The annual Hawaii Ironman in Kona, Hawaii is this Saturday. I am lucky enough to be here for my husband Scott to compete in the race. You may have seen the televised highlights of the race in the past. It is usually shown a few months after the race and condenses the 8 to 17-hour race into 90 minutes.
Of course, it is incredible to be here. Hawaii is paradise, and I am on vacation. It is blazing hot, so the only thing that makes senses to do is be in the water, either pool or ocean. The ocean water is warm with a reported average temperature of 79 degrees. The snorkeling here is amazing, so we can just float around in the water and look at pretty fish and coral. Hard to imagine competing in any race, much less an Ironman in this heat.
Scott worked hard to get here. He had to qualify by competing in 1 of the many Ironman events throughout the world. It took him four tries. The vast majority of the athletes competing here qualified by placing well at another Ironman race. These athletes are not just Ironman finishers, an athletic achievement in and of itself, but the fastest in their respective age groups. A few celebrity athletes like Hines Ward, retired professional football player, or Apollo Anton Ohno, Olympic speed skater, competed without qualifying first, and there are a few spots available for people with inspiring stories. For the most part, however, this race is the best of the best.
Kona is not a big place, and it is full of people participating in one of the most difficult endurance events in the world. Everywhere you look people are incredibly fit, lean and toned. You have to be if you are going to propel yourself by swimming, biking and running, over 140.6 miles.
Supporting my husband’s training over the last five years has not always been easy. It takes an enormous amount of time, but I like coming to the races, especially in Hawaii.
Triathlon, in general, and Ironman, in particular, is a community with its own culture, the gear, the nutrition, the lingo. I like being a part of it even though I am not competing in this race. I compete in triathlons as well, but I do the shorter ones, sprints, and Olympic distances.
Unlike Scott, I am not very fast. But I enjoy it. I exercise 5-6 days per week because I want to. The best way to exercise is to find something you like. Research shows that if you don’t enjoy your exercise routine than it is less beneficial, perhaps because people compensate for their displeasure by eating more, or moving less outside of their workouts. I think it’s more than that, however. When you enjoy something, it makes you happy, and there is tons of scientific data proving that happiness improved health.
The incredible Ironman athletes illustrate this perfectly. On average, training for an Ironman takes 10-20 hours per week. You have to love swimming, biking, and running to train that much. As a result, they are in incredible shape. If you are exercising just to lose weight or to fit into a piece of clothing, you are less likely to enjoy it, and thus less likely to appreciate the many benefits.
When you exercise for the joy of the activity, you want to do it. You look forward to it and then dedicating 10-20 hours/week becomes possible. I am not in any way suggesting that you should start training for an Ironman or that you must commit 20, or even 10, hours/week to exercise. In fact, the CDC, (Center for Disease Control) and the WHO (World Health Organization) recommend a minimum of 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week. For additional benefit, 5 hours/week is recommended. Studies show that exercising more than 5 hours/week does not provide any added benefit.
For most people, Ironman training is too much and results in injury, burnout or exhaustion. What it does get right is the passion for the sport. Triathlon isn’t for everyone, but with so many other ways to be active, you should be able to find something that you enjoy and gets you moving. Don’t exercise just to lose weight. Do it because it feels good and make you happy.