This weekend, IRONMAN Chattanooga will play host to hundreds of athletes competing for 40 qualifying slots in the 2017 IRONMAN World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. The race will begin with a 2.4-mile swim in the Tennessee River, followed by a 116-mile bike course heading south of town through North Georgia, and a 26.2-mile run through downtown Chattanooga, Riverview, and the North Shore.
While embarking on a training program consisting of running, cycling, and swimming can set you on the path to the next IRONMAN competition, committing to even one of the three activities can provide you with significant health and fitness benefits.
While millions of people run for fun or exercise (or both), comparatively few run competitively in, say, local 5K races or marathons. Regardless of your competitive aspirations, a regular running program can help you become healthier and happier. And if you keep running, you might even gain the confidence you need to enter a race—even if you’ve never been a regular runner.
Running is the most natural of the three IRONMAN events. All you really need to get started is a good pair of shoes. Just as important as a good pair of shoes is good form. Good form can help you recover from soreness after a run, as well as prevent you from getting hurt during one. Do your best to establish these habits while you’re running:
- Keep your head up and look straight ahead. Relax your shoulders.
- Bend your elbows at roughly 90 degrees and make loose fists with your hands. (Your arms should swing gently back and forth, not across your body.)
- Run with your back comfortably straight and your hips pointed straight ahead and upright.
- Shorten your stride and keep your feet directly underneath your body.
The Starting Line
If you’ve never really run before, or if it’s been a long time since you ran regularly, start slowly with a combination of running and walking three days a week. Runner’s World magazine suggests warming up before (and cooling off after) each workout with five minutes of walking, and then alternating between run/walk intervals for 30 minutes.
Once you’re running for a full 30 minutes three times a week, set a goal of doing it four or five days a week. Then, once you’ve hit that goal, aim for adding 10 percent to your daily time from week to week. But don’t overdo it. Trying to run too far or too fast too quickly can lead to burnout and even injury. Try to progress at a steady, healthy pace, and make sure to allow for rest days each week.
Keep the Pace
If you’re having trouble sticking to your running schedule, seek out a running partner. Chances are you already know another runner in your family, neighborhood, church, school, or workplace who’s looking for a little camaraderie and motivation, as well. If you want to pick up the pace even more, you can find information about group runs and, yes, road races at Run Chattanooga and Outdoor Chattanooga.
The cycling portion of the IRONMAN Chattanooga is 116 miles long, and while you may never aspire to bike that far or even enter a race, regular cycling can help you reduce your risk of chronic illness, keep your weight under control, build strength, and boost your mood.
Whether you plan to use your own road bike or buy a new one, the first step is to get a professional bike fitting. Bike fittings are very affordable (or sometimes even free with the purchase of a new bike) and are crucial to making sure you don’t cause undue strain to your back, knees, and rear end. You are also going to need a helmet, cycling shorts, glasses, spare inner tubes, a multi-tool, and a hand pump. Most serious cyclists also switch from flat pedals to a clipless system, which features special shoes that clip in to the pedals. Though it might take some time to get used to a clipless system, it will help you improve the efficiency of your ride.
Get in Gear
At first, shoot for two, easy, 30- or 45-minute rides during the week, and longer rides on the weekend. You’ll likely feel sore after the first few rides, but stick with it. Things will get easier.
When you’re ready for more aggressive workouts, try changing your cadence, shifting if your pedal speed gets too fast for your current gear. You can also add bursts of speed to your rides—anywhere from, say, 30 seconds to five minutes—until you need a break. There are no rules: create your own workouts by balancing hard bursts with easy stretches, and upping the burst/stretch times and/or number of intervals each time you ride. Finding hills to climb is another way to inject a fitness boost into your workout.
In addition to regular workouts, you may also want to consider riding your bike to work or consulting the Chattanooga Bicycle Club an Outdoor Chattanooga for information about local group rides and road races, including, if you dare, the IRONMAN.
Whether you are contemplating competing in an IRONMAN competition or simply wanting to get in better shape, swimming is a fantastic, full-body workout, improving both your cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength. For all of its benefits, however, getting the most benefits out of swimming can be tricky for even the most serious of athletes. While most of us likely have considerable experience doing various forms of exercise on land, comparatively few of us take to the water for more than occasional recreation.
Unlike running, swimming is not a natural movement. The key to maximizing the benefits of swimming is achieving (and maintaining) good form, and while you could learn various types of strokes, the freestyle stroke is all you need to know for a good swimming regimen—or to compete in the IRONMAN, if you’re ever so inclined.
If you can’t swim, don’t be embarrassed: Get some lessons, and get on with getting in shape. If you can swim, but aren’t sure if you’re exactly doing it right, consider working with an instructor. Pull buoys and kick boards can help you establish good form, and a swimming snorkel will help you maintain your form without having to lean your head to the side to breathe. You’ll also want to wear a nosepiece and goggles.
Powering through the Pool
Your upper body is the source of both your strength and speed. Make sure your head, hips, and feet are aligned, and try to stretch your body with each and every stroke. Your arms should be in line with (or just inside) your shoulders, and as your hands and arms enter the water, make sure they don’t cross your midline.
While you want to always keep working on your form, getting into a routine and setting goals are also keys to seeing progress in the pool.
Refining your technique and improving your speed takes time, so be patient. Set new goals every 8 to 10 weeks, and look into joining a local swim club or public event where you can challenge yourself and meet other swimmers who can help motivate you, as well.
Always consult your doctor before altering your exercise regimen, or starting a new one. Need a doctor? Find one here.