In 2015 I was struggling to motivate myself to exercise.
I was 4 years out of college and 4 years out of my competitive swimming “career”.
I knew that exercise was important.
I knew that it leads to better quality of life and longevity.
I just kinda sorta didn’t care.
The alarm would go off at 6am and I’d roll over and go back to sleep for two hours.
I’d get to the office at 9:15 and start the day by feeling miserable that I missed another workout that morning.
This went on for nearly 2 years.
I needed something to care about. Something to shoot for. A goal that would keep the exercise interesting and keep me motivated.
Part of the problem was that I was running exclusively as my exercise.
Running is great. I love running. But, when you’re running the same loop every day you get bored. Instead of jumping out of bed excited to go, you wake up with the thought of “Oh no, not this fucking thing again.”
So, I tried to kill two birds with one stone and decided to do an Ironman in 2 years, in 2017.
- As a triathlon I would need to swim, bike and run in order to train and thus hopefully not be bored with any one activity.
- As its an Ironman, its quite an undertaking so it would be a stretch goal, something that would keep me motivated. This isn’t just any triathlon, its 2.4 miles swim, 112 miles bike and 26.21 miles run. Thats a full marathon at the end.
There were a few other reasons for picking an Ironman as the goal:
- Its an intense accomplishment. One of those things that define and separate you from the unwashed masses. The kind of thing that is on a bucket list.
- Its great training for the apocalypse. I live in Manhattan. If something happens I need to get off the Island. Most people will be mobbing the bridges and fighting for cars. If I can run to the water, swim through it and then keep running opportunistically grabbing a bike when I see one I’d have an advantage.
So the stage is set. Now what?
There were a few problems with my goal of completing an Ironman:
- I had never done an open water swim.
- I had never biked more than a couple dozen miles continuously.
- I had never run more than 8 miles.
I did have a few advantages:
- I swam competitively in pools for 8 years including college.
- I had been running a 6 mile loop at least 3 times a week for the past 2 years.
I decided that I didn’t need to worry about swimming until the year of the race. This could have turned out poorly but I was confident given my extensive training and it turned out well.
My running shape had increased drastically since college. There was a memorable workout when our coach had us run 5 miles. I remember being furious the entire run. “There is no conceivable need for us to run that long.” It was one of the most miserable workouts of my college swimming career. Not in a good way.
But now, I had built myself up from running 3 mile loops daily and a 6 mile loop once a week to running 6 mile loops daily and pushing my pace lower and lower.
I’d eventually go from a 8 minute per mile pace in early 2014 to running a 6:14 minute per mile pace on the same 6 mile loop 3 years late in 2017.
So, I had a plan for the speed, now I needed to check if I had the endurance.
To do that I would need to run a marathon.
I spent the rest of 2015 mostly running 6 mile loops and began to bike on my mountain bike to get my legs used to the movements.
In early 2016 I started ramping up the running mileage. Over the summer I completed several long runs starting with 15 miles, then 18 miles and then finally 24 miles.
The 24 mile run was from Wall St in Manhattan to Coney Island and back.
It turned out that long runs are extremely doable as long as I put my head down and put one leg in front of another. My 24 mile run pace was 7:55 per mile. Much faster than I was expecting.
I felt strong.
Now on to the bike.
In July of 2016 I bought a road bike and started biking seriously for the first time.
This was an adjustment. On one hand it actually felt a lot easier than swimming and running. Even if I took a break from pedaling I would keep rolling.
I quickly learned that although it felt easy, I was not good at it. This was to be my weakest link.
I built up distances slowly and completed two 100+ mile rides in September of 2016.
I was putting in the distance but I had a serious problem. I was popping tires like it was my job. For every 50 miles on the bike I would usually pop one tire.
I grew discouraged and put the bike away for the winter.
Winter training consisted of 6 mile runs and occasional trips to the gym to built on in the spring of 2017.
In early 2017 it started to get real.
I officially booked the race for the Mont Tremblant Ironman on August 20, 2017.
I joined the Asphalt Green Triathlon club and began training with other triathletes.
Riding with the club paid off on my first long Saturday ride. About 10 miles in one of my tubes popped. For me, this was normal. I got off the bike and began to change the tube.
One of the guys on the ride quickly stopped me when I attempted to put the wheel back on with the tire not evenly tucked into the wheel. It turns out that I hadn’t been inflating my tubes slightly before putting them under the tire which was causing them to be pinched between the tire and the wheel.
My frequent flats went away. Finally.
