Friday, September 6, 2013

From the Mouth of an Ironman Athlete

People always have lots of questions about Ironman races...what they are, how people train, what they eat, how they pee. I decided to interview George on the drive to Madison and get the inside scoop from a three-time Ironman finisher.

In a nutshell, an official Ironman race is sponsored by World Triathlon Corporation. A full-distance Ironman consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run...for a total of 140.6 miles. To finish, an athlete must complete the full race in under 17 hours. Otherwise, it doesn't count.

In 2012, Sister Madonna Buder became the oldest woman to complete an Ironman race. She was 82.

Now, don't you feel like a couch potato? Me, too.

But let's hear about Ironman from George's point of view.

The single most important question: why under heaven do you do Ironman-distance triathlons?
I don't know. Because it's hard. It forces me to work out. Otherwise, I'd be lazy. You can't phone it in on race day. And it's an incredible feeling to finish. The high lasts a long time. And I love the energy of an Ironman weekend.

When do you start training for an Ironman?
I never really stop, but for an early-September IM, I start stepping up the work-outs in early June. That might be too late, though.

About how many hours a week do you train?
Max, about 10-11 hours a week, which is very low compared to other IM athletes. I don't like spending too much time away from my family for training.

How do you feel about this year's race?
I feel good about the swim and bike as long as I'm not stupid on the bike. [Stupid would be going out too hard on the first lap and not leaving enough in his legs for the second lap and the marathon.] I'm terrified of the run. As long as I make the turn on the marathon without cramping, I'll be okay. I predict another five-hour marathon and a 12:45 total.

Triathlon is a gear-intensive sport. Swimming requires wetsuit and goggles; biking requires a highly-specialized bike, helmet, shoes, water bottles; running requires high performance shoes. Add to that clothing, GPS and performance computers, watt-meters for bikes, special nutrition, and such. What's your favorite piece of gear?
That's a silly question. My BIKE! It's a Specialized Shiv. The frame is extremely aerodynamic and I'm very comfortable on it.

How many miles a year do you put on your bike?
Not sure. Over a couple thousand, though.

On race day, how do you keep going over such a long distance?
"Stay in the now." Best advice ever from professional triathlete Paula Newby-Fraser. Don't think about how far you have to go. It's so easy to think about it, and then your mind gets really negative really fast.

What's your favorite part of this race in Madison? Other than finishing, of course!
Treading water just before the race, sun coming up on the water, the National Anthem playing, thousands of athletes' heads with swim caps bobbing in the water. Then, after the swim gets going and you get out of the crush and find your rhythm, just stroking easy and zen-ing out in the water. It's peaceful. Then, there's one hill on the bike course. The crowd of spectators is huge, and there's a narrow passage for your bike, with all these people cheering you on. That's the closest I will ever get to experiencing the Tour de France.

What's your least favorite part of this race?
On the bike, there are a couple of spots that are soooo boring. And there's a stretch in this park on the run that is demoralizing on the first lap. No spectators, you're all alone, and you still have 18 miles to go. On the second lap, that stretch isn't so bad because you know you only have about five miles to go.

What do you do to insure good luck on race day? Are you superstitious about the race?
I don't believe in luck. You get lucky by training. But I am sort of superstitious about some things. I don't bring any Ironman finisher t-shirts, hats, water bottles, or other gear from previous races with me, and I don't buy any Ironman gear until after the race. I also eat dinner the night before the race at the same restaurant...although that failed me in 2010.

You'll burn roughly 7,000 calories during the race. What do you eat on race day?
In the morning I have a peanut butter and honey sandwich. I'll have Crank Sports eFuel in my water bottles, and some Honey Stinger waffles. On the run, I'll grab what they have at the aid stations.

What company would you want to sponsor you if you went professional?
Sam Adams Brewing. I have a highly-detailed pitch for them.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to do an Ironman?
Unless you are genetically gifted, you've gotta respect the distance or you will pay for it on race day.

Do you pee in your wetsuit?
Oh, yeah. Absolutely. But I do not pee myself on the bike. I stop at the porta-potties.

What's the best thing that people can yell at you for encouragement during the race?
It's great when people yell, "Keep going!" But I hate it when they yell, "You're looking good" when clearly you're dying. And the people who yell, "You're almost there!" at mile two of the marathon, I want to kill those people.

Now it's your turn! What questions do you have for George about this incredibly insane thing called Ironman?


  1. I did four or five triathlons. SPRINT distance. Loved it; wish I had time to train; I would do more. Really enjoyed the biking, handled the running; hated the swimming. (Definitely needed more training there). So, which is George's best, and worst leg of the tri? And yes, I would do an Ironman distance, if I could devote the time to the training.

  2. Oh, Marie. Bless your heart. You're crazy.

    George's best event is definitely the bike, he's okay at the swim, and he fears the run. On our way to dinner tonight, he said that thinking about the run makes him want to vomit.

  3. Good luck, George! I hope the run is better than you fear. :-)

  4. My SIL just did her first IM at Whistler last w/e and she completed it in 15:05 and was thrilled. Signed up to do it next year. They are another breed I think LOL! I live vicariously throughher and my body thanks me :) Wishing George a great race!

  5. Interesting Q&As! I'm pulling for George!

  6. I think anyone that does is awesome. I can barely do 5K. George - you are awesome!!! Keep going.

  7. May every stroke in the water and on the bike and every step in the run bring you closer and safely to a new personal goal... "Stay in the moment" and enjoy it all..especially that wonderful prize at the end (Susan)
    patti moffett

  8. I'm very impressed with the relative low number of hours per week George trains and his short training season. I've been training for the AF Marathon since about May- and it isn't for two more weeks. Also, I train for 7-9 hours per week for it. The part about not wanting to train more due to not wanting to be away from family reminds me of many weekend mornings when I train. I'll get up by 5:00 a.m., run 18 miles, and when I get home, the kids and hubby will still be asleep. Now, I don't get up at 5:00 and run while everyone is sleeping because I don't want to miss out on family time (although I do love my family dearly!), but rather because I detest running in the heat. Running in the early morning is the only way to avoid that. George will be my inspiration in two weeks when running the AF marathon. When (not if) during the race, I'm throwing myself a pity party, I will think of the men and women who do a marathon after a swim and long bike ride! Btw, what are women called who do an Ironman? Are they Ironwomen?? Wishing George the best!

  9. Maria, women who complete an Ironman race are called Ironmen. No distinction between the sexes....

    Best of luck on the AF Marathon!

  10. Thinking of George. Did the swim and bike go OK?

  11. I've really enjoyed learning about Ironman through your blog--an aspect of life I couldn't understand before! Always find your writing enriching and delightful! I'm a stamper, that's my "sport"! Not really, I do swim for exercise and well being.

  12. Great interview. These triathalon types truly are a mystery to me!


Thanks so much for taking time to comment!