Train Ugly: The Art of Building an Iron Mind

kona

In just a few hours, I was meant to be meeting my training partner (JZ) in the East Bay of San Fransisco. We had planned a 14 mile run through the redwoods.

However, the sun was coming up and I still had a martini glass in my hand.

The Sonoma 140.3 Iron Man was just a matter of weeks away. Turning up to training was not an option.

After a three hour nap, and getting my usual Philz Coffee across the road from where I lived. I was on the Bart, and heading over the Bay to face what was ahead of me.

JZ was a star. He got me through every workout.

He always showed up on time with a new adventure planned. Always raising both of our standards and pushing both of our limits to a new level.  You could not ask for any more out of someone. (Another post inspired by him: Running Your First Half Marathon.)

Going back to my college golf days. I always played my best when I forgot about all things technical and just went out there and had fun.

When you sign up for an event like an Iron Man. There is going to be times during the day when you are not having that much fun.

These circumstances are hard to train for. But around mile eight, I felt this was a perfect opportunity to experience what an Iron Man may throw at you.

I was experiencing all the usual symptoms of a hangover:

  • My mouth felt like sandpaper.
  • I had a throbbing left the eye.
  • Every turn I felt I could be sick.

And on top of this:

  • My left hamstring felt ready to snap at any moment, due to no warm up.
  • I had no breakfast.
  • It may have been 12 hours since I had a glass of water.

These could all be excuses or reasons to not to be out here training right now. However, If I could run a sub-nine-minute mile hungover. Then when I am fully prepared, running half a marathon is going to feel a breeze.

This was the moment when the “Train Ugly” philosophy was born.

The week after, I did not partake in any Martini’s. I was well-rested and had an early night. This time, the 14-mile run felt like a breeze.

This is not something I would recommend the majority of the time. But now and again, I put this philosophy into action.

The scenic 7.4 mile course from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach is considered to be one of the most beautiful courses in the world.

The scenic 7.4 mile course from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach is considered to be one of the most beautiful courses in the world.

Here are some examples which helped me prepare for my first Iron Man.

Swimming

Every Tuesday evening, I would swim at the Inercontenel Hotel swimming pool. I was somewhat terrified of open water. Like many, I fear the unknown. Taking lessons from the above. The hotel swimming pool was soon replaced by the Dolphin Club  (An open water swimming club in the Bay of San Francisco.)

Dolphin Club San Fransisco

Dolphin Club San Fransisco

Icy cold waters, possibilities of sharks and choppy water. It certainly fitted all the elements of the “train ugly” philosophy.

Swimming in the Bay after the Presidio10, Held by the Guardsmen. A natural Ice Bath.

Swimming in the Bay after the Presidio10, Held by the Guardsmen. A natural Ice Bath.

I remember the first time I walked off that beach and into the open water. In just swimming shorts and a thermal hat.

The coldness of water attacked your chest like..

And every stroke I was taking, I was thinking….


When I turned up to the morning of the 70.3 Iron Man at Kona, I did not know what to expect. This was my first triathlon.

Having spent the last few months training ugly. Walking out in the warm crystal blue water in Hawaii. Once again, felt easy. I was starting to see the rewards of the “Train Ugly” mentality.

Iron Man 70.3 Kona. Happy face coming out of the water. Getting ready for 50 mile bike.

Iron Man 70.3 Kona. