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Keeping Fit: Are Triathletes Healthy or Just Insane?

Is it crazy to swim, bike, and run in the grueling 12 hour 'Ironman' challenge? It's a question you must ask yourself in order to determine your own limits.

by
Mark Anderson

Bio

May 3, 2008 - 1:41 am

Some people think I’m crazy.

It’s not that I display any abhorrent behavior. It’s that I chose to swim 2.4 miles, ride my bike 112 miles, and then run a marathon (that’s 26.2 miles). On the same day. One right after the other. At the end of that day, some 12 hours, 28 minutes, and 36 seconds, after I began, announcer Mike Reilly proclaimed, “Mark Anderson, you are an Ironman!” That was two weeks ago.

A year and a half ago, when I did my first triathlon, I would have thought I was crazy. I told myself, “That was a lot of fun, but I’ll never do an Ironman. It’s just too much.”

So, tell me, what is “too much,” when it comes to exercise and athletic events?

You see, I did the LA Marathon a few times about ten years ago, and, after the second time, I decided another marathon was “too much.” With all the strain on my knees and ankles, and the blisters, and the walking around like a very old man for about a week after the race, I’d had it.

So the concept of doing that after warming up with an hour-long swim and a six-hour long bike ride was completely ridiculous to me. That is, until my training partner said, “Hey, I’m signing up for Ironman Arizona,” and I suddenly thought, “What the heck?”

Maybe I am crazy.

By the way, the worst part about doing an Ironman is not the race itself. It’s the training. Six months of swimming, riding, running, or some combination thereof, five to seven days per week, with hours totaling 15-20 per week. It’s a part-time job, and it consumed my winter. Granted, being in Southern California, I don’t have snow to contend with, but the many hours I spent training in the dark were not very warm. One of the hardest things about doing an Ironman is keeping yourself from burning out during training.

The interesting thing is, outside of a bit of soreness, I actually felt really good the day after the race. I wasn’t even walking funny. Perhaps it’s because of the amount of training, but I’d like to think that it’s also from the inherent advantages of the cross-training that triathlon requires. And, of course, the sense of accomplishment is overwhelming – I mean, few people can say they’ve run a marathon, and fewer still can call themselves “Ironmen” (by the way, for all you feminists, the term is considered gender-neutral).

So, would I do it all over again? Absolutely. I’m actually trying, right now, to decide which Ironman event I’ll do next year…

Here’s an interesting thing to think about – there are certain events, such as the Race Across America (a bicycle race across the United States), ultra-marathons, and long-distance ocean swims that can make even an Ironman seem like small potatoes.

So I have some questions for you. What is “too much”? And how do you really know of how much you are capable?

This is the first of a continuing column for PJ Media on health and fitness. I will take your questions and suggestions for topics and will consult with experts – trainers, coaches, nutritionists, etc – to promote discussions on the fitness topics that you want to talk about. You can email your questions and suggestions to pjmfit@gmail.com.

Mark B. Anderson is Executive Video Producer for PJ Media.

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