training into roughly 6 weeks. With long rides on Sundays and Tuesdays, long runs on Saturdays, high intensity rides on Wednesdays and high intensity runs on Thursdays, and hard swims on Monday, I was able to get Ironman fit and fairly prepared for my race. Sure it was hard and painful, and I was tired all the time. I felt like I was constantly toeing that overtraining red line so it took some extra attention see that things didn’t break down. But if you have the motivation and the focus, the physical durability not to get injured, an understanding wife to put up with the chronic fatigue and lack of productivity on other aspects around the house, it can be done. At least this way the training time doesn’t drag for an entire year.
2) Recovery is key:
My good friend Wayne has a saying that goes something like this:”If my training goes according to plan, I will probably be injured by the time I get to the race!” If you’re going to train hard, and I mean really hard, getting injured as you attempt to complete the training is a real possibility (and therefore one that needs to be managed carefully so it can be avoided). So in living through the above (6 weeks training) successfully, I realized quickly that paying more attention to recovery would be crucial, especially now that I’m 50 years old. For me, the two things that had the biggest impact on facilitating a quicker and more complete recovery were recovery boots and recovery drinks.
Recovery boots, which provide graduated compression through air pressure in compartment inside a full leg boot, are now widely present in endurance sports and college athletics. They have come down in price significantly without substantially reducing the benefits. I have one of the cheapest models available and it worked wonders on my legs. After using the boots for 20-30 minutes the night before, my legs were noticeably fresher the next day workout. I had to take turns almost every night with my high school son who was playing club and high school soccer in order to use them but they definitely helped me stay physically sharp and more recovered during the high mileage weeks
Drinking a glass of Infinit Repair or one of chocolate milk every night was also astonished helpful. Yeah I’d seen the commercials and drank them occasionally. But being more diligent about drinking them after hard days helped me immensely. I’m sure that other specialty recovery drinks would have the same effect. The important point here is the focus on getting some of the right nutrients during the right time to assist with muscle and overall body recovery, and a recovery drink or a glass of chocolate milk is a convenient way to do it.
3) Train with friends when possible but don’t be afraid to go out alone:
We all know that training with friends is much more fun. However, this year all of my training partners were either injured or smarter than me, so they were training only for the short stuff. As a result, company on the long rides and runs was very limited. I did most of these workouts entirely by myself, which pretty much always meant the last half I would be alone. The first few times I kind of dreaded them, but eventually I learned to embrace them. It allowed me to work on pacing and on the mental and physical toughness that comes from grinding out endless miles alone. I actually felt like the long rides got easier and that there was a certain degree of satisfaction from being in complete control of the workout a pushing through those low spots. During the race, the benefits of all those solo relentless rides were obvious. I rarely had to look at my Garmin to see that I was hitting my goal wattage and when I got to the hills and headwinds of mile 80ish, I felt as strong and as in control as ever.
4) Trust your gut and test your equipment:
When doing an Ironman, one has to make numerous equipment choices. Some of these get oddly nerve-wracking as you approach the race. These include wheels, tires, helmet, wetsuit, apparel, etc. And many people tend to wait until the last weekend to figure these things out, only adding to the pre race stress and poor decision making. I learned that some things need to be addressed weeks before the race so that there is enough time to be tested. My aero helmet is a case in point. I don’t particularly like wearing aero helmet, especially one with a shield like mine (I like the flexibility offered by glasses). However, I have always felt like they are faster. So I started doing some research a few weeks before the race to see if the time gain offered by the aero helmet was worth the additional “discomfort”, privately hoping that it would point out that it wasn’t. To my dismay, after looking at published data and getting input from a friend who spends a lot of time in the wind tunnel, I decided that it was. Full aero helmet was the way to go if you want to go fast. Nevertheless, I still had an issue with the tinted shield that was too dark on rainy days and impacted my visibility. So I then researched again the benefits of wearing the aero helmet without the shield and came to the conclusion that my particular helmet was developed to be worn with the shield in order to get the full benefits. Once again not the conclusion I was hoping for. But the solution was not a complicated one: purchase a clear shield available aftermarket. Race day was rainy, dark and very overcast. The shield was the best spent $30 and after having ridden several times with the aero helmet, it no longer felt clunky and unfamiliar. The result was a fast ride with no visibility issues.
5) Red Bull Can Fuel a Marathon:
I’m not sure I would recommend this for everyone but it definitely worked for me. I have always liked the taste of Red Bull and have had one once in a while at country store fueling stops during my long rides. However, when the fatigue was setting in early on the run portion of Ironman Wisconsin, I had a cup of Red Bull and immediately felt better. The caffeine along with some calories and the welcoming taste were the boost that I needed. Two miles later, still nothing appealed to me except for another cup of Red Bull. The effect was pretty much the same. OK, I wasn’t breaking any speed records by then it was enough to keep me running. One of my rules at an Ironman is that if it’s working, go with it for as long as possible. 20 miles later I was still guzzling Red Bull. I must have had 15 (smallish) cups of Red Bull by the time I reached the finish line (and a couple of gus and a handful of pretzels). I haven’t had one since but I sure hope Red Bull is still a sponsor when I decide to do my next Ironman.
6) If you’re going to talk the talk you have to walk the walk once in a while:
Several weeks before the race I was really wondering whether I really wanted to do this (Ironman). What sounded like a good idea a year ago no longer sounded so appealing. Nevertheless, I decided to follow through with my plan and go for it anyway. Sometimes it’s good to go through the mental and physical challenge of such a difficult event to really truly appreciate its complexity and relive the satisfaction of completing it. It’s also good to occasionally be humbled by the length of the event and by other athletes out on the course. I’ve always said that I never wanted to be an ex-athlete, talking about how fast or how tough I used to be. So if I’m going to talk the talk (which sometimes I have to do in my business), I feel like I should also have to walk the walk with other fellow Ironman athletes from time to time.