You Can Do an IRONMAN

By Carrie Barrett – February 1, 2017
Photography by Weston Carls

If a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride, and a marathon 26.2-mile run sounds like a race meant only for top tier athletes, you're wrong. As grueling as it may be, you can definitely do it. 

“Oh I could NEVER do that,” I often hear when I mention that I’m getting ready to do an IRONMAN triathlon. “You are cray-cray! There is no way!”  

Well, in the infamous words attributed to Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can't—you're right.” The question is, do you really want to do an IRONMAN? Because, believe me, if you want it bad enough, you can make it happen. 

Physically, there are very few barriers to completing an IRONMAN— a 140.6 mile triathlon that includes a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, followed by a full 26.2 mile marathon. There are people with Stage 4 cancer who cross the finish line under the allotted 17-hour time limit. There are 80-year-old nuns and paratriathlete war veterans who complete the distances. There really are few limitations, so when people say, “I can’t,” my response is always, “You absolutely can if you have the desire, budget, time, and organization to make it happen.”  

As a coach, it’s easy for me to spout off wisdom and cliches about how anything is possible, so I went to the front lines and spoke with several recent first time IRONMAN finishers—many of whom started off the year saying, “There’s no way.” After many months, miles, tears and smiles, they all successfully crossed the finish line and joined the IRONMAN family. Now, they share their advice, wisdom, and memories in hopes of inspiring others to go from “I could never,” to “Let’s do it again!” 

The WHY: Inspiration

Local triathlete and father of two (soon to be three!), Mark Roberton, cites his children as his main inspiration for wanting to complete an IRONMAN. “One night, as I was putting our children to sleep, I caught myself telling them to do the very thing or things I wasn't. No, I wasn't telling my children to go do an IRONMAN,” he jokes, “but I was telling them to chase their dreams, never give up, and that they could do or be anything they wanted to as long as they committed with all of their heart.” His own advice hit him like a ton of bricks. The next day, he started researching triathlon groups and less than a year later, he was crossing the finish line at IRONMAN Arizona. 

Local teacher, Holly Thompson, credits her kids, too. Her school kids, that is—as her inspiration to follow her dreams. She told them about her IRON-journey from day one, which made her accountable. Kids need mentors, and she wanted to be that for them. “I knew I couldn’t face them if I had quit or given up even during a training day,” she said, and this was her drive to succeed. 

Kim Mathers had a more personal reason—her… dad died of heart disease at age 55. “Doing triathlon and completing an IRONMAN was my way of giving genetics the finger and not giving into the fear!” 

Coach Advice: Make sure you know your “Why” before you commit, because you will draw on this inspiration many times during your journey.  

The HOW: Consistency Breeds Confidence

“One step at a time” was the simple key to Todd LaCoste’s successful journey at the 2016 IRONMAN Texas. He actually wrote the initials JKM on his arms, which stood for “Just Keep Moving.”  In addition to the obvious personal drive, consistency, patience and a supportive team, this truly was the winning formula for all of these first-time finishers. No shortcuts. No hacks. No magic secret to make it easier. Just plenty of hard work, perseverance, an organized training plan, and trusted coaches.   

When challenges or injuries arose, every one of these athletes turned to their teammates, coaches, and family members for support. Trust me, there will be plenty of setbacks, and sometimes life gets in the way. Remember, though, most of us are doing this as a hobby to make our personal lives better! Training should enhance your life, not inhibit it, and as Mark Roberton mentioned, “Once you believe that life supplements your training and vice versa there isn't really anything getting in the way.”

Coach Advice: Whether you train solo or with a group, find a coach that “gets you” and understands your schedule, challenges and goals. It’s equally important to have a support system that will be there for you. Just make sure you return the favor! 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to do an IRONMAN, but is stuck in “I Can’t” mode?

Runner and first-time IRONMAN Canada finisher, Luke Martinez 

“If it’s something you want badly enough and are willing to put in the work and make the trade-offs that it will take to get you there, you can make it happen. Three years ago, I’d have described my swimming skill as ‘the ability to not drown.’ Eight years ago, I’d be worn out after a 10 mile bike ride. Back in my middle school P.E. class, I had a personal best of an 11 minute mile and getting under 10 minutes per mile seemed impossible. We all have to start somewhere and with patience, commitment and desire, you can accomplish so much more than what you think is possible today.

 IRONMAN Florida Finisher, Holly Thompson

“Do it. Your mind is the only thing holding you back. If you're scared, that's good! After crossing that finish line, I feel like I can do anything. It's made me a stronger person. It's made me a more confident person. It's made me truly grateful and for the ability to even start training.” 

IRONMAN Texas Finisher, Kim Mathers 

“The journey is a mental one and takes your soul on an adventure of a lifetime!”

IRONMAN Arizona Finisher, Mark Roberton

“If you are even remotely thinking about it, stop, join your local tri club, and start enjoying your journey. The friendships and experiences you'll make along the way are things you will remember and look back on for the rest of your life. It has truly been a blessing for me and my family.”

Coach Advice: What are you waiting for? Your journey begins with the first step. If you’ve been thinking about it, make 2017 your year to become an IRONMAN!



Related Articles