Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Balboa vs Drago: Ironman vs Ultra Distance vs Death Race

I always get the same response when I describe to someone what I'm doing in Vermont.

"Ummm, you mean, uhh, like in Rocky IV?"
(I'm from Jersey so please imagine the vocal inflections.)

And all I can respond is, "Kinda, yeah."

Every day now I'm training by moving piles of rocks around.  I'm carrying backpacks of lumber up 1000' ft climbs to a mountain's summit.  I'm running through waist deep snow.  I chop wood with a big ax.  I go running along frozen roads and rivers.  I grew a beard.  I LIVE IN A BARN.

I actually begin to question the impact Rocky IV must have had on my subconscious when I was growing up.  I mean, I did watch it every time it was on TBS.  In fact, I watched the whole marathon every time it was on.  I had it on VHS, too.

I distinctly remember being 6 or 7 years old and taking a pair of old clunky roller skates that were the heaviest thing around and doing bicep curls with them.  Afterwards, when my Mother asked if I wanted grilled cheese or Spaghetti O's for lunch I replied, "I'd like steak!"

(Aside:  And does it mean that I'm old that I can remember a time when it was OK to hate Russians.  You were supposed, too!  I mean, Sly had to make Rambo IV all about Cambodia, leaving his Russian fetish aside after Rambo II and Rambo III.)

For those of you who are not a male between the ages of 20-65 this might help explain what I'm talking about.  If you are a male between the ages of 20-65, enjoy!

Ok, now that we're all fired up, let me get to my point.  I know, I this moment you are downloading Hearts on Fire and are getting ready to go run...

Anyway, the juxtaposition of training methods is truly the embodiment of the difference between training for Ironman and training for Ultra Distance races.  Particularly the Death Race which I'm signed up for in June.

I've done 5 Ironman competitions including Kona.

Now I will come out and say that in terms of functional fitness I was not the greatest as an Ironman.  Many are, I'm sure, but I was not.  I could swim, bike, and run like an animal.  Ask me to move a couch or help you nail sheetrock to a ceiling and I was helpless.  I wouldn't even try, actually, because I'd be risking injury.  I'd be all, like, well if I didn't have to get to my masters swim class right now and eat my chia seeds I'd be there for you, but you know how Ironman training is...

Excelling at Ironman was about specificity.  You had a rigid program and if you stuck to it you had a damn good chance of succeeding.  Any of the 700 books on doing an Ironman will get you to the finish line.  Be diligent and you'll crack 12 hrs.  Train hard and you'll be under eleven.  Make it a lifestyle and you might beat the 10 hr mark.  (Full disclosure:  I've never cracked 10.)

And with all these 700 said books there is one thing that is definitely out of the equation:  guesswork.

When I was an Ironman I had every workout planned 6 months in advance and every race charted two years out.  I counted calories burned and consumed.  I engineered each workout in terms of duration, intensity, and frequency.

I love Ironman.  I always will.  It is the greatest popular endurance sport.  Period!  It's full of passion, glory, commitment, drama, and humanity.  It's awesome.

But now I'm trying something different.

Training for things like 100 mile snowshoes and 100 mile trail runs don't fall into this guesswork-less category easily.  The Spartan Death Race absolutely does not.  In these you just need to be rugged strong, intense, determined, and crazy.

Yes, yes, yes, you have to be all those to be a great Ironman, too, I know.

My point is you have to throw out the old training manual with the crossover.  This is what I found out.  Being a pretty elite Ironman does not make me even an average ultra distance athlete.  Folks, Ironman is short!  I'm going to say it.  People are out there running 250 miles at a clip.  They ride their bikes across America in 8 days, on 90 minutes sleep a night!  My boss snowshoed the Iditarod without tent of shelter in -30 degree weather.  People die out there with freaking dog teams.

This doesn't mean it's tougher, it's just different.  In all aspects.

And thus, we come to Rocky and Ivan.  Here they went head to head and rocky came out on top.

Who would win between an Ironman and an ultra distance athlete or Death Racer?

Who knows, it be a disaster unless one of them knew how to box!  The Ironman would win at Triathlon, the ultra runner would win the 100 milers, and the Death Racer would finish the Death Race.  Not rocket science.

What will be interesting, tho, is how I perform at an Ironman this year while training for ultra distance and the Death Race.

Here we can return to Rocky IV.  I'm using a 100 mile ultra run as prep for an Ironman two weeks prior to IM TX.  Very non-traditional.  Ballsy?  Yes.  Stupid?  Probably.  Fatal?  But doesn't Rocky teach us to pull for the underdog, and that his 'heart on fire' will pull him through?

As an Ironman I used to try and be Ivan.  Now I'm good old Sly each and every day.

Pittsfield, VT.  You can count my sit-ups while I hang from the rafters!


  1. Thanks Clynton, Thanks for subscribing. YOU keep up the work. Great Twitter you've got going!

  2. good luck! do you know details of the death race? the spartan website says very little, including lack of distance or obstacle specifics. Just curious how your training is helping prepare you for it, or if you're going with a "train for 'really far distance' and try to be as well-rounded strong as possible for whatever may be out there" mentality :)

  3. I know as much as you, except I know the terrain. Which is STEEP.

    I'm focusing on being strong yes. I'm used to being a scrawny and fast triathlete, but now I'm out there throwing large objects around. Also focusing on just sheer mental focus and ability to set aside discomfort.

    I'm going with train for my crazy race schedule which includes all the peak races at + an Ironman...and then hoping that's enough! See about two blogs ago for my schedule

  4. Like your post. You're saying what coach Glassman at Crossfit has being saying for years - train for the unknowable.

  5. That's awesome. Crossfit is a really awesome movement in fitness. Would love to try it sometime!