I’d like to think that I grew up a good athlete. Made states in high school, MVP and most of my childhood I can remember running around doing something athletic. Riding bikes, playing football or basketball with friends, swimming, inline skating. You name it, I did it.
But as soon as I graduated high school, I stopped. Not on purpose, I suppose “life” just stepped in. I was going to school and working. Playing sports kinda just lost its place. I ballooned up and gained 35 pounds immediately. 2 liters of soda and pizza can do that to one. Not to mention the endless beer calories at school. Hush, we all drink a lot in college. Hence why they call it the freshman 15. I guess mine was the freshmen 35 though. Opps.
While I was heavier, I still watched sports and thought I could get back into it whenever I wanted.
However it’s hard to really take that seriously since I am 35 now and haven’t really been active until just 18 months ago. The working out and weight would go up and down since I graduated high school.
365 days is a long time. Duh, you are not a moron, but in 2018 I worked out every single day. Okay, I lied, Jan 1, 2018 I did not. But every single other day it did. It led me to the most rewarding year of my life and it started because my great friend Tim Ryan had at the time run something like 1,700 straight days. I said, that’s cool I don’t need to take days off either. What I didn’t expect was because I created one new habit, working out, that I would start several others and I would be in incredible mind positiveness.
I’m not a researcher, a scientist or some super smart neuro-something or another. I’m Zack Miller, just a guy who likes to do challenging things.
At some point after I graduated from college I started doing Crossfit, was in good shape and was all about working out. With that I somehow stumbled upon Rich Roll. I don’t remember how I learned of him, but my guess is that I saw an Ironman show on tv and searched how to train for an Ironman. And Roll’s podcast and content starting popping up. Roll is known as a vegan ultra athlete, but also one of only a few who have completed the EPIC5. Five Ironmans on five Hawaiian islands in 5 days.
That put this notion in my head that I could do one. I mentally added it to my bucket list. A list of things that I want to do before I die. As I looked at my bucket list in the summer of 2018, there was the Ironman race. I had a look in the mirror moment and simply said, either do this or delete it from the list.
Honestly, I think I had deleted it before and added it back once I started working out everyday.
I went on my podcast and said i was scared to commit to it. Too many unknowns.
But, one day I went to Ironman dot com created an account and signed up for the Ironman Eagleman 70.3 race in Cambridge, MD. I coughed up the 350 bucks and honestly I felt better. Even though i still had to train my ass off and actually do the race. I was committed now.
Having a great idea, a wonderful business or wanting to date the hottest chick in school is great. But actually delivering on that is that hard part. We all want more. But most are too weak to actually go get some. It’s beyond easy to have dreams. Achieving it is the difficult part.
So here’s what I learned in training and racing the hardest race of my entire life. The Ironman 70.3.
How to prepare for an Ironman 70.3 race
On June 9, 2019 I finished my first IRONMAN race and because of it being such a daunting task (an almost 7 hour race) I receive a lot of questions. All of them are the same. Just like with my first book, Anomaly, I decided to document the answer in writing instead of just answering the same question over and over. Questions like: what was your training schedule, what food did you eat, how expensive is it, what tools/equipment did you use, how do you stay mentally fit for so long? etc. etc. etc.
First things first. Just start. It’s not about what equipment or tools you have, what race you are going to do, what diet you should follow or training plan. Just start. Most people have elaborate plans and three days later are sitting on the couch scarfing down Pringles and some Natty Lite. After some time of actually working out a bunch, then you can start investing in better tools for the trade, but I didn’t buy my race bike until 70 days before the race. I didn’t buy the “race clothes” I was going to wear until a month out. And when I finally signed up for this race it took me months of convincing myself. I was terrified. But, I’m thrilled I finally pulled the trigger.
I set out to compete (actually let’s say complete) the Ironman Eagleman race in Cambridge, MD. It consists of 70.3 total miles to be completed in under 8.5 hours, of 1.2 mile open water swim, followed by a 56 mile bike ride and finished with a half marathon run. Going into this race training, I would call myself an expert swimmer, an intermediate cyclist and a big time nube on the run.
It’s not about what you use. It’s about Nike. aka Just Do It.
