Along with being an Ironman hopeful, I am a practitioner of the quantified self movement. One week per quarter for the past seven year’s I’ve tracked everything I did for a week in a spreadsheet. This data has been great to see how my life has evolved over time and is particularly interesting now that my training plan is in full swing.
When I started researching what it would take to train for an Ironman, I had a hard time finding real life examples from other athletes. There were some posts by professionals and there were training plans, but it was hard to see what real life would look like. Especially for someone that was also a husband, father and working professional. I hope that this post will serve future athletes in that way and so I am sharing not only my daily training, but how I juggle the rest of my life around it as well.
I always include my current training data in these posts to help hold me accountable, so lets look at that first.
June was a bit of an off month for me. I had a two long weekend backpacking trips lined up which didn’t mesh well with training. I decided to get whatever training in I could on the other days and figured that the 8-10 miles per day of hiking I averaged would be good endurance training on the rest of the days.
In the long run, a break was probably a good thing both physically & mentally. I can now push into the home stretch with less worry about injuries and burnout.
A Week in the Life of an Ironman (Hopeful)
I will preface this with stating that I am using a plan designed to give me a chance at finishing on the podium for my age group. It is possible to train less than this if your goal is simply to finish an Ironman. I am, of course, tackling this challenge with my usual maniacal focus which is why things are so intense.
I have managed to get my mileage this high only doing one workout per day. A lot of people end up splitting their load into two-a-days, I’ve found it easier to fit in once a day workouts, partially because of the time overhead before and after each workout.
Workout Plan: Swimming – 2 Miles – Quality 2 x 500yrds
Up at 6AM-ish and to the pool. I was a little slow to get there an only got in 1.63 miles of the 2 I had planned before lap swim time ended. That included 2 x 500yds at threshold pace, which for me is currently 8:30.
Get home and spend a few hours of quality morning time with my family and then get to the office by 10AM – a fairly normal start time for a tech start up’s product team.
Monday is important at work, I need to get ahead of things because I’m going to have to leverage some time later on in the week in order to complete my workouts while there is still sunlight. I was at the office until around 11PM and got a ton of work done.
Workout Plan: Biking – 40 Miles – Quality 7 x 5 Minutes max hill climb
6:30AM call with the east coast team and an early start to the working day. That worked out well because I had to leave by 4:30PM to get a bike ride in.
5PM bike across the Golden Gate Bridge to Hawk Hill for repeats. 7 X 5 minute climbs followed by a few extra miles of cool down for a total of 40 miles. Getting mid-week bike rides in is really difficult because of how much time it takes to get a good workout. Running, swimming & even spinning are much more time dense workouts and usually better for mid-week. I’m glad I was able to get this one in.
9PM a bit of reading time before retiring for the night.
Workout Plan: Swimming – 2 Miles Easy
Up at 6AM again. Actually 6AM this time as not to make the same mistake as Monday. Two miles. That is 70 laps in the 25 yard public pool I swim at. Keeping track can be tricky that early in the morning, to make it easier I do sets of 5 and then move my flip flops at the edge of the pool into various positions to designate each set.
Wednesday was an atypical day at work, we had an all day team offsite where we did a lot of planning & refocusing. That concluded with a dinner/social event. Everything wrapped at 10PM and after grabbing two slices pizza from the neighboorhood spot, got to spend a bit of quality time with my wife. (Yes, I grabbed pizza after dinner, I am eating something like 4K calories a day right now due to the amount I burn during training.)
Workout Plan: Running – 10 Miles – Quality 4 mile tempo run
I got to sleep in until 8AM. Not only did I not have a morning workout, but my son didn’t wake up until then, though he is usually awake around 7AM. A bit of family time and into work by 9:30AM.
This is the day I leveraged the hours from Monday. I had to leave by 4PM in order to 8 of my planned 10 miles in before a dinner with extended family at 6PM. Those 8 miles included 4 at threshold pace, which for me is currently 6:00 miles.
I had a few work things to finish up after dinner, but did find time to watch half of a movie with my wife.
Workout Plan: Spin bike – 90 Minutes Easy
My wife had a few things to do in the morning so I was in charge of our son. I also had our weekly team all hands meeting at 10AM. Finally, I wanted to get my workout in during the morning, since the next day I would by riding my first century (100 mile bike ride) and wanted to be as fresh as possible.
Some would see that as conundrum. I just pulled the iron-daddy-pm tripple-task maneuver. I timed my son’s morning nap with the team all hands meeting and hopped on the spin bike. I would bet that is the sweatiest anyone has ever been during a team meeting. Someone grabbed a snapshot fairly early in. I got an hour of spinning in & decided to skip the final 30 minutes in order to stay fresh for the next day.
When my wife got home I headed to the office just in time for Friday lunch at Noon. Pizza. The amount I ate was a statistical anomaly in the distribution of pizza-per-person at our company.
Left work at 4PM and grabbed my race packet for the next day. Got home and prepped my bike along with taking care of a few other around the house items.
I found a rare two hour free period between 8-10PM and used it to play video games. In bed early for the night because I would be up early the next day.
Workout Plan: Bike – 103 Miles
To preface the weekend – as hard as my training is during the week, because of scheduling, I only get in about 50% of my mileage between Monday and Friday. On Saturday & Sunday I get the remaining 50% completed in only two days. It is grueling and time consuming.
