Diary of a Fit Patriot: Journey To a Half IronMan Triathlon
By: Alison M. Hall
I promised in an earlier post that I’d write about my crazy adventure competing in an IronMan 70.3 Triathlon. My friend only agreed to run a marathon with me if I would sign up for the EagleMan IronMan 70.3 with her. A 70.3 triathlon is half the distance of a full Iron-distance race. The distances are a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, and 13.1-mile run. When she proposed this idea, I had already done several sprint-distance triathlons. I knew I could run 13.1 miles. I figured I probably could work up to biking 56 miles. But I figured neither mattered because there was no way I could swim 1.2 miles in open water. However, eventually I gave in and signed up. EagleMan is in Cambridge, MD, and takes place in early June. The training plan I used was 20 weeks, so I spent late winter and almost all of spring training. Here’s an overview of each part.
I took swim lessons as a kid and knew pretty much what to do, but I wasn’t technically efficient and I wasn’t fast. I never had swum more than 1K (.62 miles) and I hadn’t been a pool in almost six months. I tried to be smart with my training and I started slowly, swimming the longest 20 minutes of my life the first time out. I gradually increased the time and decreased the misery in the pool. Some swims were endurance—swimming lap after lap with little rest. I’d stop every few hundred yards for a drink, but that’s it. Some swims were designed for increasing speed, so I’d swim short distances fast, rest, then do it again. And some swims were designed for technique, doing drills using flippers, pull buoys, and paddles. I also worked with a swim coach for a few weeks to strengthen my technique, which helped a lot. By the end I could swim more than the 1.2 miles needed, and I did a 1-mile open water practice swim a few weeks before the race.
I teach group cycle classes, so I was at home on a bike—or at least a bike that doesn’t go anywhere and doesn’t tip over. A road bike is pretty different! I didn’t have a fancy tri bike, so my old road bike had to do. Almost all of my rides in the first half of training were inside. I set my road bike up on a trainer, and sometimes I rode to music, others to cycling DVDs, and others while watching movies. I put aerobars on my road bike so I could practice getting in the low aerodynamic position. When it finally was warm enough to go outside, I did short rides around home and the long, long, long (up to 60 miles) rides on the W&OD trail with my friend.
I wasn’t too concerned about training for the run because I had done that much running before, although never after that much swimming and biking. The plan had a few shorter runs throughout the week with one progressively longer run on the weekend. I didn’t worry about speed at all as I got the runs in. My longest was 12 miles.
The long swim, bike, and run days usually only had one workout. But the other days had a swim in the morning and run later. Or bike in the morning and swim later. Or the hardest, bike and run back-to-back, which is referred to as a brick workout. The main point of the brick is to prepare you to run on tired legs. So the bike parts are long while the run parts aren’t. The run parts, however, are pretty rough because the legs are tired from the bike. Most weeks had one brick workout.
I was very nervous on race day, but then the swim was easier than I expected. Fortunately we had the current with us for most of the course. I got bumped quite a bit as many, many swimmers passed me, but nothing bad, and I finished feeling tired but okay. The bike was long. I mean really, really long. I again got passed a lot, and I was alone a lot on the course. I was miserable by the end, but I finished. The run was hard. I mentioned this race was in June—it was 92 degrees with high humidity by run time. By the time I got to the snow cone machine at the halfway point (which I had been looking forward to for hours), it was empty. I got tons of ice and water at every station to keep me cool. I walked a lot more than I planned to, but I made myself run the last mile with no breaks, and I finished happy.
Finishing that race was a huge accomplishment. If you’ve done a few shorter triathlons and want to make the jump to longer distances, go for it. You have to be dedicated and you have to be good at planning your days, but you CAN do it. If you haven’t done a triathlon but think you might want to push yourself to this level, you still should go for it. Most experts recommend doing at least one shorter tri before a long distance one. There are many races in our area, plus Mason Rec hosts the Indoor Triathlon February 27.
If you’re wondering, I did finish EagleMan again the next year, but I’ve only done sprint distances lately. I do have the dream of a full IronMan, so whenever I fulfill that even crazier dream, I’ll be sure to write about it too.
Successful Masters Athletes Following Smart Training Plans
By Alison Hall
In August, Mason Recreation provided smart training tips for masters athletes. We recently caught up with three successful masters athletes who continue to follow smart training plans and stay active throughout life. The common thread with all three athletes is “age is only a number.”
Mason alumna Toni Binning competes in Olympic-style weightlifting competitions. Toni trains 60-90 minutes a session, 4-5 times a week, with no more than three days in a row. She recently set records for the snatch, clean and jerk, and competition total for the 40-44 age group and 48k weight class. All of Toni’s training is specific to Olympic lifting, and she stays injury-free by foam rolling and stretching before and after every training session. She’s not afraid to take a rest day or decrease the training intensity if need be, always focusing on smart training practices. With smart training, her next goal is to snatch at least her body weight in a competition. Toni believes you should not let age stop you from trying anything. Her advice is to listen to your body. If something hurts, stop. If you are tired or not sleeping, take a day or two off. Be sure to allow your body to recover. Seek out an expert to teach you correct mechanics and prevent injury. Toni shares more about her fitness activities in her blog at Fitnessfoodfamily.com.
Mason Recreation member and Osher Lifelong Learning Institute student Wynne Tysdal recently traveled to Machu Picchu, Peru, for a hiking adventure. Wynne credits Mason Recreations’ Boot Camp and Yoga classes for her balance, strength, and endurance. All three were necessary on her Machu Picchu hikes. Her weekly plan consists of three Boot Camps, two Yoga classes, and Pilates. When Mason Recreations’ Boot Camp started last year, she had already decided that lunges, squats, and jumping jacks did not fit her “mature” fitness plan. Then she realized the benefits of strengthening glutes, hamstrings, and hip flexors by trying these exercises. She feels that even with squats, lunges, and some high-impact drills her arthritic knees are much happier, and she is stronger overall. It paid off on the hike—Wynne crawled right up the nearly vertical Monkey Steps at the end of the Inca Trail, passing by the other hikers. She says that the Boot Camp mountain climbers on Gliding Discs, although not her favorite, deserve all the credit. Wynne loves the energy that exercise gives her and loves feeling fit. Boot Camp is a great workout and it also has been a great way to meet people and build a support group. Boot Camp is offered at the Aquatic and Fitness Center Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 6:15 am.
Masters athlete Julio Blanco started competing in triathlons in 1987 when he was an undergraduate student at George Mason. Since then, he has completed 43 triathlons, varying in distance from sprint to half Ironman. Julio stays active year-round, increasing his activity when training for a race. During the off-season, he runs 2-3 times a week, spins 2-3 times a week, and strength trains 2-3 times a week. Many times, he takes time off from swimming during the winter and starts again a month or two before a race. Julio has realized that with age his body has tightened up, and recovery takes longer. His main approach to avoiding injury is to listen to his body. If he thinks he’s overly fatigued, he’ll shorten a workout or take an extra rest day. He now devotes more time to flexibility and core strength, mainly by practicing yoga. He also says that sleep is key—if he doesn’t sleep well, it impacts his capacity for exercise. Julio feels that he has nothing left to prove as a triathlete, but he continues to be involved mostly because he enjoys staying active and being fit. Plus, doing the races is fun, and he takes pride in the fact that at almost 50 years old he can still give guys one or two decades younger than him a run for their money on the bike!
Mason Recreation. Smart Training For Masters Athletes, https://recreation.gmu.edu/2014/08/smart-training-for-masters-athletes/