……..OF COURSE THEY CAN!
For the non-triathlete, Ironman (or long distance triathlon) combines the three disciplines of Swim, Bike, Run. They cover distances of 3.8km Swim, 180km Bike and 26.6km of running. They are performed consecutively on one day without stopping and with just a short transition period between each and must be completed within 17 hours to qualify as Ironman status.
Sounds impossible doesn’t it? However just in Europe alone you’ll find approx. 36,000 very normal, amateur athletes line up to that start line with the hopes of hitting the magic red carpet & the finish line to the words of “You are an Ironman”.
Having spent many years supporting over hundreds of athletes a year cross finish lines all over Europe with my company Race Force I can speak from experience when I say, Ironman finishers come in all shapes and sizes, from all walks of life and each with a story, a goal and a dream. Many more compete in the Ironman 70.3 (Half Ironman) which is just as big of a life time achievement in itself as well as a fantastic milestone on the road to full distance.
Right! Let me just dispel some myths right now:
• Ironmen are not always lean, muscular, supple & fit adonis types. I’ve seen every shape possible on those race courses from the Arnold Schwarzenegger’s to the Danny DeVito’s of this world and EVERYTHING in between
• They are not particularly young in years. In fact the most competitive ages groups are 35+ and I regularly see a large number of 65+ year old athletes getting stuck in and smiling all the way
• They are not always people from athletic or sporty backgrounds, with some being completely dormant until something inspired them to make a change
• Some Ironman finishers have never set foot in a pool before they started their Ironman training and certainly didn’t even know how to put a wetsuit on.
• They are not all professional cyclists with a wardrobe full of colourful lycra and years of cycling miles under their belts. Some are just learning to ride a bike as part of training for their race.
• Most first timers have never done a marathon before and only do it for the very first time on race day
• Not all Ironman finishes train for 20 hours a week. Some can do it in 8, most commit between 10-12 hours per week.
• They are generally NOT injury free! Most finishers are carrying injuries or restrictions they attained through life or through the training itself but that does not stop them.
However there are some common traits of this demographic of people who make the decision to do this:
• They’re looking to make a positive change in their lives and see exercise as a key contributor to this.
• They take the first step and they make the commitment. They sign up to a race and pay the entry fee. No turning back!
• They give themselves some accountability. They broadcast it either socially with their friends & family or to a wider audience or they raise money for charity.
• They follow a plan, some recruit a coach to help them through the trials & tribulations of their training, some join a local tri club, some do it alone.
• They have very supportive family & friends who understand and are bought into their reasons for doing this.
BUT most importantly… THEY HAVE A REASON and this reason is profound enough to drive them through the hardest of training sessions and gives them the justification they need for the sacrifices they make.
There is no denying that the concepts of structured progressive training, delivered by experienced coaches works.
Thinking about your end goal right now can be a little daunting but the great thing about coaching is you don’t have to. Your coach will take care of all this so you can just trust the process, complete the sessions and tick off the goals as you work your way through the months leading up to your race.
At Total Tri Training we have hundreds of athletes who have completed Ironman or 70.3 races or are working towards these goals for next season. Here are just a few who have taken some time to share their stories and hopefully inspire you to begin your journey in triathlon:
Name: Wayne Simmons
Coached by: Kate Linsley – kate’s bio here
Ironman is something I’ve always wanted to be part of, since I was young I’ve loved the idea of these super humans competing in the hardest race in the world. As with most dreams I put this one to the back of mind for most of my life and got on with the routine of eat, work, sleep repeat. This led to me eventually reaching a plump 16 stone. I realized I had to make a change and begin losing weight.
I quickly remembered about the ironman! So, I googled ironman races for 2018. II never realized there were so many races in so many amazing locations, the amount of races was almost mind boggling, in the end I settled on ironman 70.3 Weymouth for two reasons, number one; the race, being in September 2018, meant I had plenty of time to train and number two the concept of an Ironman 70.3 within 9/10 months was maybe a bit too unachievable for someone who couldn’t swim a length, didn’t have a bike and hadn’t cycled since a youngster and only running achievements had been a 1:58 half marathon. The 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run seemed to tick the boxes for me.
