Taking on the Ironman monster.


Ironman asks of you to not think too much. Compare these stats: the total amount of competitors for the first Ironman in 1978: 15 brave soldiers. In 2012, the first year the Colour Run was launched in the US, the average participants per race: 12 000. That is because the Colour Run is to sport what a heaped-up container of cheap China-brand chocolates is at a checkout counter: an impulse buy. Anyone can do it. Ironman is right on the other side of the spectrum, in terms of effort, but it has one thing in common: it is advisable to take it on without thinking too much, because if you would, it would not make sense. The pain and suffering would only make sense if it determined the difference between life and death, like fleeing nuclear fallout for days on foot, or outrunning a pack of posessed Rottweilers. But people are prepared to pay an enormous entry fee to do it, and look forward to the pain.

It has become easier to decide to do Ironman though, courtesy of the first fearless fifteen, and all the thousands of Ironmen since then that showed us it is possible. They established the faith that it can be done. After all, if they could do it, we can do it. But one thing stayed as difficult as ever, and that is, gétting it done! The first fifteen were from the military, and pain was part of their jobs. Gordon Haller, a US Navy Specialist, won the first Ironman in 11:46:58. The runner-up, Dunbar, was a US Navy SEAL. Most of us are not from that fabric. We step out from behind our office desks and sales counters to face the fearful unknown. For us, the best way to prepare for Ironman is to undergo somewhat of a transformation. You have to become a bit of a monster, so you can conquer the monster. When you’re driven by something you don’t know, you have to do something you’ve never done! And this is where the ungodly long training hours, that transform the meek and mild into the lean and mean, come into effect!

The first objective is to get used to spending between 5 and 7 hours in the saddle for that 180 Km bike ride. On race day, anything shorter won’t happen, and anything longer shouldn’t happen. The legs have to get used to that deep acid burn that you don’t get with short rides. Also, the body must able to deal with the discomfort of the aero position. After all, it is pointless to show off a top end tri bike and ride it like a road bike. It is not good for speed, neither for image.

These long rides are tough, but they offer other well deserved spin-offs: legit pre-race bragging rights aplenty. Any conversation, anywhere, anytime, with anyone has the potential to offer bragging rights. For instance, the reverse tactic: you sympathize with a fellow worker complaining about an hour in bumper traffic, by stating that you consider his misfortune to be worse than the 6 hour bike ride you did this morning.  For the average citizen a six hour bike ride is unthinkable. Stunned with awe, he will then make light of his hour in traffic, and you’ll be showered with compliments. It is a total win-win situation. Everyone walks away feeling better. The awe-factor really comes alive when you invite awed bystanders to join you on your next 160 Km ride. The standard responses are “that’s why I have a car” and “I get tired just thinking about it”. Both are indicators you are now perceived as a person more capable than the average citizen in terms of physical ability. That makes light of any hardship or discomfort! reason to complain.

How “Ironmen-in-training” present their quest also offer ego boosting moments equal to that of having finished Ironman itself. You’ll hear about unfathomable training distances and hours that will serve as the perfect reason to not do Ironman for mere mortals, because it would allow for no life other than training, sleeping and breathing Ironman. These athletes’ ego’s thrive on the admiration they generate when casually dropping statistics regarding their superhuman training hours. So many 6 hour bike rides, 3 hour runs, logging 24 hours this week and planning even more for next. Invariabily Ironman conversations lead to inviting innocent bystanders to the next superhuman training session, and the predictable decline make them bask in their glory even more. In the end, the exagerated effort to kill the monster does more harm than good. Apart from injuries, it takes its emotional toll as well, because it is too hard too maintain. All the emotion, the deeper causes, the mantra’s, everything about Ironman, might just be because of deep-seated fear for the monster they tackled.

The over-emotionalizers also like to tell themselves how good they would have been if they could train like the pro’s. It serves as their excuse for not achieving the level of performance they were hoping for. Don’t compare yourself with the professionals. Not in any way. Please don’t say they are good because they are pro’s and they don’t have children or a day job like you. They are not good because they are professionals. It is the other way round: they are professionals because they are good. No amount of training will make you as good. You will not do a sub-9 Ironman, no matter what your age is, or the amount of training you put in. If you are that good, fate will take you there in any case. Pro’s don’t get praise for showing off finishers t-shirts. We are the lucky ones in that respect. Pro’s get praise for podiums, which are much harder to get onto. Simply finishing Ironman is actually a most rewarding experience. Settle for that.

All the bravado, the tech, the gear and everything else is not enough to keep your Ironman spirit burning in the long run. The point is, there is a manageable mental approach and amount of training hours that will get you to do a good Ironman. If you do it right, you’ll have the mental and physical energy to do it again. If you make it more of a monster than what is necessary, it will devour you. Do it right, and you will kill the Ironman monster for years to come!

About Frank Smuts 188 Articles
“The greatest moments happen when you step out of your comfort zone.”

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