40s Comeback: Minimalist Ironman Training for Maximum Effect (6 hours per week)

A time-crunched 45-year-old Clydesdale finds the family efficient triathlon training frontier: 6 hours per week. 

If only the boys could tow me through Ironman…

Three years later: bigger boys, same outfit

Three years later: bigger boys, same outfit

After a decade-long hiatus from serious endurance sport, I missed the benefits of hard work concomitant with big goals. In 2010 and 2011 I entered two mountainous Tour de France stages to see what biking was all about. To build cycling forbearance, I emphasized long distance, low intensity workouts. Bikers call it “saddle time.” The training did not work for me. Working a full-time job while maximizing the time spent with my wife and two young boys — whom I coach in several sports — didn’t leave time for 5+ hour weekend “base” workouts.

So I decided to go old school as an experiment. I reverted to the ethos I learned as a rower in the 1980s at St Paul’s and Harvard, and as a 1990s Marine: Every workout is a race.

I found a way to complete big events on 6 hours per week.

In 2012, I ran the Ironman U.S. Championship in New York City. It was a tough race with a hot, hilly marathon. I finished in 10 hours and 46 minutes training an average of 6 hours per week.

In 2013, I took the year off, riding my bike just a single time (keeping a promise I’d made at Mile 90 of Ironman NY).

In 2014, I completed Ironman Lake Placid in 10 hours and 55 minutes on a seven month workup on 6 hours per week. The effort was good for 14th of 400 in the 45-49 Age Group. My attempt at a double failed at Ironman Florida where I ruptured my brevis ankle tendon during the marathon. It remains severed. When my longus goes, I’ll need surgery.

In 2015, I won the 40+ Clydesdale National Olympic Triathlon Championship, weighing in at 220 lbs before the race.

In 2016, I’m going to make a run at a 3-hour marathon. It’ll be a fun experiment.

As a rower, Marine and adventure racer, I have an endurance background. But age has taught me something more important. I’ve learned that failure isn’t something to avoid but seek. Otherwise limits remain untested.

River crossing, British Columbia 1996

Big goals pay dividends that are not visible at the outset of the journey. But achievement is secondary to discovery. It’s tough to find out who you are from behind a computer screen. To explore, you have to lean hard into your limits. And to find your limits you need something out of reach.

I want to see what’s out there…

…maybe a Kona qualification at 50?