Sunday, September 9, 2012

The FIRST Ironman Experience

"Jeffrey Ford ... You are ... an Ironman." Potentially 4 of the greatest words a triathlete will ever hear. It still doesn't seem real. Did I really continuously move and hang aerobic for 11 1/2 hours?

Two weeks later, I'm back at the box and it still has sunk in. However, It's getting there as CFHH athletes and friends continue to come up to me and say that's incredible what you did. I get the: "How in the world can you do that?" and the "11 1/2 are you for real?" The best part about all this is that this wasn't another Boston. I left it all out there. I felt strong the entire way. I trained CFE to the core and compared to how the other athletes at Ironman Louisville looked out on the course. I was strong.

I've done plenty of marathons and shorter distance triathlons even a half Ironman, but the euphoria that goes along with a full Ironman event is completely different. I was in my head all day long and when I think about WHY I looked so different compared to everyone else is #1 - My Mental Preparation, #2 - My Training and #3 - The Support and Motivation I had behind.

Let's talk mental game out there. What did I think about? I literally focused on my next move all day. I asked the critical questions. Am I drinking enough water? Is it time to eat again? Oh man I'm fading, time for some Salt Stick. I give myself credit for the Focus on 8-26-2012. In the water, I thought about what needed to be done at transition, on the bike I walked thru the steps I'd take when I finally off and during the run I looked at the Carnage (and I mean Carnage, you can see a little on the right) around me and said "I feel good, I feel strong, damn do I look strong compared to these guys!" What mental aspects led me to a successful race?

1) Stayed in the moment  - Just like a Chipper WOD, I didn't think about the run until I got to the run. I thought about action steps. 300-400 calories this hour? 40ounces of water? 2-3 salt stick?

2) Trusted my training - Yeah most of these guys around me had weeks of 5miles swimming, 150+ miles on the bike and 40+ on the run, but was I worried? If you're not confident in your training its going to be a really long day. For example, when I got off the bike and came hauling out of transition there were athletes already walking the first mile. Really? Oh shit its going to be a long day. One of two things happened. They screwed up the nutrition or most likely got in their own WAY. Doubted themselves. Let the pain get to them.

3) This isn't tougher than 3x5K Repeats - I reminded myself of the work I've put in. The WODs that have absolutely LIT me up. The only tough day is the one you think is tough. I literally hadn't been running for 3+ weeks prior to Ironman due to Inflammation in my foot and during the marathon portion I didn't walk a single time, but to tie my shoe once. 

As you read in my last post, I stuck to the CFE game plan. About 4 S&C WODs and 4-6 Sport Specific workouts, sprinkling in many races and a FEW longer LSD workouts for mental and nutritional purposes. So how did my less than an hour, less than 30minute workouts, heck 15minute workouts prepare me for an 11 and 1/2 hour day??

1) Going Anaerobic prepares you for the suffering - Once you get to a certain fitness level it's easy to stay AEROBIC. It purely becomes a pacing and mental thing at that point. Everyday at CFHH I'm humbled. Whether it's hard "TOSH" 200m-400m-600m interval set or less than 10min AMRAP, I got anaerobic. My heart was used to working way harder. Staying aerobic was easy.

2) My body wasn't beat up going in - Its hilarious you show up to Ironman events and people are headed out for 40mile bike rides the day before the race. Crushing hour workouts right before they go 140.6 miles. It's taken me a while to get away from the "More is better mentality" BUT what I've learned from CFE and Coach Craig is that it's about QUALITY not QUANTITY. I believe that once I figure this all out that will be the day I qualify for Kona. I followed the CFE taper, let my body rest and did the best job I could during training not to push it when my body wasn't there.

3) Strength prevails... I can truly attest that the ONLY way I can improve on my time will be to get stronger. It was clearly not a CARDIOVASCULAR thing out there. People asking me weren't you out of breath? Its not about that in the least. Your legs feel like logs coming off the bike. On the run, all I focused on was good posture and ACTIVE pulls. You ask anyone out there that day how I looked and the they'd tell you the mid-line stability was there. It was my legs. Once those get STRONGER its on.

The last subject I want to touch on when it comes to my Ironman experience is the support I had and the motivation that got me to the finish line. I am still blown away by the CFHH team, Hilton Head Health guests and my friends and family. I truly believe I had to be the most tracked athlete out there on Sunday. I came back home and everyone expressed how inspired they were. "I saw your splits," or "Our whole family was following you," Like really, me? I think we almost don't fathom sometimes how many people have our backs...