My training kicked into gear in May with the following schedule:
Monday AM: Run or Gym
Monday PM: 1 hr Swim with masters team
Tuesday AM: Asphalt Green Brick (Bike ~18 miles then run ~3 miles)
Wednesday AM: Run or Gym
Wednesday PM: 1.5 hr Swim with masters team
Thursday AM: Asphalt Green Brick (Bike ~18 miles then run ~3 miles)
Friday AM: Run or Gym
Saturday: Long ride or Run
My goal was to be more efficient than the typical triathlon athlete. Its my impression that the typical triathlon athlete over trains because they are afraid of being underprepared. Thats one strategy. I wasn’t interested in giving up 3 hours a day to training.
For my running, I focused on intervals. I did one of three running workouts:
- 4x 400m sprint with 2 minutes rest
- 20x 100m sprint with 10 seconds rest
- 5x 1 mile at fast pace with 5 minutes rest
I went to the gym in order to strengthen my legs and increase my bike speed. During the Asphalt Green Brick workouts I was consistently left behind by the rest of the group on the bike. I was slow.
Did it work? I don’t really know. I think so but its hard to tell. My gym workouts were:
Upright Barbell Row
For each exercise I would do 3 sets of 8 reps with the last set being as many reps as possible until failure.
If I got to 8 or more reps on the last set then next time I would increase the weight by 5 pounds for arm exercises and 10 pounds for leg exercises.
Finally, I was targeting eating over 3000 calories a day. The goal was to put on some muscle in order to make my bike stronger.
That worked and I gained 10 pounds during my training. Most of which was muscle. So at least my leg muscles got bigger.
2 weeks away from the race I started to taper.
It was actually a bit nerve wracking.
I was constantly worried that I would lose strength and not be in top form for the race.
2 weeks out I cut all workouts in half.
The week of the race I did no high intensity workouts.
I also made sure to sleep 9+ hours every night the week of the race.
I flipped my nutrition goals from over 3000 calories to under 2500 calories for the last two weeks and cut off 7 pounds of water weight / fat in order to carry less weight with me on race day.
The day before I did a mini-triathlon.
10 minutes swim in the lake where I’d be swimming on Sunday. It was much warmer than I expected.
15 minutes bike on the bike course. I felt good.
10 minutes run on the run course. I felt fast.
I ate a big meal of chicken and rice and was in bed by 8:30pm.
4:00am wakeup on race day.
I had laid out all my clothing and gear the night before so got dressed and headed down to the start. I was at the starting line with an hour to spare and so jumped in the water to take a few strokes.
Swim it. I wasn’t worried about it.
I started in the 3rd wave of age group atheletes. The fastest group to put yourself in was those who expected to complete the race in under 1 hour and 5 minutes. I expected to be done in around 50 minutes so I put myself near the front.
The first 5–10 minutes were slightly challenging as I kept running into the people around me. Soon I hit a rhythm, put my head down and accelerated to the finish.
I stumbled out of the water and ran up the beach right into a large crowd surrounding the coridor for athletes to run through. I knew that there would be wetsuit strippers but I didn’t know what to expect so when I came to a group of volunteers yelling at me to go over to the left I just stood and looked at them for a few seconds.
Once I stumbled over to them they had trouble pulling my wetsuit off over my tracking watch. They eventually got it but it advanced my watch to the wrong transition and meant that I wouldn’t be able to get my own time for the full triathlon. No big deal. I had expected this might happen.
I would find out later that I finished 8th overall in the swim including the pro Ironman athletes.
Start slow and build, spin high cadence on hills, take advantage of descents on hills, stay in aero (leaning on my aerobars) above 13 miles per hour.
- 1 cliff bar per hour (bonus clif bar at 23, 56 and 79 miles)
- 1 bottle of ½ gatorade per hour
- Stop eating 15 miles before the end
The first transition was simple, I ran into the tent, changed, ran out, grabbed my bike and got going.
This was also the first time that I saw my friends that had come to support me. They were all wearing orange shirts and gave me an additional energy boost.
T1: 7:57, Total: 1:03:57
The first few miles were easy.
The course was a 56 mile loop two times.
The loop was cut into two sections, the first longer one was out and back and then another section that went out 5 miles and back.
The first section of the loop was mostly flat and we quickly merged onto half of a highway which was shutdown for the race.
It was glorious. I was easily maintaining 20 miles per hour and above. I decided to keep my pace steady and then push it on the second lap if I had energy.
The only downside was that I was constantly being passed.
I has expected this. I knew my swim was the strongest of my three sections and that the bike was the weakest. It still sucked every time a biker with a 47 on his calf (indicating that he was 47 years old) passed me.
