It's a very slow process - two steps forward, one step back - but I'm inching in the right direction. - Rob Reiner

June 30, 2011

Interview with Ryan - Ironman

After the response from my last post I decided to ask my co-worker for an interview to share his Ironman experience and he obliged.  I felt a bit dorky, but it was honestly so interesting and informative to talk with him.  This post is long, but I promise it's worth it.  I hope you don't skim through, but take time to read all the details.  It's really quite a story and there's lots to learn.

Athlete Profile
Name:  Ryan
Sex:  Male
Age:  28
# of Triathlons Completed:  5
1 Sprint; 2 Olympic; 1 Half Ironman; 1 Ironman

Race Location and Stats
Ford Ironman Coeur d'Alene - Idaho - June 26, 2011
Distance:  2.2 Mile Swim; 112 Mile Bike; 26.2 Mile Run (full marathon)
Finishers:  2,187
Finishing Time:  9:42:19
Breakdown:  Swim - 1:02:21; T1 - 5:07; Bike - 5:27:16; T2 - 1:51; Run - 3:05:44
Finishing Stats:  35th overall (including pros); Age Group - 5/172; Males - 20/1605

Ryan is an amazing athlete and completely humble.  He seemed a little unsure about whether or not he wanted me to share his full name with you, but in the end said I could do whatever I wanted.  I decided not to share his full name, but if you are really interested I'm sure if you look up the race results you can figure it out for yourself.

The Interview

Me:  Did you swim or run in college or play other sports; how did you get so good?
Ryan:  I ran track in high school, but my main sport was football.  I played football in high school and college.

Me:  Seriously that's your
Ryan:  Yes, it's kind of a regret.  I wish I had focused more on track in college.  I started running in 2006 and ran my first marathon in 2007.

Me:  So how did you get into triathlons then?
Ryan:  I had always had an interest in triathlon.  I enjoyed watching the Kona triathlon on TV and always thought it would be a great sport, but I really got into triathlon due to an injury.  In 2010, I was training for the Eugene marathon and I was in the best shape of my life.  I was training with a goal to finish in sub 2:40 (Ryan's marathon record is 2:43:16) when I injured my foot and had to stop running.  To stay in shape I started swimming.

Yes you are reading this correctly.....Ryan completed his first triathlon just last year - last June to be exact!!!  Incredible!

Me:  What made you decide to do an Ironman?
Ryan:  For the sense of accomplishment.  I was also hoping to get to Kona, but that wasn't my only goal. I really just wanted to see if I could do it, and how well I would do.

Me:  Do you think you'll do another Ironman?
Ryan:  Looks like it. (more detail on this later)

Training and Nutrition
Me:  About how many hours per week do you train?
Ryan:  It varied through my training cycle, but my peak training weeks are about 20-21 hours.

Me:  How do you find enough time to train?  Do you have to do two a days?
Ryan:  Yes, I do two a day workouts everyday besides the weekends when I do my long run and long bike.  It just takes discipline.  I am up at 4:30 am everyday and I do a second workout in the evening.  I have trained my body to live on about 7 hours of sleep.  My wife is very supportive, that really helps.

Me:  How many days a week do you train?
Ryan:  I train 7 days a week.  I take off one day a month during my recovery weeks.  On my recovery weeks my weekday workouts are shorter, but my weekend workouts are still the same.

Me:  How long did you train to prepare for the Ironman race?
Ryan:  About 26 or 27 weeks.  I think I only missed 2 run workouts during the entire training cycle.

Me:  Are you really strict about nutrition?
Ryan:  Yes, during the week I have a very strict diet.  A common day would be - Breakfast:  oatmeal; Lunch:  a large salad; Dinner:  baked fish and rice; Snacks:  Fruit or a Kashi bar or something healthy.  I don't eat any red meat for the most part and I don't drink any alcohol.  Alcohol actually inhibits your body's production of growth hormone that helps repair your muscles.  On the weekends I allow myself to have sweets.  It's mainly because of the long workouts; I just really crave carbs like baked goods.

