When I sampled Ironman in the early 90s, I viewed the 45+ age-groupers with curiosity. So I was unsurprised when a kid at my Lake Placid hotel last week asked me why “an older guy” would subject his body to 141 miles. Twenty years ago I was curious about them. Now I was curious about myself.
Many of you are curious about Ironman so here’s a brief. I finished the hilly Placid course in 10:55, good for 14th of 349 in my age group. Two years earlier I completed Ironman New York in 10:46, which was 28th of 385. This November in Florida I’m gunning for 10:26, which would beat my time as a 24-year-old.
Ironman has three categories: the machines going for Kona qualification on 12-20 hours/week, those who want to finish with support of coaches and family, and the weirdos.
So to all weirdos who read these presents, greeting.
My buddy, Ryan Atkinson, and I decided to test the minimalist training threshold at Ironman Lake Placid. The winter was the busiest I’ve ever experienced in my job. In springtime, I was coaching both soccer and football for both boys in different age groups. I didn’t have time for a conventional workup, with weekends dominated by low intensity rides and runs. With golfing-like time allocation. So we took the only road available to time-crunched dads: make every workout count. Cut out some beer. But not enough to lose our devil-may-care attitudes.
We used neither coaches nor training programs, squeezing in workouts when we could, but I did a lot of internet research. Sami Inkinen, Matt Fitzgerald and Ben Greenfield were particularly inspirational.
I started training on January 1st, 2014. I weighed 215 lbs. I had ridden my bike just a single time since August of 2012, fulfilling a promise I’d made that year during Ironman New York. From January to July we averaged 6 hours per week. At our peak, from June 7 to July 7, we averaged 9 hours per week. I recorded every swim, run, or bike on my Garmin with the exception of occasional Goldman/hotel gym workouts. You’ll find this workup interesting:
I swam a total of seven times, excluding fooling around in the pool with the boys. 2.2 miles/1.1 miles/1 mile (race)/1500 meters (Olympic race)/1500 meters (Olympic)/8×200 meters/6×200 meters. Swimming counts for so little in Ironman (10%) that I’m astonished athletes spend so much training time. Lethargic transitions easily override decent swims. For Florida I may sacrifice a training swim and practice my turtle-like wetsuit change in my garage.
Biking is my weak leg and received 80% of my training (against 55% of the race). By early summer we were commuting 50 miles to work every other week. Three times we rode home the long way (90-100 miles), twice ascending Bear Mountain to prepare for the 6,000 feet of climbing that awaited us in Placid. I mixed in hour interval sessions in the gym, usually doing: 20-minute threshold/2×5 minutes max/10×30 seconds supermax/2x squats. Twice I was so blown up by the intervals I had to fight the pukies.
I ran a half-marathon in April and twice more ran 13-14 miles. Otherwise my weekly run was 9.65 miles to the Harlem train station from Wall Street as hard as I could go.
Approaching July I was drinking less beer, eating fewer carbs, and training on an empty stomach. I wanted to teach my body to more efficiently burn fat. I did give myself a kidney stone during one camel training session, so after that toe-curling experience I added water during these long (low calorie) workouts.
I weighed in at Ironman at 200.5 lbs, still heavy enough to qualify me for (the old) Clydesdale weight but feeling otherwise light. As usual I could not sleep the night before the race, so I did some writing awaiting the false dawn. At 0415 I drank a Ensure plus (350 calories), drove to Placid while sipping a Perpetuem coffee (300 calories), and then sipped Accelerade (200 calories) making final preps. Twenty minutes before the cannon fired, I downed a gel (100 calories) and a Gatorade pouch (120 calories).
I entered the water and moved to the far left side of the pack. I’m a right-side breather and let the mob swimming on the buoy line steer for me. At 6’4” 200, I wasn’t worried about the contact, but banging wastes energy. I swam the entire first half mile on the left edge of the whitewater, following three different pairs of feet, before I made the first turn and found a big guy to draft. I followed him like a running back following a guard for the next half mile straight up the buoy line. We crossed the halfway mark back on the beach in 31 minutes. I had not worked at all. During the second lap, he tired, so I reluctantly swam around him in search of other big feet. I rotated swimmers until finding a strong kicker at the 1.75 mile mark. By this time it was pouring rain and I could see lightning illuminating the nearby ridgeline. On the way back to the beach we fought our way through dozens of swimmers who were still on Lap 1, bobbing their heads up like seals as thunder grew louder. When we passed pink caps in the murk I was careful not to kick and used a slower catch when possible. The slower swimmers looked to be in for a long morning.
