Becoming An Ironman – TSMP #61

Matt interviews Jay about his recent Ironman triathlon, the history of this iconic race, why Ironman athletes choose to suffer, plus Jay’s successes, failures, and hard-won lessons you can apply to your own life!

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Intro: What is Ironman?

  • By most standards, Ironman is considered THE most difficult triathlon race in the world
  • Athletes must complete a 2.4 Mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile run  performed back-to-back with no breaks in under 17 hours.
  • The race was conceived in Oahu, Hawaii in 1978 by a handful of military and special forces badasses who wanted to figure out what kind of athlete was the fittest: Swimmers, runners or bikers.
    • US Navy Commander John Collins suggested that the debate should be settled through a race combining the three existing long-distance competitions already on the island: the Waikiki Roughwater Swim (2.4 mi), the Around-Oahu Bike Race (115 mi; originally a two-day event) and the Honolulu Marathon (26.2mi).
    • After shortening the bike by three miles and setting up the final course, Collins famously said, “Whoever finishes first, we’ll call him the Ironman.”
    • Each of the 15 racers had their own support crew to supply water, food and encouragement during the event. US Navy SEAL John Dunbar, was in the lead coming out of the bike but he ran out of water on the marathon and his support crew ended up giving him beer instead. This strategy – as you might guess – didn’t work and Gordon Haller, a Navy Communications Specialist, was the first to earn the title Ironman by completing the course with a time of 11 hours, 46 minutes, 58 seconds.
  • The world championships for Ironman are held annually in Kona, Hawaii. Every year there are multiple Ironman races around the world. If amateur athletes get enough points and/or finish in the top of their age groups they can gain slots to compete in Kona alongside the pros.
  • Ironman™ is a trademarked name but there are other non-Ironman branded races that incorporate a 2.4M swim, 112M bike and 26.2M run. In order to avoid copyright infringement, any triathlon that includes this combination of distances (which add up to 140.6) is generally referred to as a “Full Distance” triathlon. There are also “Half Distance” triathlons (70.3s), as well as “Olympic Distance” tris, “Sprint” tris, “Super Sprints” and others.
  • But the biggie is Ironman

Jay’s Initiation Into Ironman

  • He’s been running various races for years
  • Ran his first Tough Mudder with Matt back in 2013(?)
  • Also did his first Olympic distance Tri in 2013. VERY difficult and after finishing put his bike in storage and didn’t touch it until 2019.
  • In the meantime he did 1.5 more Tough Mudders with Matt, all three distances of Spartan Race (Sprint, Super and Beast) and then several marathons, including the San Diego Rock n Roll and the CIM in Sacramento.
  • Jay did a half Ironman in March of 2020 and was going to do the full Ironman in May of 2020 but then Covid happened and all races were scratched for the year. Jay promptly got depressed, gave up on exercise, drank a LOT of beer and quickly gained 25 pounds.
  • Finally in September of 2020, Ironman race directors sent out news that the next full distance Ironman race would be held in Idaho in the summer of 2021.
  • Jay signed up, spent the next 9 months getting his flabby ass back in shape and on June 27, 2021, he completed the full distance Ironman Coeur d’Alene in 14 hours, 57 minutes and 12 seconds.

Why Ironman?!