Me:  What did you do for nutrition during the race?
Ryan:  Well after my first long bike, I really bonked and realized I need to get more nutrition in during the bike.  I did some research and found out I needed really calorie dense nutrition.  A gel or something wasn't going to do.  I would have to have like 15 gels.  I used Hammer Perpeteum.  I had two bottles on the bike each bottle was about 800 calories.  I also had 3 Clif bars for a total of about 2300 calories while on the bike.  I also had about another 800 calories worth in my fuel belt on the run and made sure to stop at all water stops for water and Ironman Perform (Ironman's version of Gatorade).

Me:  Do you have a coach or are you self-coached?
Ryan:  No, I don't have a coach.  I actually just got the name of someone I'm thinking about calling.

Me:  Seriously??  You did this all on your own, how did you come up with your training plan?
Ryan:  I  used Joel Friel's Triathletes Training Bible and Your Best Triathlon books to create an annual training plan.  The second book is really good and is focused on performance.

Me:  Which of the 3 sports do you find the most difficult or challenging.
Ryan:  I used to would have said the swim, but my swim times have really improved and I've become more competitive in that area.  My race results would show that I have the most room for improvement on the bike.  I was pretty competitive on the swim and run, but was slower than alot of people on the bike.

Me:  Would you change anything about your training?
Ryan:  Yes, I thought you had to do a long bike ride every weekend.  I think you do need to do this until you build up your endurance, but after you have the endurance I think  you could do shorter more intense workouts.  I was really starting to burn out a little bit with the bike.  I will definitely change it up during the next training cycle.

Race Experience
Me:  Overall, how was your experience?
Ryan:  It was incredible.  It was a beautiful course and the most well organized race of any kind that I've ever been a part of - including the Boston marathon.

Me:  I've heard the course was pretty challenging, was it harder or easier than you expected?
Ryan:  The Ironman race itself was actually a little easier than I expected. The course was very challenging, but was pretty much exactly what I had expected.

Me:  What was the hardest part?
Ryan:  The hills were tough on both the bike and run.  There is one hill on the bike called "The Wall".  There's just nothing to compare it to or train on in Kansas City.  On the run, you go straight up a hill then down it and turn around and go back up it.  Last year you just crested the top and turned around, this year you got to do the hill twice.  I overhead the winner of the race saying it added about 3 or 4 minutes to his marathon time.

Me:  Anything you wish would have gone better?
Ryan:  I was pretty slow on the first transition.  You are supposed to have some assistance in the transition tent because your hands are so cold you can just hardly do anything.  I couldn't even get my race belt on.  I kept yelling for someone's help, but never got any.  I also didn't know what to do with my stuff...I was afraid just to leave it so I spent extra time putting it all back in my bag.  I also dropped my chain on a hill on the bike.  All these things just cost me some extra time.

Me:  What did you think about for almost 10 hours?
Ryan:  You are just constantly analyzing your condition.  How do I feel?  Can I go harder?  Do I need nutrition or water?

Me:  What was it like competing in a race with professional triathletes?
Ryan:  It was cool.  Craig Alexander was the winner.  He was on the plane with me on the way home.  It's just interesting that he just won an Ironman and is one of the top athletes in his field, but  yet he was able to walk around in relative anonymity.

Me:  So this is an embarrassing question, but did you get all pro and pee on the bike?
Ryan:  Well actually I had never tried it before during training or anything.  And after a few miles on the bike I did have to stop go.  I realized how much time it cost me and I knew I couldn't afford to stop again. So I literally started asking other cyclist as they passed how to go on the bike.  They told me to find a long stretch and just relax.  It worked, yes I peed on the bike for the first time.

Me:  Did you cry when you finished?
Ryan:  No, I thought I might, but I was just so happy with what I just accomplished.  As I was coming into the finishing shoots I started high fiving everyone on the way in.  I had the biggest smile on my face.  I can't wait to see the race photos because I know I was smiling from ear to ear.

