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What If I Want to Do An Ironman Triathlon? – Tom Lipp’s Story

What If I Want to Do An Ironman Triathlon? – Tom Lipp’s Story

Senior Triathlete Tom Lipp took the plunge and competed in his first full Ironman triathlon.  Is an Ironman triathlon on your ‘bucket list’?

Its Starts With Inspiration

Track anyone’s start in triathlon or ask them about it. I am sure you will find ‘inspiration’ or some form of the word among the reasons they took part in their first race.  Someone inspired them.

For new Senior Triathlete, Tom Lipp of Aberdeen, South Dakota, the inspiration came when he first watched his daughter complete the Fargo, North Dakota half marathon.  The next year he ran the Fargo half marathon with his daughter and “was hooked”.

His first triathlon, one completed in 2012 with his uncle Kirby Martz, was the Sprint distance Bismarck Triathlon in Bismarck, North Dakota.   Later that year, he completed his second triathlon, an Olympic distance event, at the Young Life Triathlon in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota.

Exiting the water at Ironman Wisconsin

There are many stories of those for whom triathlon has become part of an active lifestyle.  Training for the first race leads to more training.   A second triathlon leads to a goal of improving performance “just a little”.   For many, these early triathlons lead to longer distance races.

While I have only completed sprint distance triathlons until now, I have certainly wondered about completing what I consider the ultimate triathlon – the Ironman 140.6 consisting of a 2.4 mile (3.9 km) swim, 112 miles (180 km) bike, and 26.2 miles (42 km) run.  I am sure that I am not alone.

So when I learned that Tom was planning to complete Ironman Wisconsin, I asked him to record and share his experience with other Senior Triathletes.

The rest of the post is based on Tom’s comments about his experience in preparing for and competing in his first Ironman 140.6.

As a preface to his comments, it is worth noting that Ironman Wisconsin consistently ranks as one of the most difficult.  In 2016, Ironman Wisconsin ranked 9th in difficulty according to Ironindex™.

My point? Tom did not only take on a longer distance but he did so in one of the more difficult triathlons.

Why Did You Choose An Ironman?

“The inspiration for Ironman came almost immediately after I completed my first triathlon.  I set the goal in 2012 after becoming aware of the sport and its history.  There are so many motivating and inspirational stories, and I enjoy the lifestyle it requires and the challenges it offers.”

A flat piece of the bike course at Ironman Wisconsin

How Did You Train For Ironman Wisconsin?

“I started training about one year before the race when a co-worker (a 2X Ironman) asked me to join a group of three others in training for Ironman Wisconsin (IMWI).

I really enjoyed training with the others in the group.  Training with one of the guys, in particular, made the hard workouts not only easier but enjoyable.  Unfortunately, our schedules made training as a group difficult.  In fact, about 90% of my training was alone.

Training plan

In hindsight, I am sure that a coach would have been a great asset.  However, I used a free 36-week training program that I found at trifuel.com.

I didn’t follow it perfectly—I did not do all the speed workouts—though think I should have followed the plan more closely.

Dealing with injuries

Full of motivation, I quickly and dramatically increased my running and biking.  Within two weeks, I acquired a sore left knee that would ‘pop’ and sore Achilles tendons. I spent the next few weeks stretching, icing and working out at a reduced level.

After my initial burst, I was careful with injuries. It is hard to know if the pain was something to push through or something that needed rest. If I felt a strain, I leaned on the side of caution.

I used a foam roller and cups of ice to massage the sore or strained areas.”

Tom’s Tip: To apply ice to sore areas, fill a frozen Styrofoam cup with water and freeze the water.  Cut the bottom one inch (25 mm) of the cup to expose the ice.  Rub the ice on sore or strained areas.

Tom Lipp, Ironman Senior Triathlete

What Was Your Experience From Ironman Wisconsin?

“I was first struck by the number of participants, nearly 3,000.  Compare this to the hundred or so for the shorter distance events I had previously done.

Then there was the course.  The hills in Wisconsin are VERY different from the hills in northern South Dakota.  I was not prepared for them and the bike course took a little more out of me than I had planned, which increased my run time.

The other thing that struck me was the support that the spectators gave us.  Ironman events aren’t like the normal triathlon. The crowds are huge and fan support along the bike and run make the race something to remember.”

The ‘home stretch’ at Ironman Wisconsin. The spectators, especially family members, make a huge difference.

What Have You Learned From Triathlon?

“Triathlon is the same as work or life. You need a goal, you need a plan, you need a reward, and most of all you need family support.”

It’s a family affair

“My family support was awesome and my wife Kami was incredible over the year of training.  She had more than enough reasons to be upset with my lack of participation in chores, my going to bed early on a beautiful summer night, and my general absence.  Instead, she picked up my slack.

Having my kid’s support throughout the summer and having them at the event meant a great deal to me.  It would not have been the same without them.”

Our bodies and mind adapt

“This experience has taught me I should never stop challenging myself.   Our bodies and mind are incredible and able to adapt to whatever we throw at them.”

Advice For Other Senior Triathletes

“What advice do you have for Senior Triathletes who have completed a shorter distance triathlon and are thinking about the Ironman distance?

  • Discuss it with the important people in your life who will be affected by your training.   Their support and understanding will be vital.
  • Complete at least one half Ironman distance race.
  • Commit, commit, commit!
  • Find a plan or coach to guide you through the training.
  • Increase slowly and take care of anything that seems like an injury.
  • Enjoy the journey—-It is worth it!”

Are You Ready To Tri?

A common misperception about triathlon is that Ironman = triathlon.  This probably comes from the world-famous Ironman Championship in Kona, Hawaii covered on national TV.