I developed a mantra which helped “This is my race, I’m not competing with them.” It mostly kept me focused on myself and not frustrated.
Paired with “Keep your cadence high” as a reminder not to overwork my gears I was making good time and was on pace to finish the first loop in under 3 hours.
At least until about mile 35 when two things started happening:
- I was having trouble swallowing Clif bars. After my 3rd bar (I was faithfully following my nutrition plan) the bikes that I took started coming up. It took serious concentration to keep them down.
- I hit a straight uphill. I wasn’t prepared for the fact that of the last 10 miles of the loop, 5 were straight uphill. I cursed and yelled at the course. I must have gotten some strange looks from bikers that were still passing me on the uphill but eventually I made it to the turn around and coasted down.
Luckily, my support team had positioned themselves at the bottom at this hill so I got a boost before heading into it and another one coming down from it.
I finished lap 1 in almost exactly 3:00:00.
Then lap 2 started.
I could feel my legs dropping out from underneath me.
My pace started to lag.
I had been eating over a clif bar an hour and drinking a full bottle of Gatorade every hour. I felt slightly bloated and full of sugar.
I threw out my idea to push the second lap. I would need every ounce of energy for that hill at the end of the second lap and preferred to save my legs for the run.
Lap 2 was an exercise in just putting my head down and turning my legs. I remember much less from it than from the first lap.
I eventually got back to the hill, struggled up it and coasted down relieved back to the transition area.
After dismounting I handed my bike off to a volunteer, grabbed my gatorade from the cage and ran into transition.
Time: 6:18:05 Total: 7:22:01
Start at 8 minute pace, see what I can do
- 1 gels per hour
- 1 bottle of gatorade an hour
The second transition was even faster than the first. My support squad had positioned themselves between where I dropped off my bike and the changing area so I got a boost running in. I quickly dropped the biking gear and put on my vibrams and was on my way.
I was pleasantly suprised to see team #konada had moved over to the run start in the 3 minute that it took me to change and was cheering me on.
T2: 3:15 Total: 7:25:16
It was a great way to start the run and I felt good.
I almost felt like I hadn’t just biked 112 miles and swam 2.4 before that.
The run was two 13 miles loops so I mentally divided it into 4 10ks.
4 10ks isn’t that bad, I do a 10k as my normal training run, I can do this fast! That was my thinking.
It was true for the first of the 10ks.
I was holding a 7:45 pace and passing tons of people. I was so excited that I started counting the number of people that I passed. I got to 91 before I lost track because my pace died.
I made the mistake of not fueling on the first 10k. I was only drinking water and refusing gatorade.
When I hit mile 9 my legs slowed down. My pace dropped to around 10 minutes per mile. It would stay around there for the last 17 miles.
I calculated based on my bike finish time that as long as I was around 10 minute miles for the rest of the race I would finish in under 12 hours. I was happy with that.
I began to walk through aid stations and would drink as much gatorade and water as I could in each station in addition to eating bannanas.
Once I started that I felt better. I pulled myself around the last lap of the course and resolved to just make it to the finish. I didn’t have the energy to push myself and was worried that if I tried to pick up the pace I’d end up needing to walk.
Interestingly, the biggest conversation topic with other runners was my shoes. I’ve run in vibrams for 5+ years and nearly forget that I’m doing anything different than other athletes but I kept getting comments about how they couldn’t believe I was doing this in barefoot shoes.
These brief conversations also made me realize that I wasn’t winded from the running and my heartrate wasn’t elevated. My heartrate was an average of 137 for the marathan with a max of 166. In comparison my heartrate goes up over 180 when I’m really pushing myself in my training runs.
It looks like my muscles themselves were wearing out, not my body’s ability to pump blood. Good to know for the future, I need to focus more on the endurance of my muscles, not cardiovascular capacity.
Eventually I made it through the last lap and to the finish line.
I could see other people celebrating for their photos, I didn’t care. I just wanted to be done.
After the finish line I hobbled into the finishers tent, chugged two chocolate milks and tried to sit down.
I quickly realized that I needed to support myself using my hands so that I wouldn’t collapse into the chair.
This started 36 hours of hobbling around and needing support to get up and sit down.
Time: 4:10:30 Total: 11:35:45
Thats my main reflection. I’m extremely happy I did it. I’m extremely happy with my time. I won’t be doing it again any time soon.
It does feel great to have completed something that is not just a difficult achievement but that is recognized by the world to be an amazing achievement.
Now its on to the next challenge.