Leading up to the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, on Oct. 12 I received an exclusive peek inside the training and specifics that accompany being an Ironman triathlete.
Well, it’s my brother, Kevin, who’s on the verge of entering his eighth world championship and has completed 13 full-distance (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run) Ironman races, and over 20 halfers (70.3 total miles). Kevin, 45, formerly of East Rockaway, N.Y., now resides with his family in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Note: The Ironman triathlon series consists of full- and half-distance qualification races worldwide. The most elite athletes from those competitions receive an opportunity to enter a field of 1,800-plus in the annual world championship.
Where was your first triathlon and what made you eventually graduate into an Ironman competitor?
It was a sprint distance race in Connecticut that I raced with former New York Islander Bobby Nystrom and friend Ed DeNave. We all were looking for a challenge and this seemed to be a good one. I was hooked from then on and loved it. I made the jump to Ironman in 1994 when I won a lottery slot, after the St. Anthony’s triathlon in Tampa, Fla.
Take us through a breakdown of your training regimen leading up to an Ironman race.
I usually do a focus of 18 weeks specific to Ironman and build up to 18-20 hours a week of training during my peak. This year was a little different as I raced Ironman Texas in May, then took some training time off and started up again in mid-July. Therefore, this year was closer to a 12-14 week focus.
Please touch on nutrition, in the weeks leading up to an Ironman and anything special you like to eat/drink in the hours (night before) the race.
My nutrition is always pretty good so there’s not much change when I’m training. I focus on very little processed food and try to eat a well-balanced diet. The night before an Ironman race is always the same — a 6oz. filet, pasta or quinoa, salad and a glass or two of red wine.
Also, what about during- and post-race nutritional intake?
During the race I do have a pretty specific plan between Power Bar products and Osmo nutrition (hydration) products. I have specific requirements with amounts that are based off my body weight and time. Post-race is anything I feel like, no restrictions.
What Ironman competitions stand out in your mind, and why? Where were your best performances?
All the Hawaii races stand out — from my first, to my slowest [where I] battled with hyponatremia. [And during] my last race I had to drop out because of a double flat. This race stands out because I was at mile 40 of the bike and my race was over, so I salvaged the day and worked the aid station for the next three hours. I was able to help all my friends racing and gained a new perspective of the race. Overall, my best Ironman was in Arizona — 9 hours, 10 minutes — and my best Hawaii [time] was 9 hours, 27 minutes.
You mentioned a problematic medical condition called hyponatremia. Please explain.
I suffered hyponatremia, which is basically too much water and not enough sodium, and this caused me to walk the second-half of the marathon. I learned a lot from this day and it changed my overall hydration plan from then on.
Whenever you feel your body has had enough, what motivation do you use to keep yourself going?
Sometimes the motivation is rest to make sure I can get the most out of my training. During a race, the motivation is to get to the finish line as fast as possible where I can stop for good. If you stop or slow down during a race, you’re just prolonging the bad feelings you might be having.
The world championship in Hawaii has quite a history and is known for its extreme toughness. Are there any places on the course that are extremely brutal?
It’s actually in Hawaii because of three races that took place there and a number of guys wanted to see who the best athletes were — swimmers, bikers or runners. The toughest part on the course is typically at the Natural Energy Lab. It comes at approximately mile 17 of the run and can get very hot. By this time in the race, you’ve been racing all day and fatigue is/has set in.
Looking forward to Oct. 12, how do you feel, physically, and what are your goals compared to your other world championship appearances?
I feel good — tired of training though — and I want the time from now to then to go by faster. My goals are to simply go as fast as I can on race day. I don’t set time goals because conditions may not warrant the goal times you think you can meet.
Through your own training for Ironman races, how do you feel your physical conditioning has varied with age and what advice do you have for other athletes who would like to make this type of training long-term.
My fitness has gotten better as I’ve gotten older. Racing for over 20 years I’ve learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t, when to train and when to rest. Rest is the key. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed that recovery is slower so you just have to adjust, learn what workouts are important and which are a waste of time — get rid of the waste. The advice I’d give is to remain as balanced as possible. Training can take a lot of time, but I always make sure it’s third on my priority list after family and job.
Brian T. Dessart is a nationally accredited Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, a New York State Critical Care Emergency Medical Technician and an FDNY firefighter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @briandessart.