The Biggest Disappointment
Kona Qualification:  This is the saddest part of his story and his interview.  Due to a miscommunication, Ryan didn't end up getting a spot at Kona even though he earned it.  There were 65 total spots available to qualify for Kona at this race.  Those are prorated by the % of participants in each age group.  There were 4 spots open in Ryan's age group.  He finished 5th.  However, if someone had already qualified for Kona in a previous race the qualifying spot would "roll-down" to the next finisher - which was Ryan.  He was excited to find out that indeed one of the guys who finished ahead of him already had a spot - Ryan was going to Kona!!

There is a whole claiming process to claim your spot for Kona.  From 9-10 am those that had the automatic spots could come and  claim their spot.  They had until 10 am to claim it and any spots that weren't claimed were available to be claimed from 11-12pm by the "roll-down" athletes.  Ryan talked to the lady at the registration 3 times telling her he wanted to take the open spot since he was the next in line.  She told him he had to wait until 11am.  It was only about 10 am, so he and his wife decided to head back to the hotel and pack and come back later.  He came back at 11:15 am to claim his spot only to find out it had already been claimed.  The spots for the "roll-down" athletes are given out in more of an auction format so they called Ryan's name to accept or reject the spot, and when he wasn't there they passed him and went to the next candidate.  Ryan thought he just had to claim the spot by noon.  Since this was his first Ironman he didn't understand the claiming process and it was unclear in the handbook as well.  Needless to say he was more than disappointed that he missed his opportunity to go to Kona because of a miscommunication.    They did offer to get him into another Ironman race this year or next year so he can try again.  But he would have to qualify again.  He's trying to decide what to do.  He has the opportunity to race the Louisville Ironman, but it's 8 weeks away and then Kona would be 6 weeks after that.  What do you think....can you/should you complete 3 Ironman races in 15 weeks???

Again, I can't tell you just how humble Ryan is, especially to be such a phenomenal athlete.  I think he enjoyed sharing his story with me because it was just such a great experience for him.  He ended by saying this - which I thought was so cool (especially because I'm such a slow athlete).

Ryan:  You  know after the race I went back and watched the people who are finishing at like 8:30 pm at night.  I have so much respect for them.  People think it's so great that I finished fast, but I am lucky.  It's not that I don't train hard, but genetics play a part of it for me.  I know those people who are pushing through and finishing in 16 or 17 hours probably trained more hours than me and it's a great thing they are doing out there.

Love this!!  Hope you guys enjoyed the interview!!

Ryan said if anyone had questions he'd be glad to answer anything.  If you have questions, e-mail me or leave your question and contact information in a comment.  Thanks!!


  1. Wow! That was an awesome interview! I am really ticked off that he did not get a spot at Kona. WTH people? That lady has no idea how hard someone works for something like this and she just tossed it a side for him. Argh! He does sound like a phenomenal athlete.

  2. What a seriously great story! Congrats to Ryan on an awesome race! Such a bummer about the Kona mess up but sounds like at least they are trying to make it right for him. I can't wait to hear what he decides to do and hope you will keep us posted! I am in awe of people who are so talented!

  3. I want to thank Ryan for not only sharing his story but most of all for that last comment about the back of the packers. It's nice to hear the respect in his "voice" for those that are working just as hard or harder, yet find themselves not quite as speedy as someone like himself. It's a great quality that I think many athletes lose as they become more and more excellent at their sport.

    Thanks Ryan and Michael!

  4. That was amazing! Thanks for sharing it with us, Michael and Ryan!

  5. Wow, Michael, this was so incredible to read!! You asked great questions and I loved reading what he had to say about his experience. How cool that he was willing to be interviewed and was so honest in his answers. Thanks so much for doing this! And, I'm sure you were totally UN-dorky!!

  6. Thanks for doing this, Michael! It was awesome! You can tell Ryan that if he decides to go for it, the blogosphere will be cheering for him!

  7. Great interview! Thanks for sharing his story with us Michael!

  8. What a refreshing post!

    I hope Ryan knows he is a bad ass! That is an amazzzing time on a super challenging course.

    And a collegiate football player? What?!?!

