Thursday, February 7, 2013

What It Takes To Finish An Ironman

I did my very first Ironman at the age of 18 years old 1 month 26 days. I was merely a boy back then, but with an abundance of confidence and big dreams. I only did 1 Long Distance Triathlon, 2 Olympic Distance Triathlons and 2 Sprint Triathlons before putting myself on the starting line of Langkawi International Ironman Triathlon. Judging my accomplished races doesn't fully explain how I really train for this toughest event on earth. My concept is simple, race little but train very hard. I maximize my mileage every single week, and I skipped a lot of races to keep myself focus on Ironman. I rode the Broga 212km loop at least once every 2 months, I ran 7km everyday, I did 2km swim 3 times a week. The worst part was, I had no Marathon in hand. How am I gonna finish a 3.8km swim, 180km bike and 42km run? In Malaysia, the one and only Long Distance Triathlon is at Desaru, the others are all Olympic Distance. Olympic Distance is not even 1/3 of Ironman. So, my only option is to focus on ONE discipline at one time. I had never thought of rehearsing a Full Distance Ironman =p
Due to my student's routine, I had to attend classes from morning 8am till 4pm. My cadet's training requires me to fit in at least 8 hours of physical training and military classes every Saturday. Every Friday, I did Tempur Tanpa Senjata (I gotta thank TTS for all the bruises).  Every night, I had to attend Roll Call (Head Count). Since the University will never compromise on my schedule as a student-cadet-triathlete, I had so little time but so many things to be accomplished. To catch up with my academics, I had friends to help me. Cadet's training, I had no problem catching up. To become an Ironman, no one can share the training load with me, I need to endure it by myself. So, work smart. Let's solve this puzzle one by one.
Swimming can be the greatest challenge among the 3 disciplines, but once you mastered it, it'll become your closest friend. Firstly, get yr strokes correct before extending the mileage, ask the experts or get a coach! I had no coach, so I learned from Total Immersion videos. I asked a friend to record myself swimming, then correct it bit by bit. There's no shortcut, you need to put in mileage once yr strokes are good. Swimming is still my weakest discipline compared to cycling and running, so I try to "swim smart". 

 Here are the tips : "Drafting is not allowed in cycling due to the extreme advantage gained by the rider riding in the slipstream (the zone with less wind resistance). But there's no such rule in swimming. Water is more than 100 times denser than air, imagine the effort you can reduce if you're swimming behind someone. Try to pace a swimmer who is slightly faster than you. Always remember one of the 10 Principles of War : "Economy Of Effort" !

Many athletes buy bikes without even knowing there's such thing as BIKE FIT, I was one of the fools. Learn from my mistakes. I bought a bike with size 49, then my senior told me that when I ride long distance, I need an extra "horn" called Aero Bar. I finished my first Ironman with a really bad bike fit, I suffered very badly on the run. It was TriStupe who told me that the elbow angle must be 90degree, I was curious after knowing the angle need to be adjusted according to your body. Later I read up more about the knee angle, torso angle, and so on. I finished 1 hour faster for my 2nd Ironman with this new bike fit, without putting on extra mileage. Aero Bar is a MUST for the grueling 180km lonely battle, it greatly improves your aerodynamic. Aerodynamic makes you go faster without putting extra effort, we called it "free speed". Once you feel very comfortable and "aero" on the bike, put in at least 200km a week. I'm a busy man, don't have much time to go for long rides. So I did 40km almost every evening with the average of 32km/h, or 35km/h if my team wants to ride Team Time Trial. Only on the weekends, I'll go 212km Broga. 

 Tips for the Newbies : "Never ever compromise bike comfort for the sake of getting a super aero position. If you have extra cash to spend on a Tri / Time Trial Bike for extra aerodynamic, you can consider Boardman Bikes used by the Ironman Champion Pete Jacob.  Refuel and rehydrate accordingly on the bike so that you don't run in empty tank. Electrolytes, energy bars and gels are the "fast foods" that'll keep you going. During training, the calorie burn value should be recorded so that you know how much you'll need to pump in. You'll need to get a good balance between the 3 as each and every one of them serves a different purpose. For example, electrolytes prevent cramping, energy bars supply you with carbohydrates and protein, and so on. Checkout Hammer Nutrition. Lastly, buy a Bento Box to put all your "fast foods" in it."

The last discipline is a 42.195km full marathon. Start your training by correcting the posture first! Running correctly makes you an efficient runner, and also saves you from getting unnecessary injuries. There're lots of running methods and tutorial videos available in the market such as Chi Running and Pose Method, try and decide which one suits you the best. Same like swimming and cycling, once the technique is correct, increase the mileage. I ran 40km a week, raced one half marathon, but never did a full marathon. My first Ironman was my first full marathon =p Don't take unnecessary risks, I was just lucky to finish it. Do a full marathon before deciding to race Ironman. Get a good pair of shoes which suits your running style, be sure that the shoes won't cause you blisters, never ever follow the trend or even your friend! Listen to what your body needs, you might want to consider Skechers, read up about the M-Technology to assist you to land midfoot instead of heel strike.  
Tips to finish the very last discipline : "You'll probably be dead tired during this discipline, try your very best to keep good posture, stay focus on the race and never run with inconsistent pace. Get a GPS watch like the Garmin 910xt to keep yourself running in constant pace. I didn't feel like eating but I forced myself to eat, because I knew that I need fuel to burn! If the mind stays focused, you'll know what you should do. Also, craving for favorite food is very common, so put it in your Special Need bags."
I was not in the mood to eat, but I still eat a little every time I stop at the aid station. I was so tanned after more than 10 hours out under the hot sun. 


The journey to complete an Ironman has many obstacles to stop you. However, it does help to keep yourself motivated wearing 2ndSkin shirts to remind you of your goals. Let your shirt speaks on your behalf =) Give your very best to complete this toughest event on earth in 17 hours to earn you the title Ironman.

Written By :
Youngest Langkawi Ironman Finisher Year 2008 & 3 Times Ironman Finisher - Chan Jun Shen


Afnan (^_^) said...

WOW!! Thanks for the tips! :)

wooishen said...

Thanks for ur sharing...I m newbie in this sport...May i know how much u spend on bike? any brand for newbie? how is the budget?

Chan Jun Shen said...

Afnan, most welcome =)

wooishen, my first bike worth 2.5k. currently I'm using Polygon 700, spent around 7k on it. =p Actually brand doesn;t really matter as long as the geometry of the bike fits u well =)

asyraf said...


whats your height?
im 166cm...which bike size will fit me properly?


Chan Jun Shen said...

Asyraf, I'm 162cm. I'm riding XS 48. Your size should be 50 or 51, gotta check with the bike geometry though. This is just rough estimation, different bike comes with different geometry =)