So, why do an Ironman? I like doing challenging efforts and tasks. They make me stronger. If I don’t have something hard to go after, I get bored and do nothing. With this race I knew I would have to put in not only a ton of physical effort, but it would change a lot of other bad practices around me that would make me stronger in my family, my business and with my friends. Oh, yea, and I guess physically too.
What was my IRONMAN training schedule?
Growing up I was a good athlete, would be in an active sport at least three seasons a year if not all four. I was an all state swimmer and left high school with four records. After high school, I coached a swim team for five seasons, so I have a smidge of experience in coaching. However, for the better part of the past 15 years, I’ve been out of shape. Early in 2018 I started working out every day (aka doing something physical every single day. No days off). Some days were long bike rides and some were some push ups.
The only race I have competed it as an adult was a half marathon, it was the worst experience of my life. I finished, but barely. I trained, kind of, but I wasn’t ready. I knew that if I was going to complete a race that was 57 miles more than the worst race of my life I needed to train. And train a lot.
I didn’t follow a strict training plan for Ironman. Rather I knew I wanted to work out every day and to build up to each disciplines distance before the actual race day. Meaning complete the full distance before the actual day of the race. I could swim the portion on one of my worst days no problem, but building up the cycle and run portions would take time. Roughly 3.5 and 3 hours respectively.
I felt that the majority of training plans that I read online were for a seasoned athlete. One that was for someone who could almost sprint this entire race. That’s not me and likely will never be. So instead of following a plan that was trying to solidify an epic time, I was again, just trying to finish. So I took the coaching chops that I did have and set out to simply finish.
The bike portion is the longest, so I tended to have the longest workouts on the bike, typically an hour each time. As for swimming, each swim varied from 1-2 miles mostly staying at the same pace and stroke (1:40-2:00 per 100 yard), just trying to get laps in. I’m a strong swimmer, so I just wanted to stay acclimated to the trade. Running is my weakest discipline, so I slowly ramped up the distance. I did a lot of walking throughout, but would hit the distance desired. I live in an area that is almost pancake thin, so if I wanted to do a hill I would have to run over the bridge. Runs started with one mile, then two, then longer and longer every 10-14 days. Recovery for these long runs took the longest of the other two sports.
If I ever write a book about this, you will learn about how I almost died (seriously) by running too far out without the correct hydration on hand. Silly Zack.
One thing I think is very important is that while I don’t take “rest days” that doesn’t mean that I am always going super hard every day. Sometimes, you just need to do the motions and go out for a run or ride to keep things flowing. I didn’t always do just cardio, some days I would do pushups or situps or something much lighter than a cardio workout. Just make sure you do something everyday.
The race took place on June 9, 2019 and I would say that I started putting in more “serious” hours starting at the fresh new year, January 1, 2019. I would go into workouts wanting to either hit a specific mileage point, time distance or difficulty. Again, my goal was to get to every distance before I did the race. On January 1, I could do more than half of the bike (34 miles) and just a few days later was swimming two miles in one session. Throughout the winter, I did mostly indoor training. I don’t like cold weather workouts or precipitation. Later, I think that would haunt me. I need to train outdoors more, no matter what Mother Nature is doing.
What do I do when I don’t want to train?
I didn’t take days off, but there are definitely days that I didn’t hit the mark that I wanted. Whether it be from throwing in the towel too early or something mentally got me, some days just suck. But, overall, I would say that 85% of the workouts metrics I achieved. Here’s the funny thing, when you finish something really hard, you smile. You realize you said FU to the mind who wanted you to quit. Say FU to your mind more and goat status will be coming your way. The best ever go through hell, you will too. Just don’t quit.
Inevitably, something will go wrong. I encourage you to find ways for things to go wrong in training, so that when it happened in the real world or on race day you have gone through enough “this is wrong” moments that you are prepared to push through whatever it may be.
If you miss a workout or it isn’t as strong as you wanted it to be. Understand that. Analyze why it happened and learn from it. On one of my long runs, I didn’t finish because I was dehydrated and didn’t have the necessary food and drink to get me back out. Learn from that and don’t do it again.
It’s not that you failed it’s that you learned. If you don’t learn from the roadblocks and falling down, that is failing.
What food did I eat on my Ironman Prep? What was my nutrition plan?