  9. Seriously, this was an awesome post!!! It is always great to get a peak of what is inside of fast racer.

    I am really said to hear he missed the roll over, breaks my heart. I really hope he gets a chance to qualify again

    My favorite part

    "You know after the race I went back and watched the people who are finishing at like 8:30 pm at night. I have so much respect for them. People think it's so great that I finished fast, but I am lucky. It's not that I don't train hard, but genetics play a part of it for me. I know those people who are pushing through and finishing in 16 or 17 hours probably trained more hours than me and it's a great thing they are doing out there."

    He gets it, just like most of us, its all about hard work and finishing, it doesnt matter the final time, all that matters is crossing that finishline.

  10. I *knew* I should have learned how to play football! LOL! What a great interview, Michael! You thought of, and asked, the *best* questions. So, so sorry about Kona~ what a huge disappointment for him. Please do let us know if he ends up trying again to qualify.

    I would have to agree with you about how encouraging his comments were about those of us who are more, um, "normal!"

    Thanks *so* much for taking the time to interview and then share here~ super post!

  11. OMG, what an awesome interview.

    SO heartbreaking about the Kona thing, I can't believe the registration folks were so unhelpful and clueless. Poor guy, how heartbreaking to Kona qualify your first IM and not be able to claim it. UGH.

    Anyway, he sounds like such a phenomenal athlete!

  12. Amazing. Simply Amazing! I almost cried reading his last remarks because it is so true and he is amazingly humble to have shared that.

    Thank you so much for doing this Michael.

  13. What an awesome interview! Congrats to Ryan..he did awesome!! That is such a bummer about the Kona slot, but hopefully it will all work out in the end!

  14. This is a great interview and the Kona story is absolutely crushing. 3 IM's in that time is asking an awful lot but we're all behind him if he goes for it!

    He's spot on about the bike training. A lot of people overlook when to transition from long steady-state to shorter interval based workouts.

  15. Wow, what an amazing interview!! This is one of the best pots I've read from anyone in a long time.

    Ryan is a phenomenal athlete! I'm not sure what events he ran in high school, but with his talent it wouldn't surprise me if he went to the State Meet in the 1 or 2 mile, or even won the whole thing.

    That really is a bummer about the Kona spot, it's too bad the lady didn't just say to him "stick around until you have your spot, then you can take off". Seems like him missing out on his spot is their fault. Hopefully he is able to get to Kona. Doing 3 ironmans in 15 weeks seems like overload to me, but maybe that is possible for someone of his capabilities.

    Like most people, I thought his best comment was the last one about how he returned to the race course at night was awesome. He seems so humble, but he is an amazing athlete.

    Regardless of how it turns out this year for Kona, I bet he will definitely be there next year if this year doesn't work out. And who knows, maybe watching the coverage on NBC Ryan will be one of the people they feature on there!

    Hopefully he knows that all of us on here are rooting for him!

  16. This is incredible. I want to meet him!

  17. Holy.

    Triathlon peeps --- freaking amaze me.

    20-21 hours per week. Incredible.

    In totally in awe.

  18. this guy has some natural talent!! and i WISH i could make myself train 20+ hrs per week -- crazy. i hope he chases kona again - he deserves it!

  19. AWESOME interview! Thanks for posting!

  20. Great job taking the initiative to interview him!

  21. great interview. Ryan is a treasure in this sport and he is 100% correct. When you see those people crossing in 14-15 hours is amazing.

    I was thrilled when Shannon (Iron Texas Mommy) crossed after 14+ hours on a hyper-extended knee. Just an absolutely incredible sight.

    Nice job on the interview.

  22. What a great interview!!!! Thanks for sharing this with us. This was really interesting. That stinks he cannot go to Kona but my guess is that he will be doing another Ironman and will qualify again.

  23. Great post and story. I did my first Ironman last November and I can't even imagine going that fast. Amazing and a shame that he missed out on Kone because of a technicality. One thing though, the swim portion of an Ironman race is 2.4 miles, NOT 2.2 miles.

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