I am now less than three weeks out of my first Ironman and as such, naturally I’m the know-all expert on Ironman training! Right?
I joke, of course, I know nothing. I follow a training plan my coach gives me weekly. That is all.
Yesterday, I finally learned that this weekend will be my last seven-hour (100 mile-plus) ride. That’s after two 100-milers plus a few 80-milers, plus a bunch of 17- and 18-mile long runs, plus I don’t even know how many laps in the pool.
So, the hardest part is over, right?
No, let me tell you what the hardest part of training for an Ironman is. (But here’s what it isn’t, first.)
- The hardest part of training for an Ironman isn’t riding your bike for so long that your nether regions go numb, or running for hours on legs that feel like wooden logs. It isn’t even having to accept that you’re getting slower in the pool despite swimming 10,000 yards a week, because your body is exhausted and you can’t keep your butt up in the water and it sinks.
- The hardest part of training for an Ironman isn’t fitting 18+ hours of training each week; nor even the guilt of all this weekend time spent away from your family.
- The hardest part of training for an Ironman isn’t the training itself — or the effort you have to put into all other everyday tasks after this training. When simple things like focusing on work for two and a half hours are harder than the two and a half hours you spend running that morning.
- It isn’t any of that.
Those things you can handle, ultimately, if you figure out these two:
1. Getting enough food.
2. Getting enough sleep.
Those are the two hardest things about training for an Ironman.
Now, you think, how can food be a problem — you can always eat more, right?
Well, yes. Counting calories to make sure you’re getting at least 3,000 is admittedly a better problem than counting calories to make sure you don’t exceed 1,500.
Worst case, you can always make more protein pancakes.
Unless you’re too tired to bake pancakes — then you dump the protein powder in some almond milk, shake it and drink.
Unless you’re too tired to make a shake — then you grab whatever you find in the snack cabinet.
Unless what you grab are those delicious Trader Joe’s Mango Joe-Joe’s, which are pretty much empty calories with so much sugar that half an hour later you’re even hungrier.
But by then, you’ve already gone to bed. It’s past 8 p.m., after all. So now you have to decide between going downstairs to eat something (and what would that be?) — or trying to go to sleep anyway because next morning you’re up at 5 a.m. to swim.
Except once you’ve thought about food — forget about sleep. So you make a sandwich, with avocado and mayo, because it’s the quickest thing to throw together, and has lots of good fat (and some not so good fat, but who’s counting). You eat it, but then you see popcorn and throw a packet in the microwave — and then put a movie on because can you eat popcorn without watching a movie? no.
And before you know it, it’s 11 p.m. and that plan to get 8 hrs of sleep has yet again gone out the window.
1. Getting enough (good) food.
2. Getting enough sleep.
So when you tell people that you’re training for an Ironman and they think your main job is trying to get enough of this:
You should probably clarify that, mostly, your goal is to get enough of this:
Because, friends, training for an Ironman is… trying to decide between going to sleep at 8 pm (so tired) and making one last trip to the kitchen (so hungry).
Usually, hunger wins.