What does it take to complete the (often dreaded) full ironman distance? Natural athletic ability and top of the line equipment will help, but they certainly are not essential for going 140.6. While preparing for Ironman Lake Placid I have spent a lot of time thinking about what the essential components are for completing an ironman, or in my case – trying to achieve a personal best. Here is the list I’ve come up with:
1. A Supportive Spouse: the rest of this list is in random order, but this one is listed first because it is the most important IMO. Because the ironman involves so many months of training, eating right, getting lots of rest, etc., it is imperative to have a spouse that understands and is supportive of the journey. I am very lucky to be married to the most understanding and supportive women – Lisa. Since I began training for Lake Placid in September 2014, I have spent between 10 and 22 hours per week swimming, cycling, and running. When you factor in a full time job and the fact that I need 7-8 hours of sleep/ night, there isn’t much time or energy left at the end of each day. It certainly helps that I’m married to a triathlete (and half ironman finisher) because she appreciates all the hard work that is needed to improve at this sport. For those of you that don’t know Lisa, allow me to tell you a quick story that will help you understand just how supportive she is. During an over the phone meeting with my coach (Matt) back in October 2014 I asked Matt how many hours/week my training plan would top out at for Lake Placid. He responded with: “That depends entirely on how much your wife can handle.” He didn’t know it at the time, but I had the call on speaker phone. Lisa was standing nearby and responded with “whatever it takes.” Need I say anymore? My last thought on this point is this – if you are thinking of tackling the ironman distance, don’t register/commit until you have the support of your spouse.
2. A Plan: this doesn’t mean that you need a day-by-day training plan, but you should at least have a rough plan as to how you intend to train and complete the ironman distance. If you’re not sure how to approach the distance, who do you plan to talk to? When do you plan to do your long rides/runs? Are there other things that might have to take a “backseat” until after the race? For example, I was an avid golfer prior to getting into triathlon. In 2011 and 2013 when I raced Ironman, I golfed very little because there just wasn’t enough time. Whatever your plan looks like, try to be brutally honest with yourself. Biting off more than you can chew while ironman training can be risky. More often than not, it’s your training that will suffer. You may even end up injured as a result.
3. Training Partner(s): some may argue that this is important, but not essential – but I beg to differ. I can’t imagine how tough it would be to train for the iron distance completely by myself. I am to be able to do 90-95% of my training with other people – 3 of whom are also training for Ironman Lake Placid. Training partners are the ones you can complain to about an injury; the ones who depend on you to show up for each workout; the ones that give you a pep talk when you need it most; the ones that motivate you to get stronger/faster, etc.
4. Drive/Determination: IMO this is one component that is often overlooked. If you don’t REALLY want to complete an ironman (for the right reasons), I suggest sticking to the shorter triathlon distances. For me, drive and determination is what gets me out of bed Mon/Wed/Fri each week at 530 am for the 630 am swim. It’s great if others want you to succeed, but unless you REALLY want it, reaching your goals will be difficult/if not impossible.
5. FUN: if you don’t enjoy at least 2 of the 3 disciplines (swimming, cycling, running), I suggest finding another form of physical activity. I mention 2 of 3 because some people (myself included) enter the sport of triathlon and have one sport they really don’t care for. For me, it was cycling. I couldn’t get comfortable on my bike and I really wasn’t that good at it. However, after a bike fitting and some time in the saddle, I learned to enjoy cycling as well. Unless you are competing professionally, you are a triathlete (or current/future ironman finisher) because you find it fun – which could be attributed to any or all of the following: the physical benefits, the mental benefits, the competitiveness, the camaraderie, etc.
Bonuses: There are other things that I think can enhance your performance at the ironman distance – but none that I would consider essential. The “bonuses” that top my list are: good quality equipment (including a triathlon/TT bike that is property fitted), a good coach (who provides feedback), a balanced diet, lots of sleep (at least 7 hours per night), and excellent organization/time management skills.