Training Tips for Ultra Triathlons with 8X Ironman Finisher, Christine Suter

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The triathlon is in many ways con­sid­ered the pin­na­cle of endurance sport. The com­bi­na­tion of swim­ming, cycling and run­ning requires a mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary train­ing regime. It tests par­tic­i­pants phys­i­cal­ly and men­tal­ly through a gaunt­let of three races com­bined into one.

Then, there is the Iron­man. A triathlon with a 3.8‑km (2.4 mile) swim, 185-km (115 mile) bike ride and a 42.2‑km (26.2 mile) marathon may seem super­hu­man to per­form, but as tens of thou­sands of “Iron­men” demon­strate every year, it is actu­al­ly pos­si­ble to do with the right dis­ci­pline and mentality.

For a look at what goes into ready­ing one­self for an Iron­man, we chat­ted with Whistler, B.C. based  ath­lete and per­son­al coach Chris­tine Suter, who recent­ly com­plet­ed her ninth Iron­man event.

The Clymb: What kind of per­son is a suit­ed to attempt an Iron­man?
Chris­tine Suter: A lot of peo­ple come up to me and ask, ‘do you think I can do it?’ I just look at them and ask ‘Do you think you can do it?’ It more comes down to hav­ing enough time to pre­pare your­self. It’s like hav­ing a sec­ond job. You can go into it kind of pre­pared and make it through, but it makes for a very long day. Yeah, some peo­ple are more suit­ed to Iron­man absolute­ly. But I do think any­one can do it if you put your mind to it and take the time.

The first time I met a client she had a pan­ic attack swim­ming 25 meters — she could­n’t make it to the end of the pool. She start­ed off with a sprint tri, then an Olympic tri, then a half Iron­man, and this year will be her sec­ond full Ironman.

The Clymb: What train­ing load do you rec­om­mend?
Chris­tine Suter: Every­one is dif­fer­ent and can adjust their train­ing to the fit­ness lev­el they cur­rent­ly have. For the three months lead­ing up to race day you should be train­ing 15–20 hours a week and 10–12 hours a week in the month before that. Hav­ing a back­ground in one of the dis­ci­plines helps the start. 

The Clymb: What’s the most com­mon mis­take by ath­letes when train­ing for an ultra endurance event like this?
Chris­tine Suter: Over-train­ing. I attribute it now to train­ing out of fear. It gets close to the race and peo­ple react like they’re going into a final exam and cram before the race. That is the biggest mis­take. If you go in five per­cent under-trained rather than one per­cent over-trained, it’s night and day.  Train­ing while you’re fatigued makes it hard to main­tain form and that’s when peo­ple break down.

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The Clymb: What kind of injuries are com­mon from over-train­ing?
Chris­tine Suter: I’ve seen every­thing, but it’s main­ly hips, low­er back, and knees. The great thing about train­ing for a triathlon is that if you get injured in one you always have anoth­er dis­ci­pline to fall back on. You can kind of main­tain your fit­ness just by switch­ing from sport to sport. 

The Clymb: Iron­man is quite an elit­ist event, what are some of the bar­ri­ers to entry?
Chris­tine Suter: It’s an expen­sive sport. Your entries, your equip­ment, your rehab, there’s a lot. As well the lev­el of fit­ness and train­ing you need is quite high, so you need to invest a lot of time. With endurance events you learn how to endure, how to over­come the non-phys­i­cal bar­ri­ers. You’re alone with your­self for 12 to 16 hours some­times, there’s a lot of inner chat­ter that goes on.

I love triathlons because every­one com­petes togeth­er. Regard­less of age, shape or size, every­body’s on the start line togeth­er when the gun goes off.

The Clymb: Do Iron­man events get any eas­i­er after doing nine of them?
Chris­tine Suter: No! You know what to expect from the train­ing but race day is still race day. You still get the jit­ters, you’re still ner­vous, and that does­n’t change. My goal isn’t to qual­i­fy for Kona (the world Iron­man cham­pi­onships in Hawaii) any­more, it’s a total­ly dif­fer­ent ball game when you set those goals for your­self. You real­ly have put in the time and effort for that, it’s very dif­fer­ent from just going out and doing one.

All pho­tos cred­it and sub­mit­ted by Chris­tine Suter