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Tri University: Jumping up to Ironman at a Young Age

As if classes, a job, and maintaining a social life weren’t enough, something about doing an Ironman calls out to you.

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Recent Penn State grad Kristin Goett dishes out advice for the U23 crowd (and the U23 at heart) in her Tri University column.

As a collegiate racer, most of your non-triathlete friends probably think of a suave superhero when the word “Ironman” is mentioned. While you are likely also a fan of our heroic, iron-clad fellow, you might feel that an Ironman, which consists of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run, is sitting on your plate in the not-too-distant future. As if classes, a job, and maintaining a social life weren’t enough, something about doing an Ironman calls out to you—let’s weigh the pros and cons of jumping to long distance for the 18-24 age group.

You’ll Learn True Grit

Taking the leap of faith from Olympic and sprint-distance collegiate racing up to iron-distance competitions will forge within that noggin of yours a grit so impenetrable your next final will feel like a breeze, whether or not you studied. It is no secret that Ironman training requires long hours in the saddle, early mornings at the pool, and a host of other commitments for you to balance along with, oh, I don’t know, a full course load, a part-time job, and campus extracurriculars. For those that have the guts to embrace this challenge head-on, your mental toughness will, much like our superhero Ironman, become iron-clad, too.

You Could Get Faster (Really!)

Compare elites’ performances in an Olympic-distance run leg with an iron-distance run leg and you will notice many things (i.e. the pained faces, bodies lunging forward with sweaty, salty residue—yum!), but one in particular: Olympic-distance triathletes tend to run faster. Iron-distance elites are fast, don’t get me wrong, but their paces are different for a variety of reasons.

Iron-distance training and racing are filled with long intervals often completed at 75-80% of your max ability in that discipline. This is to help your body learn what it’s like to maintain a certain pace for a long time—sounds fun, doesn’t it?! It can be! However, many young athletes are scared away from long-distance racing because they are concerned they might lose their hard-earned speediness that is so coveted in collegiate racing. Working with a coach or club will help you to maintain your speed, and incorporating some key speedwork sessions into iron-training can not only help you keep your speed, but get even faster in the process.

You Might Seem Crazy

No matter what distance you race, it’s time to accept that you are, uh, not the norm, as some might say. Anyone who actively chooses to participate in triathlons, especially while balancing all that college offers, is a bit weird. Sorry, hopefully I’m not the first one to break the news to you.

Now that you know you’re in the crazy club, I can also tell you that one of the biggest benefits of adding an Ironman to your schedule is the community of fellow crazies you will meet on your iron-journey. The other iron-crazies who are out at 5 a.m. to get in a 20-mile run might just become your best friends, and the guy in the lane next to you late at night feels your iron-pain as you round out your final build to race day. Reaching out to other athletes via social media and organic introductions will help you to make some new friends while you prep for arguably one of the biggest days of your life.

You’ll Lay Down a Killer Base

Yes, the time commitment is daunting and the science of gaining iron-fitness without losing speed sits on a fine line. But! Completing the six months or so of training needed for jumping up to long distance racing will provide you with technique, skills and base-level fitness that are transferrable to all other distances. So even if you are a “one and done” when it comes to Ironmans (which you might think now, but talk to me after you cross the finish line), know that the effort you put into completing this monstrosity of a race will serve you well across all distances for the rest of your life—yes, there is a whole life waiting for you outside of college.

As the new school year picks up, now is the perfect time to ponder what goals to set next season. Consider adding a long distance race to schedule as you polish off that well-deserved post-season burger—I know you won’t regret it.

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