Ironman Reflections: Tips for Starting Out
Ironman Reflections Part I: Starting Out
By David B. Glover, MS, CSCS
As a triathlon coach and sub-nine hour Ironman-distance
athlete, I hear this question all the time: “How do I train for and race an Ironman?”
With the completion of my 28th Iron-distance race this past year at Vineman, I thought it might be helpful to
anyone who has done an Ironman or considering doing an Ironman to share the
mistakes I made and lessons I learned along the way.
My Quick background.
I began running and strength training in high school and
continued with both through college and into the Navy. I never swam competitive
and I rode a too large road bike for recreation. I had several friends in college and in the Navy who were
triathletes but I was intimidated by the sport. After being diagnosed and treated for cancer in 1995, I bought
a $600 Cannondale road bike entered my first sprint-distance a few months later
as a way to prove to myself that I had beaten the cancer. I was instantly hooked, but an Ironman
seemed impossible at the time.
With two years of training and racing sprint and international
distance races, I let my next-door neighbor and training partner, Phil, convince
me to sign up for Ironman Canada with him. Phil had done a now defunct Ironman in New Hampshire several
years prior so he had experience with the training. We purchased and shared a 6-month Ironman training plan, and in
March 2007, our training for Ironman Canada began.
You need to put in the time.
There’s no way around it. If you want to do well in a long distance event, you have to
do the long distance training. At
the time, I was newly married and working full-time, but I was able to commit
the necessary 1-3 hours each day during the week and longer blocks of time on weekends. If you don’t like to do the long 4-6
hour bike rides, then Ironman training and racing may not be for you.
Seek out expert knowledge.
Training for an Ironman is a significant investment in time
and energy. Following a structured
training plan helped me reduce the anxiety of “What am I supposed to be
doing?” Leveraging a credible knowledge
source gave me the confidence to know that we were doing the right thing. I was also able to leverage the
experience of my training partner who taught me about things like bonking from
not consuming enough calories, carrying multiple water bottles for long rides to
avoid unnecessary stops and pacing over longer distances.
You don’t need a $5,000 bike.
I competed my first two Ironman races on my $600 Cannondale
road bike with cheap clip-on aerobars and regular spoked wheels while wearing
separate outfits for each leg of the race. As I would also experience in future races, comfort is just
as important as aerodynamics for longer events.
It’s a long day. Pace
After 112-miles of riding, I was happy be off my bike and
because my strength at the time was running, I started running fast. I overheard
heard a few comments from spectators like, “Slow it down,” and “He’s going too
fast,” but I ignored them because I felt good. I ran my first 10km with a big
smile on my face, but after that, my smile slowly inverted as my pace drifted
downward, and I went from the passer to the passé. In hindsight, it would have been better to start off
conservatively and build speed later if I continued to feel good. Still, I crossed the line and was now
an Ironman. That feeling of crossing the finish line for the first time is
indescribable other than to say that it’s an incredible high that lasted for
weeks. I wanted to relive
that experience so I signed up for the Great Floridian Triathlon two months
Find a compatible training partner(s).
I did not appreciate how much of a difference having a good
training partner made until I began training for the Great Floridian by myself
as Phil was done with Ironman racing for the year. The long rides and run were
lonely and my motivation sagged, resulting in a time 30 minutes slower than at
Getting through the high’s and low’s
After Great Floridian and the end of my triathlon season, I
experienced post-Ironman depression for the first time – a feeling of sadness,
increased anxiety and aimlessness that persisted for several months. The days
were shorter and colder so I was not doing as much outside. I had no athletic
goals to focus on for the remainder for the year. I think this is normal for many Ironman-distance athletes
that I’ve talked to over the years to experience. I think the key to getting through it is first to understand
that it’s only temporary and then to look for alternate activities outside of
triathlon that give purpose and direction.
With my first two Ironman-distance races under my belt, I
set my eyes on a new goal for the following year: getting faster.
Live strongly and boldly,
of Full Time & Sub-Nine: Fitting Iron
Distance Training into Everyday Life, David dabbles extensively in
endurance sports as a triathlete, coach, writer and race director. He has helped hundreds of individuals
through coaching, educational seminars and camps including She Does Tri Camps for Women. As an athlete, his accolades
include an 8:51 Ironman PR and being the 2007 inductee into the Vineman Hall of
Fame. For more
information about how David can help you with your triathlon goals, please visit: enduranceworks.net.