Personally, I think of a certain fictional red and yellow armor-clad playboy superhero – not hundreds of regular men and women performing extraordinary feats of stamina and strength. But, that is the face of the real IRONMAN - an annual global triathlon known for its physical difficulty and intense length.
I had no idea what this crazy triathlon encompassed. A little Wikipedia research enlightened me:
“An Ironman Triathlon [consists] of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike and a marathon 26.2-mile run, raced in that order and without a break. Most Ironman events have a strict time limit of 17 hours to complete the race… [beginning at 7am] all finishers must complete their marathon by midnight…. the Ironman Triathlon became known for its grueling length, harsh race conditions, and television coverage.”
Last week, I got to spend some time with a real Ironman, practically playboy superhero (at least in the Physical Therapy world!), our very own Chad Woodard of F Squared PT who participated in the inaugural Ironman U.S. Championship on August 11, 2012 held here in New York City.
I sat down with Chad at our home base in Studio 26 and he was generous enough to answer some of my most burning questions...
Krystal: Ironman!? WHY?
Chad: Good question! There is something about setting a goal for yourself that seems impossible to achieve, working extremely hard to get there, and then proving to yourself that indeed you actually always were capable. That is what these races do for me. They remind me that I am able to do much more than what I sometimes think I am capable of.
Krystal: What did you do to train for this grueling race?
Chad: The training this time was 8 months long and involved absurd amounts of swimming, biking, and running! I did a lot of cross training with weights, as well as lots of yoga. You build up a base in the beginning of the training, and then just layer more and more endurance on top.
Krystal: What was running through your mind during the experience? What was running through your body?
Chad: What wasn't running through my mind is a better question! You face a lot that day. Doubts come up, you question why you're doing this to yourself, insecurities, and so on. You also have moments of the most elated joy you've ever felt. It is an experience in extreme psychological states! As for the body, you have to learn to ignore a lot of what your body is saying and just keep pushing on. At some point during the marathon portion, your body wants to quit! The only thing better than walking would be stopping. You just have to ignore it and keep going. No other way to reach that finish line.
Krystal: You completed the race in 12 hours, amazing! What do you remember when you crossed the finish line?
Chad: Not a lot actually. I spotted some family and teammates there cheering me on, and heard the announcer say through the loudspeaker, "Chad Woodard, you are an IronMan!" After that, it was all about standing still, eating, and relishing in the joy of what I had just done.
Krystal: You are a highly recognized and awarded physical therapist. Do you think physical therapists think about something like the Ironman differently than other participants?
Chad: We can't help it. We're total dorks! I certainly spend time considering what changes in my physiology are occurring during a long race like this. I don't know if it's particularly helpful, but it does run on a loop through my head as I'm racing. Maybe I am just bored and need something to distract me.
Krystal: For example, are you ultra aware of what your body is going through? Does your PT lens affect the way you think about a race like the Ironman?
Chad: I find my PT background gives me the science behind being lazy sometimes. I can easily justify skipping a workout due to some pending "tendonitis" or overtraining. Most of the time, I am just being lazy!
Krystal: A little off topic, You had a different kind of performance that week too – I hear you are a singer? Elaborate.
Chad: The secret is out. I am a closet singer, yes it's true. I moved to NYC ages ago to pursue a career in musical theatre, and after a few years decided it wasn't for me and I found myself on a fast track to grad school. My show last week was the first time I've been on stage in about 8 years. It was a great occasion, and raised a fantastic amount of money for Housing Works, an organization dedicated to helping people living with HIV to find housing and employment. The entire night was a rousing success!
Krystal: Singing + Triathlons, Artistry + Athletics! Both public displays of talent and ability! What do you think that says about you?
Chad: Clearly that I'm starved for attention...