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Become One (Ironman)

When Laura asked me to write about what it was like to “do” an Ironman I told her you don’t “do” one, you “become one.” For the uninitiated, Ironman distance triathlon is a 2.4 mile open water swim, 112 mile bike, and a 26.2 mile (marathon) run within a 17 (generally) hour time frame. It is also a brand of races. While there is plenty of marketing and hype around the brand, I will say it is (mostly) deserved. And three of their marketing initiatives resonate with me. One is “Become One” – the program for first-timers. The second is Anything is Possible. The third, most recent, is Anywhere is Possible, for their virtual reality program to keep people excited, training, and “racing” during COVID-19.

For most first-timers training for an Ironman begins eight or more months before the race. For many of the popular North American races registration sells out pretty quickly, some within hours or days. The price is also generally more than $750 and goes up the longer you wait to register. The options for cancelling, deferring, or anything else are pretty limited so most people are committed to the training before making the investment. Yes, for all races there are a number of people who DNS (do not start) the race.

I had first decided I wanted to be an Ironman right after my 39th birthday. I thought it would be something I could do for my 40th birthday a year later. My coach, rightfully, told me I wasn’t fast enough to make the cutoffs. I was devastated. After regrouping I proposed taking three years to train very hard and do it for the 10th anniversary of my Type 2 Diabetes diagnosis. Coach said if I was in he was in. And it began a three year quest.

For my 40th birthday I finished my second half Ironman (or Iornman 70.3) race in Huntsville, ON, CAN. It was a challenging and magnificent course. It fueled the fire to keep pushing for Ironman Louisville in 2018. Louisville had a reputation for being a great race for everyone, and it was close enough to home that I could train on the course. I trained a few times on the bike course and I was glad I did.

Over the course of those three years I had two coaches (run/bike and swim), two dietitians (race day and every day), two trainers (strength and functional movement), and a sport psychologist. Also massage therapists, physical therapists, and sports docs. If I was making the investment, I was all in.

In the lead up to Ironman, and since then, I train 6-7 days a week. Not all training days are the same. Some are active recovery that is still building lifetime base miles. My general training week is: Monday – swim (open water in the summer) and sometimes strength training; Tuesday – quality run (6-8 miles with intervals or hills); Wednesday – generally easy ride (15 miles) or easy /moderate run (4-6 miles) and pool swim with drills (2,000-3,000 yards); Thursday – second quality run (5-6 miles) or quality bike (15-20 miles); Friday – pool swim (2,000-3,000 yards); Saturday long run (12-20 miles), long ride (30-100 miles), or long brick (30-60 mile ride with a 9-14 mile run); Sunday easy ride (15-20 miles) or long ride (40-100 miles). It’s like that most weeks unless I am racing or recovering from a big race/workout. My coaches plan my workouts, I just do what is in the training plan and be sure to record thoughts for my records and coach to review.

The time involved in training is like a part-time job. In order to reach your goal you also need to be intentional about food (food is fuel) and sleep (how your body heals). Time management and prioritizing work, family, worship, fun, and other responsibilities is one of the skills you learn if you aren’t already good at it.

The race itself is the culmination of all of the training and effort that it took to get there. It is a celebration of the transformation. But it is still 10-17 hours of swimming, biking, and running to get to the finish line. And anything can happen in that time. Weather. course changes, flat tires, cramps, GI distress, sunburn…anything. But there is nothing more magical than the last mile of an Ironman course. The sound is deafening as you approach the finish. The lights are a siren call to the red carpet. The announcer shouts YOU ARE AN IRONMAN as you cross the finish line. You have become one. It can’t be taken away. You have changed as a person, as an athlete. It is the most empowering experience one can have.

If you want to read more about my Ironman story, visit https://myfirstmarathontimes2.blogspot.com/2018/10/iamanironman.html. There are other posts before and after, but that is the race report that tells the story of the day I became one.

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