  • All Ironman races are HARD. Roughly 10% of athletes who start an Ironman drop out before the finish. This is an impressive statistic because athletes usually train for at least a year before attempting Ironman – not to mention spending thousands of dollars on entry fees, equipment and coaching, not to mention travel fees and accomodations.
  • Ironman Coeur d’Alene 2021 was even harder because of the heat. Originally the race temperature was predicted at about 80 degrees for the day. However, the week prior to the race there was a record breaking heat wave throughout the northwest and on race day the ACTUAL temperature was well over 100 degrees. In fact, at one point in the afternoon the road temperature was measured at over 140 degrees!
  • 3,000 athletes signed up for Ironman CDA (Coeur d’Alene). 2,142 athletes chose to brave the heat and run anyway. And of those, 1,541 actually finished….28.1% of racers dropped out.
  • This race is STUPID hard. Why do it?
    • Every racer has their own reason
      • Bragging rights
      • Proving to themselves they can do something really hard
      • Getting respect 
      • Developing self-confidence
      • Overcoming personal demons (multiple kinds of addicts drawn to Ironman)
      • Forging habits and self-discipline
      • Raising money for charity
      • Discovering what they’re truly capable of
      • Being part of a community of amazingly positive people
      • Answering some hidden question within themselves they can’t even explain
  • Why did Jay do it?
    • Self-confidence, self-discipline, challenging myself and also to see what kind of a person I would become in the process
      • I love making goals that require me to grow as a person to accomplish them
      • The man I was before I started training for Ironman would not have finished the brutal race on Sunday. He wasn’t strong enough – physically or mentally.

Jay’s Ironman Lessons

  • Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. Training is EVERYTHING.
    • Like preparing to give a major concert – how you perform is not about that day, it’s about all the days BEFORE that day
  • Commit a year in advance
    • You need time to train, prepare, learn and adapt your body and mind. The learning curve is too steep for anything less than a year
  • Marathons are about endurance – Ironmans are about endurance + logistics.
    • You need equipment, knowledge of the courses, knowledge of yourself, the capacity to adapt when things go sideways, learn how your body works, how food works for you, how to change your pace when needed and many other things.
    • Make lists. Make a LOT of lists.
  • Prepare to make a lot of sacrifices
    • Ironman requires 15-20 hours a week of exercise, plus you need to learn excellent nutrition, you need excellent sleep, many of your weekends will be required – and it will take about a year
  • It’s going to hurt.
    • Actually it’s going to hurt a lot. Make sure you’ve trained for both the mental and physical pain. 
  • Ironman racers are amazing
    • Ironman is an amazing community of ultra athletes and very successful people. Supportive. Very friendly. Helpful. Cool. Badass warriors. 
  • Don’t try to compare yourself to ANYONE else.
    • World class athletes and 70 year old great grandpas doing this race…. 
  • …and prepare to be humbled. I was passed by many people older than me – including 70yr old grandpas
  • Ironman (and tris in general) are expensive.
    • I spent thousands of dollars on all the stuff to prep for the race (not including travel expenses) and the race itself cost about $1,000. Prepare accordingly.
  • Just because you’re older doesn’t mean you can’t improve
    • I met a bunch of people who were doing their sixth, tenth and even fourteenth Ironman race – many of them were over 50 years old and kept getting faster
  • Get a support group!
    • Coaches
    • Friends
    • Family
    • Cheerleaders
    • Crossing the finish line is 1000% more rewarding if someone you love is there to cheer for you
  • Just keep going.
    • Whatever problem comes up, your job is to find a solution. Giving up is not an option. 
  • Follow the pace you trained for.
    • Too fast and you burn out and you’re done. Too slow and you won’t complete the race in time and you’re done.
  • Use the Internet.
    • There’s a lot of really really smart people who’ve done Ironman triathlons for over 40 years and you can steal all of their ideas.
  • Don’t lose your sense of humor. 
    • Sometimes dark humor is awesome 
  • Conserve your energy
    • Your energy is precious. Don’t spend it on things that you don’t need, things that won’t help you, and most importantly things that are wasteful.
    • You have a very limited amount of energy available. Don’t squander it.
  • Set the right goals.
    • Finishing an Iron Man is a great goal. Attempting to finish in under 12 hours when you’ve prepped for a 13 hour race will make you feel like shit. Trying to beat everybody that passes you will make you feel like a loser. Plus, pushing too hard might break you and then you won’t finish at all.
  • Feels awesome to commit yourself fully to a very big and very difficult goal…and then even better to complete it

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