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Ironman Triathlon 2012?

June 7, 2011

Pull-ups: 36 today / 301 June

Push-ups: 175 today / 1348 June

Another good “downhill” 4M run on the treadmill, accelerating to 6:00/M at the end, probably averaging 6:40/M for the session.

Now, about my triathlon thinking. I’ve been intrigued by triathlon for as long as I can remember. I watch the coverage from Kona – the Ironman Championship – and love to talk with friends (and sometimes strangers) who are into the lifestyle.  I’ve been listening to the “IM Talk” podcast for at least a couple of years, without missing a single weekly episode, most of which run well over an hour. As a sport and fitness pursuit is is more compelling than plain running and I think competence in each discipline makes for a much more well-rounded athlete.

Though I’m getting fitter, I’m not getting younger, and triathlon takes a lot more knowledge, gear, and experience to do well than marathoning or even ultra-marathoning. If I want to give it a shot, I feel like the time is approaching. And if I’m going to try triathlon, I only want to do so with the “long course” distance in mind.

“Ironman” is a brand, though it is conflated with the distance that it has popularized: 2.4M swim, 112M bike, 26.2M run. There are other promotions that put on “Iron distance” events and, from what I understand, some are among the most interesting, well organized and in the most desirable spots around the world. That said, I’d likely do an official Ironman event, due to their ubiquity, name-recognition, and relative ease of access for Americans.  I readily admit it is part ego of both the athletes who compete and the corporation who owns the name but the traditions started with the first Ironman have elevated the branded-events to icons, both in America and world-wide.  And that’s something I’d like to be part of.

I’ve been swimming laps semi-regularly for the last few summers. I feel confident that I can complete a marathon even when tired. But, something more than half of the elapsed time of an Ironman race is on the bike, which is unknown territory for me. Yes, I can ride a bike but I’ve never done so for more than a couple of hours, never after an open-water swim, never when I have to conserve enough energy to then be able to run a marathon.  I figure the Ironman ride leg would take me a solid 6 hours, assuming a favorable course and a season of putting in the training. And, though I think I can swim 2.4 miles without stopping or completely wearing myself out, I’ve never tried. I don’t want to do an Ironman just to tick a box and I won’t be satisfied taking most or all of the 17 hours alloted for folks to finish.  The best professional men complete Ironman races in under 8.5 hours.  Some have gone under 8 hours.  I’d be shooting for under 12.

Long story short, I’d have to do a ton of biking, while keeping up my running and probably have to re-learn how to swim properly (efficiently), all in a long race build-up, which I assume would be the better part of a year. Maybe longer. From what I’ve experienced in swimming, I’m not likely to make drastic time improvements, even with a lot of work. Since 2009 I’ve gone from swimming a mile in about 40 minutes to a current 35 minutes.

Interesting, however, is that I can comfortably – almost effortlessly – swim a mile in only about 3 minutes more than an all-out effort. Assuming that extrapolates out over 2.4 miles, and that I make as much progress in the next year as I have in the last 3 years, I’d only be shaving maybe 7 minutes off an Ironman on the swim. For a race that will likely take me upwards of 12 hours, saving 7 minutes (or even twice that) isn’t going to make much of a difference. Sure, I’d spend some time on getting better in the water but the big area where I have an opportunity to drop huge chunks of time will be the bike. I may just have to live with the reality that the Ironman swim will take me 90 minutes or so (which might be considered laughably slow, given my passion for training and overall fitness – the pros go under 50 minutes).

This is all still very much in the back of my mind.  The next 4 months are about working on my marathon and I won’t let myself get too distracted for too long.  Whether or not I venture into triathlon won’t be decided until after I see how fast I can cover 26.2M.  There is one decision I have made that relates to Ironman.  I can say with absolute certainty that I will NOT be doing this:

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