As many of us know, Ironman event comprises of a 3.8 km swim followed by a 180 km bike ride followed by a 42 km run. As far fetched as it may seem when you first think of this, people around us are achieving it.
It makes us wonder whether we can do it too?
Well of course you can because you are from the same species of people who are doing this. You just need to put your heart and mind to it and also not be over impressed by the pace with which other people are achieving it. You need to do this at your own pace.
The insurmountable challenge is what is the most attractive part of it! However if you look into it a little more deeply, there are simply too many things to learn while committing to an Ironman, too many challenges before you. Here are a few things that come to mind that you need to master while on your way to becoming an Ironman.
The Endurance challenge
This is an obvious one. And this is what was my biggest challenge. How to increase my endurance for an event that lasts about 15 to 16 hours! Atleast for me thats how long you need to last! Thats almost the entire day! Given that these races start approx at 7:30 am, you will be finishing after dark! Thats something isnt it.
The Skill challenge
A very interesting thing I noticed while i prepared for my event is that for many people its not about endurance. They are already there endurance wise. People who have done Comrades (89 kms through the hills in 10 to 12 hours) I think are already there in terms of Endurance. People who have done BRMs and are SRs (100, 200, 300, 400, 600 kms) and more, are already there in terms of endurance. So for them its a matter of learning new skills. Most people in India are either expert cyclists or runners and for them Ironman is about learning how to swim 4 kms! And not only swim 4 kms but do it in open water. Perhaps the sea or a river or a lake. And we all know that swimming in open water is so much different than swimming in the pool. It could be cold, it could have a current, there could be waves, jelly fish, sea weed, junk!
The skill part is more than just learning swimming. In the cycling part, there are so many things to learn
- Cleats and peddals
- Aerobar positioning
- Bike fit
- Tube replacement
- Puncture repair
- Assemble and Disassemble a bike
Really really interesting stuff because i dont think we would even think about learning any of this otherwise.
The Speed challenge
As if endurance and skill was not enough, there are cutoff times in an Ironman. 2 hours 20 minutes to complete the swim section. Get done with the first loop of 90 km biking by 2 pm. Get done with the entire cycling of 180 km in either 10 hours or 10 hours 30 minutes (depending on the event and course elevation). And then get done with the entire event by 15 to 17 hours (again depending on the event). Individually these may seem like achievable pace but put together and one after another, its a challenge to keep the speed high enough so that you are always safe from the cutoff. I have seen people not making it from the swim part! Isnt that something! You prepare for an Ironman, you taper, you motivate yourself for the D day, and in 2 hours its over!!! Because you couldnt make the cutoff. It could be a big blow. I have seen a guy howling at the end of the swim section because he couldnt make the cutoff. Perhaps he was a speedster when it comes to cycling or running! Similarly, so many people dont make it to the end of cycling because of many reasons including endurance or other bike related issues. And there are so many people who are on saline in makeshift hospital along the run course! You almost dont want to see them because its scary. And then there are incidents of people collapsing even after the event. i was worried for atleast 3 days after my event because my stomach was in a weird state!!! As if like complaining to me…wtf dude..do i store everything or do I pass!!!
The Food challenge
In a normal day, we have our breakfast at around 7:30 to 8 am, and then some people have a snack at 10 and then lunch say at 12 to 2, then evening snack and then dinner at say 7 to 9 pm! And you need to be swimming, cycling and running through all of that!!! Very interesting to say the least! Most of the food we have is filling and a variety. However in an ironman, you cant really have too much variety. You are not going to carry variety. Organizers have plenty of things but limited choices and suddenly one day you are supposed to spend the entire day with just that. Most of the food is sweet. And its not filling. You cant really have protein or fibre. It has to be carbs because thats the fuel. It has to be liquid…And it has to be something that the stomach can digest quickly. By the way, all the blood is not available to the stomach during an ironman because a lot of it is running near your skin to cool you down. So only some of it is available. And the food needs to be digestable with that!
The mental strength Challenge
You will not be taken to a remote island and kept in a 5 star facility when you decide to pursue an Ironman!!! It will be the same old house, same old work place, same people around you and same family. They will all be upset at you for taking their time away and giving it to this non sensical thing! So if you were thinking that you would be needing mental strength for only endurance, speed, skill and food….its not the case. Most of the time you will need mental strength to fight off other responsibilities. Gone are the days when you go finish up your long run in the morning and come back before the family is up! Practicing for the Ironman is going to consume you! Sometimes its going to last till noon, then afternoon, and then evening! And guess what, when you are done practicing and you go back to the family and in the last few hours of the day, you want to keep talking about what you achieved…..It may not be treated with similar enthusiasm!!! People wont get it. It just something you like and you need to do. And thats what it will always be.
The money challenge
No amount of money is enough for an Ironman. People around you will be spending more than you and you will wonder oh if only I had the same amount of money, I could be an Ironman. You cant be farther from the truth on this. In fact if money was the deciding factor, all rich people would be Ironmen. Money is actually a challenge for those who dont have it and its becomes a demotivating factor for those who have it. I would even say that lack of money is better than having lots of money. Lots of money makes you too smart to take up these kind of challenges. You simply cant motivate yourself. Lack of money has motivated people for long! Look at all the Olympic medalists… Most of them were poor when they started. Yes you do need money to practice and compete in such events but all I would say is you need to take 10 steps on your own and the 11th step will come to you automatically! It has happened to me and it will happen to you!
The strength challenge
You need to build muscle period! You are not going to last through the day if you dont have appropriate muscle. And it involves three sports. Swimming – This means your 8 or 9 muscles of the hands and shoulder along with your core, Cycling – Which again means core and legs and somewhat arms, and running which means core and legs!!! Nothing remains! You need to gain muscle everywhere. And by the way dont gain too much muscle because then it will be a liability! Who is going to carry that extra muscle for 15 hours. You need to gain lean muscle that are strong!!!
The form challenge
Whats the fun in learning new skills and maintaining some speed if you are not using the right form. Right form for swimming freestyle, Right form on the bike either in the aero position or otherwise and Right form while running the marathon at the end of the day!!!
What happens if you accept the Ironman challenge?
- You are completely consumed by It. Its a great thing. You dont worry about petty things. You stop seeing the potholes in the road (except when you are biking). You stop worrying about bad weather, you are busy!
- You become a positive person – There are so many issues in the world but you are not affected by it, atleast not in the way you used to earlier on. You see things in a positive light!
- You become mentally and physically much much stronger!!!
- And you become skill full in so many ways and you will have stories to tell that everyone will be wowed with!
- And you will be called an Ironman! Strangers will stop and clap for you when you finish. The next day when you are proudly wearing the finishers T, strangers will smile and show thumbs up. And in your home town, people will make you feel special and you will know that you are special.
And last but not the least
It could be fun preparing and doing this event if you do it at your own pace!!! And you will meet so many like minded and insane people along the way that you will be glad you chose this path! They will be having similar fun doing insane distances with you and you will know that you are not the only insane person on the planet! You will be among your own kind!