I completed the swim in 1:04 having taken fewer than a hundred hard strokes. I was 14th in my AG. We later learned that the organizers pulled most swimmers from the water due to nearby lightning strikes. They were sent right to T1.
Six minutes later I was pedaling into the downpour. The faster guys transition in five minutes. I ate a Powerbar and inhaled a bottle of Accelerade on the short, sharp climbs that preceded a steep 6 mile decent. My heart rate was 165-172. In other words, out of control for a 112 mile ride. Fortunately the rain kept me cool and the slow decent brought my HR down to 145, where it remained for the duration of the ride (except for the steepest climbs, when it spiked to 160). The highway was covered in water. I hit 35 MPH on the decent on full brake. On the second lap, I hit 52 mph on this stretch.
On the flats, I rode about 22-23 mph.. There were no draft packs that I encountered save one guy who was too tempted by my geeky spinnaker draft profile to resist. But when we got to the 13 mile climb back to Placid, he passed me and did not look back. I averaged ~16 mph on the climb, and 19.3 mph on the first lap, slipping from 14th to 26th place.
I drank 60 ounces of Perform (with a little water mixed in) per hour to mitigate my 4 lb/hour sweat rate and 1350 caloric burn. I ate an additional 300 calories of hard food per hour for four hours until my appetite gave out. In the second lap the skies cleared, giving way to 78-degree weather, 80% humidity, a headwind on the return trip, and my nemesis: the sun. I finished the second 56-mile lap in about the same time as the first, averaging 19.26 mph. Even-splitting placid is rare. I had moved from 26th to 22nd place.
The Placid run is a real challenge because it starts with two steep downhills. They’re like potato mashers on your damaged thighs. I’ve got chicken legs as it is, and hadn’t put in any 15+ mile runs, so I knew the muscle fiber tears would worsen and eventually trigger crippling inflammation. I tried to slow down but still averaged 7:45s for the first three miles. On the lumpy flats, under the sun, ran 8:30s until I had to climb those to hills back to the halfway mark. I managed to hold 9:30s uphill, but by mile 15 (which I hadn’t experienced since the same leg in 2012) I had slipped to 9:30s on the flats. Yet I had moved from 22nd to 18th in my AG.
I hadn’t come with a specific time goal. I managed to make the calculation (tougher than you think with 9 miles to go at Ironman) that if I held the line, I would go under 11 hours. I must say the last five miles were as tough as I’ve had since getting shelled in a 100-mile ultra in 1998. I had switched to Coke at Mile 13, but could tolerate no fluid past Mile 20. I vomited three times and twice stopped to stretch hamstring cramps. My thighs and skinny calves were twitching wildly. In the last three miles I passed another four age groupers, moving into 14th place. Ironmen talk about the crowd but this finish was internal.
I crossed the line in 10:55. I was like a marionette whose strings were cut by the finish frame. After an hour, some typically wonderful volunteers brought me into the medical tent where I was weighed on suspicion of dehydration. 199.5. After eleven hours on the road, I’d lost a single pound. I managed to sip a cup of soup during the next hour, they helped me to my crippled feet, and I hobbled over to collect my bike and gear for the drive back to the hotel. I had great difficulty getting up the stairs, and could not step over the bath tub basin. So I collapsed on the bed fighting the nausea that lasted most of the night. Sometime in the early morning I fell asleep.
When I awoke at 0600 on the 28th, I had an appetite. I drove to the nearest diner, ordered two breakfast burritos, and started the drive back to work. Luckily we have an elevator. On Monday night after work, I weighed myself. 192 pounds. Huh? When the swelling subsided two days later my ankle began to creak. I’ve got severe tibialis posterior tendinitis. Hopefully it is not slightly torn, because I’m supposed to run the Bozeman marathon on September 8.
Once we old guys get in shape, it’s in for a dime, in for a dollar.