I’ll be honest, I ate terribly. The last 70 days I was always hungry and ate whatever I could and as much as I could. Processed foods, fast food, everything. Everything in my cabinets, chips, candy, you name it, if it was in my house, I ate it. I was hungry. That was bad, but I’m sure if I ate better I could have felt better too. But, when you train for two hours a day and just want calories you take them however you want.
That being said, I did 16-8 hour intermittent fast (did not eat for 16 hours a day, only ate from 10am-6pm) and I did not drink booze for the last 70 days. This cleared my mind very well and helped my mind stay laser focused for race day. I recommend that even if you are just a weekend warrior that at some point you stop drinking for an extended period to really get that body in gear. Cuz’ come race day, you will thank me for it.
You should probably eat healthy for a race. Fruits, good carbs, fats and protein. I ate that and a bunch of crap. Try not to eat the crap. And eat more of the good stuff.
That being said, I did eat a fairly consistent breakfast of wheat toast and peanut butter alongside a banana. That was a constant almost every day. When I needed nutrition on workouts I would eat a Peanut Butter Clif Bar, Lemon-lime or Fruit Punch Gatorade, h2o, salt tablets (long story) and I liked to chew gum while training. Helped with the sweat and the boredom. BTW, if you buy the powdered Gatorade you will save a lot of money. The premade bottles in stores are waaay overpriced. As you try to get more hydrated start your day with room temperature water + pink Himalayan salt and squeezed lemon. Your body loses a lot of sweat when you sleep so you need to replenish when you wake up.
How expensive is an Ironman race.
The race I did was 350 bucks + USA Triathlon one day pass (15 bucks) + equipment (roughly 1k). Once you have the gear it’s basically the price of the race + travel accommodations. My friend from college lived where the race was held, so that made it cheaper. I can see how these races could cost 2k plus easily, especially for a first timer. I went in trying to be cautious of my spending and spaced it out over a series of months. I didn’t know if I would ever attempt another race and $2,000+ for 7 hours of work seems steep.
What equipment, tools and apps do you use to train/race for an Ironman?
I wore standard Speedo goggles and Pearl Izumi tri-shorts. From a training perspective I also used an AudioFlood waterproof iPod Shuffle. https://amzn.to/2GRTs2J Which is amazing to have something to listen to when you are swimming. No longer do you have to talk to yourself in the water, you can listen to books, podcasts or music. Game changer. Buy this, you will be happy you did.
Giant Contend 3: I studied buying a new bike for a while. The bike I used before I snagged the Giant was the one my dad bought me for a high school graduation present 18 years before. I def needed a new one. I went with the best beginner road bike. I love it. https://www.giant-bicycles.com/us/contend-3 I figured I didn’t want to spend 2-10 thousand dollars on a bike, so I didn’t.
You will see options for road or a tri bike. I went with a road bike since I would be doing the majority of my rides not in a competition. Sure a tri bike may help more on race day, but I’m not a super athlete so I didn’t feel the need to spend thousands more for a super niche bike. The Giant is great.
Bike Gloves: https://amzn.to/33ns6Ln
Saddle Bag: https://amzn.to/2MR3Vzh
Bike shorts: These are mandatory once you get to a certain distance. I don’t know what that distance is for you, but at 30+ miles your bottoms will appreciate the cushion. https://amzn.to/31qdZDh
Bike shoes: I went with cycling shoes not tri-specific shoes because I figured I would rather have solid cycling shoes that I use all the time than tri-specific shoes that would be used on race day. If you do not plan on doing a ton on triathlons and heck even if you do, I recommend these shoes or straight cycling shoes over the tri-shoes. #outlaw P.S. These are only for the bike and not the bike and run. I found this confusing as well. You will wear two different pairs of shoes, bike shoes and running shoes.
Bike pedals: https://amzn.to/2Kt4KwN
I rock some Asics. They were 40 bucks at the outlet mall by me.
I have an iPhone 8. https://amzn.to/2GNPfgk Typically I use a sandwich bag to keep out moisture.
Watch: I didn’t want anything crazy, just something that was waterproof, told time and had a stopwatch.
Strava: Strava is the best fitness tracker in the game. The elite athletes use it. Follow me and my adventure here: https://www.strava.com/athletes/19386730 you can also signup on this page.
