Ironman Training Tips
Preparing for this grueling race challenges physical, mental, and emotional strength.
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The Ironman triathlon, held annually since 1978 in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, has become the ultimate feather in the cap of weekend warriors and professional athletes alike from all over the world. “These athletes think, ‘Wow, I’ve really expanded my potential beyond what I imagined,’” says Dave Scott, the first six-time Hawaii Ironman World Champion, a pioneer of the sport, and a coach for more than 30 years. Scott also set records as the first to complete that 140-mile swim-bike-run race in 10 hours, then in 9 hours, and then in 8.5 hours, and was the first athlete inducted into the Ironman Hall of Fame. “That experience of accomplishment is the biggest benefit of competing in an Ironman event,” Scott continues. And, he says, the lessons learned also apply to any other type of fitness or life pursuit.
Training for a major athletic event requires commitment, says Scott, which many people fear. If you’re just going to the gym to feel and look better, skipping a day may not seem critical, but the stakes are higher in a training schedule for a challenging race. There’s no way to “make up time” because the human body needs consistent training to withstand the demands of race day.
Not surprisingly, fear of failure is common—not being able to complete a grueling race course, for example. And there’s a fear of the unknown. The weather can change, or something may happen during the race that throws you off your game.
Overcoming these fears is life-changing. “The race itself is very physically demanding,” says Scott. “But the biggest benefit is a huge mental and emotional lift.”
Whether you’re training for an ironman or just getting off the couch and starting to walk, here are Scott’s key tips:
- Put your workout or walk on your calendar, every day of the week. For unpredictable days, give yourself a back-up plan to include fitness time.
- If the urge to procrastinate strikes, always do what you can at the moment. Lace up your sneakers and get out the door, and you’ll feel good.
- Regardless of the shape you’re in now, training for a race can take fitness to a higher level. “A lot of people are complacent, don’t enjoy their job, don’t have a sense of fulfillment,” says Scott. “Doing that race is a great way to step out of the boundary box.”
Now 63, Scott continues to work out voraciously, and recommends these supplements to support a fitness regimen at any age:
- Astaxanthin: “It’s the most potent antioxidant,” he says, “and it’s good for your skin, heart, joints, and eyes.”
- Krill oil: A form of healthy omega-3 fats that is easily absorbed by the brain, krill oil is anti-inflammatory and supports the heart and joints.
- CoQ10: The ubiquinol form is easiest to absorb. Training puts demands on mitochondria, the energy-generating components of heart and other muscle cells, and CoQ10 protects these and improves their efficiency.
An Ironwoman Story
A few years ago, Agnes Prehn was overweight, out of shape, and would never have imagined training for an Ironman triathlon—swim 2.4 miles, ride a bike for 112 miles, and run 26.2 miles. But now, at the age of 51, that’s exactly what she’s doing.
“I feel better than in my 20s, I have a ton more energy, and I can think more clearly,” she says. “It’s a different world once you get in shape.”
Prehn’s fitness quest began on her 49th birthday, when she decided to get fit by the time she hit the mid-century mark. “I wanted to see how far I could push my body to do things other people can’t do at 50.”
Turns out, her initial goal was a breeze. Six months after starting to work with a trainer, Prehn completed a half-marathon—13 miles. By age 50, she was 55 pounds lighter and had completed an Olympic triathlon—a 1.5K swim, 40K bike ride, and 10K run. In another six months, she finished a half-Ironman, and now can’t wait to take on the Ironman.
By example, she’s inspired others, including 20-something lifeguards at the pool where she trains. “That was amazing to me,” she says. “I didn’t think people would care, but they do.”
Enthusiastic as she is, Prehn is also realistic. “Fitness isn’t easy and it doesn’t come fast,” she says. “But if you stick with it, it’ll improve your life tremendously.”