Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Ironman - The Ultimate Challenge

On a recent weekend to Donegal, I came across a triathlon taking place in Churchill outside Letterkenny.  Out for a leisurely stroll in the woods, I came across an triathlon in progress. 

I saw a few of the competitors coming out of the water; even on a warm Saturday afternoon it looked cold.  Further along, I met some of them tackling a hill climb on the bike and on my way back to the car I saw the final leg, the run.

It looked like a massive challenge and this was ‘only’ a triathlon.  It made me wonder what an Ironman would be like.  When I keyed the term into google, I got the following dictionary definition.

Ironman - a strong man of exceptional physical endurance.

In order to find out a bit more, I made contact with my Carn Wheelers colleague Julian Grimes.  I wanted to try and find out the preparation required and what indeed makes this special breed of people tick.

Name: Julian Grimes
Age: 40
Height: 6.0
Weight: 13.1
Occupation: Bill payer

Did you have a sporting background before Ironman?
I played a bit of GAA, soccer and some recreational running.

What is the exact make up of an iron man?
It is made up of 3.8km swim, 180km bike followed then by a marathon.  The distances are always the same, but some events are tougher than others, due to the climbs on the bike or temperature.  No two events the same.  

Have you done many?
Ironman UK 2010, Ironman Austria 2011 (did not finish Austria as I tore my hamstring at the start of the run).

Do you do it in a team, or is it an individual thing?
It’s very much an individual thing, you can train with others but on the day it is all about you and the distance.  The age range varies from 18 to 65.

How long are you at them?
Started triathlon about 4 years ago.  I could not swim, never really cycled and had done a bit of running. Swimming for most like me is the difficult part, not only the distance, but it’s always open water swims.  They are always chaotic at the start, with people swimming over you etc, not a pleasant experience.

What made you get involved in it?
A mid-life crisis, when you give up team sports, you either retire to the armchair or look for something to give you that adrenalin buzz that comes with competing.  I saw triathlon events in Ballyronan and thought could I? 
How many weeks is the training program?
Ironman is usually a six month programme.

What way is it broken down?
It’s usually on a week basis, swim Monday and Fridays, pool based.  Then on Tuesday run on the roads or track, Wednesday will be a turbo or spin class, Thursday run, Sat and Sunday will be either a long run or long bike  

Do you do triathlons in build-up to an Ironman?
Most people start that way, first a sprint distance 750m, 20k , 5k, then on to Olympic 1500m, 40k, 10k then half Ironman, 1900m, 90k, 21k.

Do you have a coach or do you design the programme yourself?
This year I used an online coach, who would email my programme weekly and follow up with any issues.

Do you do weights, core or any other sort of training?
I try to fit in core and stretching sessions.

What about recovery?
Normally try and take one day a week, and do this on a basis of when you feel really knackered.  It’s not very scientific but works for me.

Is any of it early morning sessions?
Some early mornings, but mostly night and weekends, tough to fit in and you need a very understanding family!

Is there much equipment needed?
A wetsuit, bike and running shoes and you are off.  These can be as cheap or expensive as you want.

What way do you manage your diet in the build-up?
Due to the number of hours and intensity of training, I can mostly eat what I like, and never worry too much about my weight, but I always try and get good portions of fruit and vegetables and plenty of water. Supplements are not really my thing and really only sports drinks when training.

Are the transitions hard to practice?
No transitions are pretty easy, when you have done it once it is no problem. You have to set everything up yourself to ensure smooth transitions.

Where do you stay when you are over?
Usually when you go abroad to Ironman events I travel with a specialist travel firm, who book your hotels and make sure everything is organised for you.

I heard your gear got misplaced recently, does this happen often?
Not that often.  EasyJet forgot to load my bags when travelling to Ironman Austria this year, which was not the best. I got my bags just hours before registration closed.  Also delayed our flight on the way home and we missed our connecting flight.

What is best thing, memory of Ironman?
There is so many good things about it.  The feeling when you cross the line, the atmosphere two minutes before the start, the sense of achievement, the look in peoples eyes when you explain what Ironman involves (when they realise it is not a bodybuilding competition they just think your bonkers), the training (have met some really great people from cycling, running and triathlon clubs,) but I suppose the best has to be crossing the line in the UK with two of my boys in my arms, to finish and to finish with them there was a memory that I hope we will always cherish and certainly brought tears.

What is the most difficult aspect of it?
Saturday or Sunday mornings in winter, it’s 5 degrees, wet and windy, and you have to cycle 60 mile and then have a 30 min run, that’s when you know whether you will be able to finish an Ironman 3 months later.

In summary
It’s fun, tough, rewarding and many other cliches, but like anything else, set your mind to it and the body will follow…

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