Audible: I listen to a ton of audio books and Audible makes it simple. If you don’t have an account get a free book on me. And if you want, make the first book, my book, Anomaly! #shamelessplug
It is very likely that your library has a free audio book account app as well. If you like to listen to books while you workout, check out audible or your local library. Without listening to something your mind goes wild.
In November of 2018 I met one of the investors in Calm. He raved about the meditation app so I decided to give it a whirl, again. I had it before but could never get into a habit. This time it worked and I mediated 200+ days straight. https://calm.com
I also use a habit tracker called Productive that I simply told I did or didn’t workout that day. I always said that I did workout. You should too, no dayz off. https://apps.apple.com/us/app/productive-habit-tracker/id983826477
How do you stay mentally fit for the race? Do you listen to music?
During training and on race day I prepared myself by treating every day the same. Race day would be no different. Yes, it would be longer and harder, but if I treated my training the same and visualized what I was going to do every practice, training session and actual race it would help tremendously. I would talk to myself saying this is your race or you need to slow down/speed up constantly. Usually if I was down I would just say something like go five more minutes and if I could get through that difficulty I would typically get back on track.
Sure, there are times when you want to quit or your are bored out of your mind. You either push through or your quit. I tried to push through.
Mediation helped a lot. Ten minutes every morning. I would wake up and meditate first and try to just get in the mental zone. I typically tried to workout before 10am every day, I own my own business so I have more flexibility to workout when I want to. It also made the gym or the trails less busy. Do not say to yourself, well I don’t have that kind of time. Yes, you do. It’s an hour a day. Stop BS’n yourself and do it.
When working out I almost always had headphones on. https://amzn.to/2H6i5ZR During Ironman races though, you cannot listen to music or audio of any kind. I used to think this was silly until race day and realized 1. You don’t miss it and 2. It’s scary out there and you want to hear everything. 3,000 people competed in my race and on the bike, you want to hear those passing you or cars moving by.
It was a mixture of audiobooks, podcasts and Netflix on my workouts. Yes, Netflix, if I was working out indoors I would bring my iPad and tether in on the bike or treadmill. Outdoors it would be audio only, mostly books. https://zackmillersays.com/bookreport/ I listened to very little music while training, less than ten days if I had to guess.
I was training a solid year in advance, but I really started focusing five months before the race. If you are thinking of doing a long triathlon, I would just start working out the disciplines and then after a while do each one for as long as you can and see how far it is. I’d be willing to bet, you can go a lot further than you think you can.
What clothes should I wear?
Most people wear some sort of a onesie singlet, I didn’t. I wore basically what I trained in. The tri shorts and a dry fit shirt and a cutoff sleeve to a shirt for a headband. I am a gangsta! I had some sweat resistant socks from Walmart that I’ve never been able to find again and I wore Asics along with some of the gear I named above. Keep it simple.
How do I recover?
A few days a week I would sit in the jacuzzi and try to get to the sauna at the Y if I worked out there. I averaged one deep tissue massage a month, but wouldn’t go until I was really sore. Pain typically went away after a nights sleep. I would seldom stretch, I know that I should, but I just don’t. I did however get plantar fasciitis during my runs so I rolled out my arch on my feet after runs with a lacrosse ball to try to remedy the issue. I still have it, but it doesn’t flair up as much.
As you get closer to race day, you are working out a lot so you want to sleep more. Naps are fun and help a lot. I would get 7-8 hours of sleep a night. It was a necessity.
I trained in as much heat as possible. Knowing that the race could be in the mid 90s, I wanted to be ready. This means you have to hydrate a lot. Not just water, but electrolytes, salt, lemons, etc. The worst time to start hydrating is when you are dehydrated.
What content should I consume to learn more about the race, training, etc?
When I finally pulled the trigger to race I didn’t know what to do next. So, I did what I think every single person does now. I Googled: “how to race an ironman”
What I didn’t realize until later is how incredible this was for me and my business. At the core, I am a marketing guy. I make people see campaigns and then throughout time convince them to buy whatever I am selling while always providing amazing customer service.