My training started in January at first I loved every minute of it but I quickly fatigued. I had to get used to the feeling of a tired body but active mind…my job is very busy like most people its high pressure and can be frustrating. Many times I had hard days in work and could not be bothered to train but once I started a session 9/10 I would always love it.
Swimming was probably that one discipline that took the longest to pick up. My first few sessions were all slow and had plenty of stops, I could manage about 50 meters without stopping and this would leave me gasping for air. I feared the deep end and couldn’t get my breathing correct. Over the course of the season my swim CSS went from 3:30 to 1:55mins.
Bala triathlon was my first open water race, and my first Olympic distance on a day that was around 32-degree heat. It was a key moment in my season. I’d never swam that distance or raced open water but I had the capability to put in a respectable time, from then on I really trusted my training and knew for each of the following races especially ironman that if I was on the start line I was good enough to do triathlon. My unachievable target was now achievable it was now about what time I was going to achieve.
Going into Weymouth I was so excited, I had my race plan ready to execute and before you know it your standing at the start and the beeps of a 4 second count start, this moment is so vivid in my memory. Running down the line is the best feeling ever, 9 months of training and learning had led to that moment. There’s no better finish line in the world. I completed my target and finished 721 out of 2180 with a time of 5:50
My best investment was definitely in a coach. Kate was my hero this year every question I had was answered, every doubt I had was quashed. And she taught me more than I could have ever imagined. A coach will make everything simple for you and when you do what they tell you to you can turn up to that unachievable race knowing you’re going to own it!
If I could summarize my season it would simply be the best experience of my life so far and I can’t wait to do more and go further, being with the TTT community inspires you so much as it is so diverse in abilities for people like me who couldn’t swim to an AG world champion and pro athletes!! All the coaches offer great advice and are super friendly and all the other athletes you see at races keep you motivated. I cant wait for next seasons training to begin!
Name: Neil Pirie
Coached by: Phil Murphy
Andrew, my son, took part in the full distance IM in Mallorca. My wife, a family friend and I chased him round the island’s bike course by car and supported him throughout the run in Alcudia. At that time I had no bike, not swum for 45 years and not run for 30 years. I’d been a decent cross country runner at school and could swim. I wondered if I could ‘do it’ and resolved that I might be able to. Andrew and I spoke about us doing a half distance IM together in Mallorca in 2017. I was hugely motivated by doing a father and son half IM. I bought my first bike in early 2015 just to ‘test the water’. Andrew insisted I had a full medical and sourced a professional coach. The medical was satisfactory and Phil Murphy from TTT agreed to take me on. Fast forward to 2018 and I have completed 3 London triathlons, an Olympic distance at Woburn Abbey, an Age group winning Sprint at Dearnford Lakes and 3 Gran Fondo’s. I also completed the Mallorca half distance IM in 2017 and this year finished the Finland half distance IM, both with Andrew. The help Phil Murphy gave me was integral to completing all of these events, mentally and physically. Without the right kit, the right training schedule and the right (positive) attitude none of this would have been achievable. The challenge of a half distance IM at 60 years of age seemed over-whelming, but Phil was with me 100%, always available, always encouraging and always stretching me beyond what I thought I could do. The training schedules were comprehensive, but the wisdom regarding nutrition, recovery and resting was equally important. All I did was commit myself 100%. Alongside my wife and Andrew, Phil’s support was essential throughout the journey. It is very hard to put into words the joy and exuberance of crossing the finishing line with my son twice with my wife at the finishing line. It makes me feel so good to be able to call myself a ‘triathlete’ knowing what it’s taken to get there. It seemed insurmountable in September 2014 and a pipe dream, perhaps fuelled by spectator adrenalin, but I have proved to myself ‘Anything is Possible’ if you want it to be and dedicate yourself with passion and commitment. My dream is not complete yet, as I intend to try and complete a full distance Ironman with Andrew, perhaps in 2020. I am aware this will be no mean feat as that year I shall be 65, but age is ‘just a number’ as Phil keeps telling me!! I need to work on many things to enable this dream to be realised, but with the support of my wife, my son and Phil – I will do it.