Well folks, I did it. The Ironman? No...not yet. I registered for it. September 10, 2017 in Madison, Wisconsin I'm going to attempt to go the distance, all 140.6 miles.
I've been thinking about the Ironman for years, ever since I was in college in Madison and watched the runners winding through campus, I was amazed by the event and the people who had the guts to go for it. I'd stop whatever I was doing and sit down on the curb to watch the participants running by; I'd look at them, all different ages, all different shapes and sizes and wonder to myself, "Why are they doing this?" Not in the generalized disbelief, dismissive, "they're just a bunch of crazies" sort of way that many people think of the Ironman, but rather in a more individual sense, I'd look at each person and wonder what was their reason for doing it, their real reason. I know it's just an athletic event for some, but I also know it's a hell of a lot more than that for most. Some people do it to honor a loved one who's passed, others do it because they hit a rough patch in life and need to remind themselves that they can do anything. Whatever each persons' reasons were, I was fascinated and amazed by their willingness to go through hell all day (and all year) to become an Ironman.
Each year I'd watch the race and wonder to myself, "Will I ever do this?" Anyone who knows me well, knows that this type of delayed gratification suffer-fest is exactly the type of thing that I'm into. For whatever reason, I've always been the type to see something like the Ironman and feel the pull, it reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from George Mallory, one of the famed English Mountaineers who died going for the first ascent of Everest in 1924. A reporter asked Mallory why he wanted to climb Everest and his reply was short and sweet, "Because it's there". My primary reason for wanting to complete the Ironman is very similar, I'm not on a quest for enlightenment (currently), I don't feel like I need to reconnect and learn about myself (right now), I want to do it because I've always wanted to do it, not sure why, just because, and now feels like the right time.
Over the past few years I've thought about registering a number of times, but either the timing wasn't right, or the race was already full. This year began the same, the idea crept into my head again a few weeks ago, right on schedule, and I thought to myself, "This might be the year". So I did my annual ritual, hopped on the Ironman website to see that I'd missed the sign up again and wait until the following year. To my excitement (and dread), the website didn't say the race is SOLD OUT, it said THE EVENT IS OVER 85% FULL, aka it wasn't full. I could register if I wanted, all it would take was a little courage and 750 bucks and I'd be on my way.
I agonized over the decision to sign up for about 2 weeks. I weighed the pro's and con's; on the one hand, I've got a lot going on in my life right now and I wondered if I'd be able to dedicate enough time to training appropriately. On the other hand, I realized that saying I'm too busy is somewhat of a lazy excuse, by that logic, I'll always be too busy in life to do the Ironman. I thought about it more and realized that, like most people, there is time in my week filled with unhealthy habits, watching TV, being hungover etc. that could (and should) be replaced with healthy habits like swimming, biking, and running. One of my reasons for doing the race is to force myself to make healthy lifestyle changes, meaning work out 1-2 hours a day, eat better, get more sleep etc., all things I've done for short periods in the past but never really committed to for 8 straight months. My hope is that having the race looming over my head all year forces me to commit to the training and live a healthier lifestyle (that's the theory).
So, those are the reasons, by now you might be wondering, who the hell is this guy? I'm Pat Hughes, a 26 year old dude living and training in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Have I ever done anything like this in the past? The answer to that would be yes...kind of. I've got a history of endurance events in my past, half-marathons, marathon, century rides, triathlons, half-ironman etc. so yes, I have done many endurance events in the past but no, I have never been a diligent trainer/preparer. In fact, I would go so far as to say I did not train properly for any of those events. For example, many of you may have ended up here from my previous article about the time I ran a marathon without training. That is a 100% true story, people still send me messages all the time saying I lied and that I must have trained a lot before the race to run that time, I hadn't. I also completed a half-ironman while in college, it was my first triathlon. I did train for that but it was very irregular and oftentimes infrequent. I wouldn't let training interfere with my schoolwork or my social life, so my training plan was basically, if I was bored and had time (which happened rarely), I'd go for a swim, bike, or run. The race went ok for me, I finished in basically 6 hours flat with a horrible swim and frustratingly windy and slow bike, the run was solid, once I got my legs going I kept a pretty good pace and wasn't in too much pain.
So, yes, I have done these types of events in the past and have done them with questionable training methods. I wouldn't recommend no training for other people, it worked out for me but I'm likely the exception rather than the rule. This time is different, this time I'm going to attempt to train properly and diligently and will be documenting my journey on this blog, on my Instagram account, and possibly through some videos. I have insane amounts of respect for the Ironman event and know that in order to make it to the finish line I'll need to train hard. The date is February 17, 2017 and the race is on September 10, 2017 so I have about 7 months to prepare. That seems like a more than adequate amount of time to me but we'll see. I've certainly never trained for anything in my life for that long so I should be in the best shape of my life come race day.
