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Train Like a Triathalete

You might wonder how anyone could run, swim, and cycle a total of more than 140 miles in an Ironman Triathalon.

On July 29, 1,800 athletes will compete in the Lake Placid, New York, Ironman Triathalon. It's a grueling race made up of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run. You may think you have to be a superman to do an Ironman, but you don't. It just takes the right training program. And even if you decide not compete in the ultimate physical challenge you may want to train for one. CBS News health contributor Dr, Jordal Metzl is going to try it, and he has training tips to improve your workout--even if you're not made of iron.

First of all, why are you doing this?

My brother dared me and it's the challenge of a life.

How grueling is it?

This race is like no other. It's been called the world's hardest endurance event. However, it's important to point out here that not all triathalons are Ironmans. Many cities sponsor small triathalons called sprint triathalons that are great for a person who is a moderate exerciser. These events typically involve a half-mile swim, a 10-mile bike, and a 3-mile run.

But whether you are running an Ironman triathalon or a sprint triathalo, doesn't training take a big chunk of a person's time?

It is a big time commitment especially if you are doing an Ironman, but there are many people like myself who hold down full-time jobs, have families, and find time to train. A training program should include all three events and you need to start off slow and work your way up to the distances you will be doing in a race.

Let's go through how someone should train for each leg of the race:


If you are a beginner swimmer get an instructor, because swimming in a triathalon is a lot different than swimming in a pool. In a triathalon you are deaIing with the currents, so technique is of utmost importance. Someone who considers him- or herself a good pool swimmer may not necessarily be a good ocean or lake swimmer. Another good way to prepare is to join a swimming club. You want to begin by swimming for a specific amount of time--let's say 45 minutes. Once your body feels comfortable being in the water for that long, you want to begin swimming by distance, eventually working yourself up to the distance you'll be swimming in the race. It is also a good idea to lift weights. This prevents muscle breakdown and overuse injury. You need to be very strong for this event. One of the scary things about the water part of the race is that at the start you have people swimming over your head.


We all learn how to ride a bike as a kid, but your technique will be very different in a triathalon. If you've ever seen a bike race, you'll notice how the competitors lean over the handlebars. This is called the arrow position. It is much more aerodynamic. Your training should also include strength raining in your legs. The stronger your muscles, the greater your endurance will be. If you live in a city, you know how tough finding a place to ride a bike can be, which is why I recommend spinning classes. But it's also very important to do on-the-road training. Many people do this on the weekends when the roads are less busy. Start off slow. Begin with a 1_-hour ride, working your way up to 5 hours.


Running in a triathalon is very different than running in a marathon or other road race. Remember, you will have just gotten off your bike, so the muscles in your thighs are very tight. In the beginning, I feel like I'm in the Jetsons cartoon when the guy is on a treadmill and not going anywhere. Again, as you did with the swimming and biking, start off slow. If you are running in an Ironman, which is 26.2 miles, your target time should be 10-11 minutes a mile.

Let's go through some of the medical issues triathletes face no matter wht their level.


This is the biggie. You are burning so much energy and your body is going through water as fast as you drink it. So the key is to prehydrate. That means drinking 1 to 2 liters of water the day before a race. During the race, you need to constantly rehydrate your body, especially during the running part. If there are people along the side passing out cups of water or a sports drink such as Gatorade take it. You should be drinking every 15 to 20 minutes.

Hypoglycemia and Hyponatremia

More commonly known as low blood sugar and low blood salt. Again, these conditions occur when you've been exercising for a long time. If you've ever watched a marathon, you'll notice people tearing open packets that they quickly gulp down. This gives their body a quick boost of sugar, which in turn, gives them more energy.

Heat Illness

The body gets very hot when you are exercising. Many people know how sweaty they get just from a 2-3-mile run. Well, imagine how hot you get if you've been competing for 6 hours! The problem is made worse because almost all triathalons are held in the summer months or temperate climates. You are in trouble if you are not sweating. Sweating means that your body's cooling system is working properly. If you're not it could be a sign that you have heat illness and it would be a good idea to drop out of the race.

How long do you expect the race to take?

I'm hoping to finish in about 13 hours.
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