What I didn’t realize until that Google Search, was how much about Ironman I didn’t know. It’s not just about the physical aspects. Ironman is a science project. It’s the physical, mental, nutritional, and much more. But, If one doesn’t search for that high level question, they will almost never learn about salt tablets, brick training and what audio equipment you can use during an Ironman (trick statement, it’s none!).
Think of content as an umbrella or large tree. The high level big questions are at the top, but the really critical stuff is on branches. I now call this the Ironman Content Strategy. If you are in the content or business game, think about what the main question or two that your visitors are searching for and answer that question. Then trickle in other elements they may not be thinking of that is deeper in the well. You can almost think of this as college classes 101 level is the top of the umbrella, tree or funnel followed by the next layer of content 201 and 301 and 401. You get the picture. Just make sure you provide the big answer to their big question. Then you win their love and they follow you forever. Cough cough, if you like this, content, you likely want to subscribe to my newsletter. Ahem ahem. https://zackmillersays.com/newsletter
The brands that I consumed during my training were:
Rich Roll: https://www.richroll.com/
Triathlon Taren: https://triathlontaren.com/
Global Cycling Network: https://www.globalcyclingnetwork.com/
Lionel Sanders: https://www.lsanderstri.com/
Tim & Rinney: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-x04aB8xON4crkdN0-FMhw
What roadblocks or challenges were there specifically on race day?
As I walked in to set up for the morning of the race, they cancelled the swim. The one thing I was actually looking forward to, they cancelled. The “Chop”tank River was too “choppy”. So now my 70.3 race would be a 69.1 total mile race. Instead of starting at 6:45, I wouldn’t start until 90 minutes later. No longer would my swim be my warmup, I would go straight to the bike. Something I trained a lot of, but mentally I had to get in gear and fast.
I just said, this is my race and I can do this. I stretched and made some friends while waiting. My age group waited 90 minutes, we talked about training and just random stuff. I knew roadblocks would happen raceday, I had to be ready to move with the punches. Instead of dwelling on something I couldn’t control, the decision and the weather, I just focused on the race that I was provided.
Five minutes until I started, someone said, it’s gonna rain on the course, so be ready.
I expected weather. In years past this race would competed at high temperatures. 95 degrees just the year before. That’s hot for 70 miles and 7 hours of work, but I practiced through that with sauna training and trying to workout at the hottest part of the day when I could.
Funny thing, on race day it was mid 70s with some wind. Okay, a ton of wind. On the second half of the bike ride winds were what felt like 25+ mile headwinds. My speeds dropped 30-40% and I was pushing up-hill. But it was flat. All I could do was smile. It was just a simple roadblock. I was ready, I trained a lot and did hills and wind training throughout. It also rained the entire bike ride minus twenty minutes.
I was worried about transitions or brick training, the changing of disciplines and how your body reacts, but it was a non factor. The run was hard. I walked more than I wanted to, but I never thought about quitting. Not once. I worked too hard to not finish. My body told me differently, though. I heard it say, “Zack, ummm what exactly are you doing. Do you mind stopping?” The answer was always NO. Many would cave in and quit, but I knew it was just a few more hours of work, so I kept on.
As I drew close to a mile from the finish line, I knew I wanted to finish strong, so I pushed what I had left and with 100 yards left realized I had done it. I heard my name crossing through the Ironman branded arch and a few tears came out. Gosh, Zack Miller is a cry baby!
All the training was worth it. I did what I was terrified of. I did what so many said was impossible. I did what so many would never attempt.
I did it.
And so can you. Ironman is the most gratifying and positive community I have ever experienced. I’m addicted and I want more.
Podcast episodes talking about related:
I am terrified to commit to this. :: Zack Miller Says :: 254 https://youtu.be/OTa3ex-EG18
IRONMAN results. What happens when I actually have to go through with what I signed up for? https://youtu.be/3t6qGLrx11c
it’s your race :: Zack Miller Says :: 319 https://youtu.be/GDOhabuxzQU
How unrealistic can you be with your goals? :: Zack Miller Says :: 304 https://youtu.be/s3nTvvtTMOk
it sucks. it hurts. :: Zack Miller Says :: 295 https://youtu.be/2z3p5jYygGI
action before excuses :: Zack Miller Says :: 286 https://youtu.be/p0MI44SBPuY