Let's take stock of the current state of affairs so you know where I'm at:
I don't currently have a training plan picked out, I was googling 6 month Ironman plans a bit the other day and found some pretty simplistic ones online. I'll probably just go off one of these but in the immediate future my plan is to try to go for a decently long swim, bike, or run (~1 hour) each day and combo 2 in a day when possible. I also like to lift weights and will continue to mix this in on a regular basis (3-4 days a week).
Being a bit a of gear head, I know that I'm going to expand my arsenal quite a bit in this area over the next 8 months but for now I've got a pair of Asics, a Trek 2300 bicycle, a TYR wetsuit and a Wingman for swimming. Things that are on my list that I'm planning on buying soon include clip on aero bars for my bike, some type of GPS distance tracking watch and a hydration vest for running. This is just my current list of need-to-haves, there are also many want-to-haves that I'll likely blow money on too so I'll definitely be writing about any new gear I acquire.
I currently don't have access to a swimming pool, one of my top priorities right now is to find a spot where I can work on my swimming as this is the area of biggest concern and needs the most work. Unfortunately, I've begun to look into this and it appears downtown Milwaukee doesn't have many good affordable options when it comes to 25 yard lap swimming pools. Once the weather warms up, I'll be doing as much open water swimming as possible in Lake Michigan and other inland lakes. As far as biking goes, I live on the Eastside of Milwaukee with easy access to the Oak Leaf Trail so I'll be biking outside when the weather allows; otherwise I'll be riding an indoor bike trainer until the seasons change. As far as running goes, I hate treadmills and I don't mind the cold so I'll be running outside from here on out all over Milwaukee.
As I begin my Ironman training I'd say I'm in decent shape right now, I'm not starting from the point of completely lost couch potato. I'm 5'11" 180 pounds, I'm interested to see if my body changes over the next 8 months though I'm hoping not to lose weight. I've been lifting pretty consistently over the past few months and have done a decent amount of running (~4 miles 2-3 times a week).
As far as running goes, I know that I could go out tomorrow and run a marathon if I had to, I get real enjoyment out of running and am looking forward to building my mileage and increasing my pace over the next few months.
From a swimming perspective, I'd say I'm about as far out of shape as I could possibly be, I haven't been swimming in months due to my lack of pool access and am not a great swimmer to begin with. This is a huge priority for me, swimming 2.4 miles seems nearly impossible to me right now however I know that with diligent training I'll be able to get to a comfortable place on this. I'd like some professional help on my swim technique because currently...I don't have any technique. I've never been a competitive swimmer so never really perfected my swim stroke leaving me very inefficient in the water. I haven't gone swimming yet but I'd imagine my current state of fitness would leave me clinging to the wall gasping for air after about 2 laps (I'll give an update on this as soon as I get to a pool).
As far as biking goes, I'm not certain where I'm at right now as I haven't trained on this in months. The biking doesn't give me anxiety the way the swimming does but I know that its going to need some serious work. My biking muscles have never been very strong so I'm going to need to put in some serious miles on a regular basis to get that foundation built.
Well, it doesn't feel right to make my goal anything other than simply finishing my first Ironman but I can't help myself. Goal number 1 is just to get to the finish line on September 10. If I do that at 11:59 PM I'll still be thrilled, however if I'm going to train all year I need to set my sights higher to stay focused and committed so....
When I used to watch the Ironman in college it was always after class in the early evening, I'd be out there around 6 watching the racers run through campus. September evenings in Madison are beautiful, usually warm with the sun getting low in the sky. As I'd sit out there it was always crazy to think that these racers had been moving all day, as in they had started racing at 7 AM, shortly after sunrise (and well before I was awake) and they'd been racing all day. Back then I decided that if I ever did attempt the Ironman my goal would be to finish before sunset. Why? Just because I thought it would be kind of poetic. Since I'm not interested in anyone else's time, and I'll be racing in the hot sun all day, I feel like it would be cool to make the sun my competition, to race the sun from the start line to the finish line. So this goal was decided by 20 year old me a long time ago and I don't really have a choice but to adhere to it now.
Thats nice and romantic and all but what does that mean metrics wise? Well, according to google the sun will set at 7:16 PM in Madison, WI on September 10, 2017 so apparently I need to finish this race in 12 hours and 16 minutes. It seems impossible to me now but I know if I train hard and stay focused I'll be able to get there.
So, now that we've got the back story established, follow along on my journey to become an Ironman. I'll be posting updates on my training on this blog regularly (probably a weekly training summary) and will mix in posts about other relevant things as they come up (ie. gear reviews, training trips, dietary changes). I've also started an Instagram account dedicated to this which you can find at the link below, there I'll be posting more frequent and brief training updates and pictures. I'm looking forward to the journey.
Live Passionately and Adventure Frequently,