In fact, there are triathlon distances and events for nearly everyone – from Super Sprint to full Ironman.  There are triathlons in which kayaking replaces swimming.  There are even winter triathlons consisting of running, biking, and cross-country skiing.

Many events also make relay teams an option in which you can participate in one or two of the legs if you are not ready to compete in all three.

What Have You Learned From Training for an Ironman Triathlon?

I know of many readers who have completed Ironman or long course triathlons. What is the one piece of advice you can offer prospective Senior Ironman triathletes?

“Training for My First Triathlon”- Liz Lawson’s Story

“Training for My First Triathlon”- Liz Lawson’s Story

By Liz Lawson – It’s been quite the year so far!  I turned 54 last December and little did I know what the coming year would hold for me – training for and completing my first triathlon.

Even though I have lived in Raleigh, North Carolina for three years, I am still settling in.  Working from home resulted in me sometimes feeling a little isolated.   I was pretty down on everything.

Then, in September, a friend suggested to me that I think about training for a sprint triathlon.  She had joined a local training group and completed her first sprint triathlon two years earlier.  She said it was life-changing.

Deciding to Tri

I agreed to start training for a triathlon, mostly to not disappoint her, wondering what would happen.  I joined a North Carolina-based group called Tri It For Life (TIFL), whose focus is on getting women to move, and began a 3-month program designed to prepare me for my first sprint triathlon.  Our training was aimed at competing in the Ramblin’ Rose, a series of five sprint triathlons held for women in North Carolina.

I cannot say enough about how incredible this organization is.  Tri It For Life is volunteer-driven.  All the women who mentor the athletes have gone through the program.  And, all of them continue with their triathlete ways.

After I paid for the training program, I literally broke into a cold sweat.  I could barely swim!!  I couldn’t even complete a 25-yard lap, and certainly not using a freestyle stroke.  That forced me to do something I’d been putting off for years – learning to swim.  I was terrified of drowning.

Getting Started in Training for My First Triathlon

I enrolled in swim classes at the Raleigh city pools. Although I was gasping for air most of the time, I was feeling a whole lot more confident.  Then at the end of December, I had to have minor knee surgery.   By mid-January, all I wanted to do was get back in the pool.

The TIFL training started in February.  At the kick-off meeting, I started to realize this – the triathlon – was going to happen and I was terrified.   I hadn’t been on a bike for 16 years and was still hobbling a bit because of my knee surgery.  However, at least I could now swim the length of the pool without drowning.

I quickly learned that I was not alone.  Our group was definitely a ‘mixed bag’ – some of the ladies were great runners, but wanted to train to swim; others were good swimmers but wanted to train to bike.  Then there were those who deserved the greatest admiration, those who had almost never been in water, hadn’t been on a bike since they were 5 years old, and did not run.

There was no judgment and no competition.  We all had the same goal….to do the Ramblin’ Rose triathlon!

Our training involved swimming two nights per week, biking on Sunday afternoon, and running/walking one evening.   The intensity built each week.

Fast Progress in Training for My First Triathlon

Two months into the program, we were swimming between 500 and 700 yards twice a week.

The bike training started with learning about gears and how to use them.  Then, we started training on a portion of the actual route with some gnarly hills – one, in particular, was most people’s nemesis.  We started bike training two times per week.

Ramblin' Rose triathlon
The weeks of bike training leading up to the Rambin’ Rose prepared us for our first triathlon

We were also taught about transition, nutrition – every aspect of a triathlon.  The TIFL mentors shared all their experiences with us.

In addition to the training that was part of the program, groups of us would get together for additional training – an ad-hoc Saturday meet up for a bike ride or an extra swim.

We all encouraged each other – even on the days when we were thinking “I can’t do this”.  There was always someone to encourage us to take the extra step, do the extra lap, or get further up the hill before getting off to push.

There was no judgment and no competition.  We all had the same goal….to do the Ramblin’ Rose triathlon!  

Liz Lawson

One month before the actual event, TIFL held a mock-triathlon.  We put together all of our training on a Sunday morning – including transition – and did our first swim/bike/run.  This event was designed so we’d know what the real day would be like – what a wonderful experience.  We even got medals for finishing the mock!  The first medal I’d ever had in my life. For anything.

Race Day – Completing My First Triathlon

On the day of Ramblin’ Rose, we had fun. Yes, it was daunting to go from a training group of 50 to a race including 700 athletes. but we got through the event and there was nothing like coming to the finish line and seeing a big group of the mentors (now volunteering at the event) cheering us through and presenting our medal.

Liz Lawson celebrates completing her first triathlon

Continuing to Train

Once the event was over, I was so upset that my training time with Tri It For Life was coming to an end.  But as a result of our experience, most of us had ‘drunk the kool-aid’ and kept going!  I did another triathlon a month after Ramblin’ Rose.

Last weekend I did my first open water swim.  I can do 1000+ yards in the pool, though I am still working on the non-stop bit :-).   I’ve also signed up for the Tour de Femme bike ride and hoping to do at least two other sprint triathlons over the next year.

I’ve had a session with a running coach to learn how to do it properly.  I have some problem with my Achilles tendon which is keeping me back from running, but this doesn’t have to stop everything else.

We meet up and bike each week.  Some of the girls I train with will likely complete 6 or more events by the end of the year.  Participating in the IronKiwi was a blast – and a blessing as it kept me focused on continuing to train.

Once the event was over, I was so upset that my training time with Tri It For Life was coming to an end.

Liz Lawson

As I am writing this, I am on vacation for two weeks, but can’t wait to get back and get started again.  I’ve learned so much.   It’s changed my life and I just want to keep going.

What Was Your Experience Training For and Competing in Your First Triathlon?

Let us know your experience with your first triathlon and what you learned through it.

Share your comments below.

This post was originally published on July 5, 2016. It was updated with new formatting on January 13, 2021.


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