You have so much time to think about things on the course. Your supports provide the motivation to keep going. The reasons for not stopping...

1) CFHH - Thank You. Craig your blog post about me, words of wisdom, and phone call before the race had me mentally ready to go. Athletes, the Ironman Mask is a Treasure. I will always have it on my wall. I say it every day that what we have at CrossFit Hilton Head is special. Unique and frankly fucking AWESOME. You guys allow me the opportunity become better every day.

2) Hilton Head Health Guests - Really you flew in for this thing? Speechless. One of our guest's rerouted his flight to come and watch on race day. For you guys it was an Ironman day too, up at 4am no sleep, hardly eating, on your feet all day! I don't think I truly realized how deep my roots have run. You  all inspire me to be better. To push further. What I found out over the course of the weekend is that you guys support me as much as I support you. Every single one of you crossed my mind out there on the bike. I mean you made shirts with my face on it! Oh and the flag? At mile 24 on the run, its all I could think about. Thank you.

3) Friends, Family, CFE - AHHmazing. On On Tri for helping me get the bike setup. Taking the time to go through changing a flat . Doug from CFE for providing the last minute advice and feedback during training. Friends, Family for believing and trusting. It was possible. Thank you.

As you can tell, Ironman Louisville came down to three things: mental confidence, trust in my training and the motivational supports behind me.

Here are the results: 
Overall -  315/2600
Age Group - 16/103
Swim - 1:14:26
Bike - 6:08:20
Run - 4:06:27
Total - 11:38:29

What am I proud of? 
Swim - how calm, controlled and collected my mind stayed throughout.  
Bike - I stuck to my intentions and nutrition. 18 - 19mph average is what I had on this given day. Stayed within myself and saved some for the run.
Run - Ran the ENTIRE distance. I didn't even walk the aid stations. Kept a consistent pace and pushed the last mile strong into the finish. I know I can do it faster next time.

For next time? 
  • I'm going back to the TECHNIQUE. Clearly, my right foot had inflammation because of a technique flaw. The response I received three weeks out had to have something to do with it. I know I am night and day from where I was, but 6 weeks of run technique progression is never a bad thing to go back to.
  • Get my BUTT ON THE BIKE. I've got to train my goats. Based off this round of training, I know I could have put more effort in here. Yes, I've only been on a bike for about a year, but 2-3 sport specific will be necessary to improve. 
  • Improve STRENGTH first. Time to ease up on the conditioning. If I am going to qualify for Kona, I've got to get my legs stronger. Next time I get off that bike it will be a different story.  
  • RE-TEST the nutrition. It went quite well this time, but it could be better. I need to find the sweet spot where my stomach feels better. Post-race it was rough. Body wasn't used to the crap I had put into it. 3Fuel was good. Larabars worked out well. Coke?
Anyways, this is quite the long post for a what was obviously a long day. To be quite honest it went by rather fast. I am excited for the next one. Mentally ready to get back to training, evolving and getting stronger. How's the recovery been? I did a regular WOD 4days after the race. This week was normal training, 4WODs 2 Swims, 1 Bike. No complaints. How's the other Ironman doing out there?

Remember, all you have to do is believe...


  1. Hey Jeff, great time on your Ironman! I, too, finished Ironman Louisville and it was my first. I didn't follow CFE very strict but pulled a lot of my workouts from the website. I am heading to a CFE seminar next weekend so we can try to start a CFE community here in Oklahoma. The endurance community is growing here but CFE is something new to these parts. The gym that I go to along with myself hope to build it up in the coming months. My sister and her husband just moved out to Bluffton, SC so when I go visit, I'm definitely going to have to check out your gym. Again, great job on your Ironman.

    1. Hey Dooney, Thanks! What a day it was huh? Let me know how the CFE seminar goes for you. I think it will give you great perspective and new ideas. CFE us quite new so I cant wait for you to test it out. Such a better lifestyle approach. Look us up when you do get to Bluffton. You can come workout on the house. Keep me updated on your training pursuits.

  2. Jeff...Im not sure you are still monitoring this blog, but I am signed up for my first in August, IM Boulder. I have just started the CFE approach and would love to pick your brain a bit as I find the CFE site a little confusing.


    1. Hey Mark - Sorry I've rarely been checking this old blog. You can reach me via email with any quick questions … I've been working primarily with a lot of IM athletes these days.