Up at 5AM to get ready & drive to Pacifica for my first ever century. The ride started at 6:30AM. I completed the 103.5 miles in 6 hours and 30 minutes. It wasn’t technically a race, so it didn’t matter than I spent the day with the lead pack, but I’m really excited that I was able to do so. It was only six months ago that I didn’t have a road bike nor the slightest idea what I was doing. I was able to test out my race day fueling strategy and learned a good bit that I’ll need to tweak in the next three months.
After feasting on the lunch provided, driving home & showering it was 3PM and I fell asleep. I rarely take naps, but if you read my blog much you will know that this was my second this month. Ironman training takes a lot out of you.
From 5PM to 10:30PM I had a shortened, but normal Saturday. Some errands, some family time, dinner, reading and some time that is hard to account for because you’re just kind of doing nothing for a change. The good life.
Workout Plan: Run – 17 Miles
Sunday actually felt like a weekend day. A slow morning with a big breakfast followed by church and a drop-in on a open house around the corner from us. After lunch I had a few errands to run and got some work done on a house project I’ve had on the back burner.
At 5:30PM I left for my long run. I had 17 to do. Not an easy task on legs that were tired from the day before, but I still managed to hold a 7:45 average. I do most of my workouts alone, but was excited to come across someone going about my pace that I could run with for miles 12-14. That was a nice pick-me-up during a critical part of the run.
After showering that put me at a 9PM dinner which left a final bit of time in the week for some reading and time with my wife.
My weekly miles totaled to:
Bike – 143.5
Run – 25
Swim – 3.63
Spin Bike – 60 minutes
That was a little short of my plan, but certainly acceptable.
Training took 15:30 hours. Along with overhead of 30-45 minutes per workout that puts me at around 20 hours of Ironman related time.
I slept an average of 8.5 hours per day which totals 60 hours. Work accounted for another 45 hours. 10 hours of dedicated family time and another 10 hours of social time & meals with friends & coworkers puts me at 145 hours accounted for.
I spent 8 hours getting to & from places, especially work. Another 5 on hygiene on human body overhead.
The final 10 was spent on entertainment, between movies, reading, video games, Facebook and browsing the internet.
The Time it Takes
I have realized that it is possible to train for an Ironman, be a family man & have a career at the same time. It is just not possible to do anything else along side those three. Finding time to watch a movie or spend time with friends will come at the cost of one of those three.
You might not realize this, but a lot more time than just the hours training is eaten up by preparing for an Ironman. First there is the overhead around workouts. Getting dressed, getting to and from places, extra showers, etc. Then there is the extra sleep & food you need which adds to your daily living overhead – one or two extra meals and an extra hour of sleep is quickly another 10 hours per week. Not to mention the hours you spend online researching which water bottle placement is most aerodynamic on the bike or what kind of anti-chafing creme works best in low temperatures.
Competing in an Ironman isn’t so much a hobby as a lifestyle change. I really is a dramatic shift and it becomes a major part of who you are during that time.
The Great Irony
After hard workouts, you feel like crap for the rest of the day. My stomach is always churning knots and I have very little extra energy. It is hard to want to do much more than watch a movie or read.
Ironically when I looked at my historical time logs, the extra training most directly impacted the amount of time I spent doing those exact things. Since those are the items least tied to other people, they are the first to go.
From your perspective, you just rode your bike as fast as you could for six hours and you just want to sit back and take a load off. From your wife’s perspective, you just disappeared for six hours and left her alone to take care of your child and the house so now she would like some help. Guess which one wins?
Basically, you are taking time that you might have normally gotten to rest and using it to do something that makes you wish you had more time to rest. It is a compounding factor that makes life very difficult. That is the reason people burn out from training for big races like this.
The Selfish Realization
While training, you will often be meeting the minimum requirements for your responsibilities in life. It is unlikely I will win Dad of the year this year. Maybe next year, but I just haven’t put in the hours so far in 2014. And though I am working hard in the office, I can’t say I’ve gotten quite as much done as the same quarter two years ago when I was single and able to work frequent 12-14 hour days.
Basically, to train for an Ironman, you are calling in favors and burning goodwill. You will grow a little bit distant from any friends you aren’t able to run or bike with. You will have to pass on extra opportunities both at and outside of work. You will wear thin relationships of all sorts. Commitments will get left on the floor.
In my expert opinion, for a married man, there is no such thing as doing a solo Ironman. It is a relay. Even though I am doing all three events on race day, she is contributing to the race in significant ways. The goal has to be hers, or at least one she supports, or it would be impossible for me to achieve it.
That is really the toughest part of training for an Ironman. The mental battle I face every day. It isn’t the stiff legs after workouts or the stomach churning as I near my vomit point on a hill climb. It isn’t the dizziness of being winded at the end of a tempo run. It isn’t the mental breakdown as I count to 95 laps in the pool. It is the constant wrestling with the idea that this was a bad idea and that I should give up now – not because it is hard, but because it is selfish.
I some point I had the realization that this whole thing is kind of pointless. I’m not racing an Ironman to save lives. I’m not doing it to change the world. I’m doing it because it is something difficult and I want to prove to myself that I can do it. Then hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars later I ask myself is this just some sort of really expensive ego boost?
Don’t get me wrong, I think fitness is a great thing. I think most of America would benefit from a solid half hour a day of an increased heart rate and some sweating. But this is far beyond that. I am spending between 1.5-6 hours a day training.
There is this really tough line between dedication and obsession. Perseverance and lunacy. I am walking that line and to seriously train for an Ironman, I think you have to. I’m no longer certain that is a respectable thing.