Steve Grace, CEO of Balance the Grind, shares his first-hand experience of tackling the IRONMAN 70.3 Western Sydney, a challenge that marked both his first Ironman and triathlon.
From the initial decision to sign up, through the grueling training, to the final race day, he provides an honest, down-to-earth account of what it takes to go from casual fitness enthusiast to completing one of the most challenging endurance events. It’s a story about stepping way out of your comfort zone and discovering what you’re truly capable of.
Wow, I had no idea, I really had no idea how many hours a week you need to do and how much you have to eat and sleep. It is crazy, but also very addictive once you get going, like any sort of training starting is the hardest part, but with my coach Graeme on my phone and in my training app, I used both Training Peaks which he would load my workouts on and Strava to measure performance through my Garmin watch and Wahoo bike computer.
My coach Graeme had warned me it was going to be hard, but if I stay true the race will be a breeze, he has trained lots of athletes remotely and had trained and Matthew had also used him for a while and completed multiple 70.3 races as well as a couple of full Ironman races.
I think the first thing is training 6 days a week, without fail, it is a lot of days and sometimes you just don’t want to, but you have to, this is the discipline you need to get going, it would be easy to give up early but once you get going this reluctance goes away (unless it is raining, then it always sucks).
It actually starts off pretty easy, short 5-6K runs, short bike rides, short swims to get your nervous system used to constant training, you work on 4 week cycles, building time and intensity over the 3 weeks before an easy week and then repeat, each month getting more intense.
You learn an enormous amount about your body, how to control your heart rate, how to keep your glycogen levels up so you can simply keep going, how much you need to eat (especially carbs), how to fuel so as not to feel bloated, if you can eat and run or if you need to work with gels, hydration, controlling pace, shorts bursts of intensity, and with all this technology strapped to you all the data is there.
Data junkies will love this part of the training, you start talking like an idiot to people about how if you keep your heart rate at 160 BPM it is easy to keep going forever as long as you fuel each hour and all manner of rubbish that makes no sense to anyone, it all comes out your mouth to anyone who dares ask you how you are going. After about 4 months you can see the invisible eye roll when you talk to people and you dial it down but for the first few weeks, you are simply not a good person to talk to.
There were also 2 side effects that I had not really thought about, crazy when I think about it now, they are both so obvious, but I think you are not really thinking straight when you decide to sign up for this. The first was sleep, now I know all about sleep.
I have read books, listened to podcasts, I know how important it is, what happens when you sleep, I mean I have read so much about sleep, but I was not great at it. I would fall asleep well, I would even stay asleep, but I was terrible at going to bed, I always had too many things to do, too much energy.
Well that all changed, I would simply fall asleep all the time, at work, as soon as I got home, sometimes I was worried if I did a normal blink I would fall asleep ! Well, this ended up being one of the best side effects, it really showed me how much sleep I needed, it was not something I knew I needed, it just happened and with that it permanently changed my sleeping.
I found out how amazing and sharp you are when you have 7 hours every night and even now whilst writing this 5 weeks after the event it would be rare for me not to make sure I got 7 hours, so there is a great long-term change.
The other was weight, now I have always been lean, never carried a lot of weight but at about 192 cm I was coming in at 88-90 Kgs on any given day, well that changed pretty quick, even though I was eating all the time, and eating more bread that I could have ever imagined, I was eating carbs, protein, vegetables, nuts, and having protein shakes and snacks in between meals, my weight dropped to 77 kgs, it was nuts.
And I was still hungry, I lost any muscles I had, I was tiny, people who did not know I was training thought I was sick or ill, I think even dogs were crossing the street when they saw me, and my clothes looked like my dad’s. I did try to do the odd weight training session to get some muscle back but there was simply no time, and the level of cardio was so high it was just futile.
Now you feel amazing when you are this light, and to be honest when you are wearing a tri-suit on race, (well they don’t really hide much) you want to be this trim, but it was not something I was expecting. 3 weeks later here I am back at 84 and trying to retrain myself not to eat everything I see, but wow you burn some energy in those 6 months.
I think I learned a lot about myself here, I was determined to train no matter what, I did have slip ups, I think I missed 5 days over the 6 months, but I trained in the dark, I got up at 3am so I could fit a 3 hour bike ride in when I had a busy day at work, I trained in the rain, the heat, I trained hungover, when it hurt and when I wanted to give up.
Overall I really enjoyed it and I do miss it, it really ramps up in the latter months where you might be running a half marathon twice a week before work, swimming once a week and doing long 3-4 bike rides on the other days.
Then there are the days you do a swim and run and go to work (you need a big gym bag to carry all these outfits and work clothes I can tell you) There are a lot of days it is easy, a lot more when it is hard, you doubt your ability to keep going on race day when after 2 hours training you feel dead, there are many many days you simply think, maybe I might be risking health doing this at my age, maybe I have an unknown heart condition, your brain is literally trying everything to stop you doing this madness.
Then you have the friend problem, first people laugh and think you are not serious, then when they don’t see you, they try to talk you out of it because you are now boring, don’t really drink, sleep so much and talk about new products you have read about.
If you have a family, they miss you, they don’t see you (the main reason I will not do another one). Finally, though they all come around, and so they should, it is so much harder than they can imagine to keep training and have a life. But if you follow the plan, it works, and you know it on race day.
I would guess that if I had not had a trainer, I would have injured myself from being overzealous on days I was feeling good, I would have missed more day’s training and under-trained overall and found the race much harder, my coach was $90 a month, so well worth it. Also an unexpected turn of events meant that Matthew came off his bike at high speed in the second month (training of course) and broke his collarbone, so I also ended up training on my own, I would imagine it would be easier with a buddy.
I trained with music, always music, it helped get through, but what I did not find out until the week before the race was that you are not allowed music in the race, (apart from some safety concerns when you are cycling) they want you to be in your own head the whole race, to doubt yourself, they want this be to as much a mental test as a physical one, so I think if I did it again I would train at least a couple of times a week without music to get used to this.
But I soon discovered what this was like once the race started, which I will talk about later. But I have to say that last week, when you didn’t train at all, you had a full rest week to let the body recover and get ready. I felt ready, I felt good and ready to go.
Just finished reading Part 2 of Steve’s Ironman journey? Get ready for more! Dive into Part 3 on our site to see how his adventure unfolds.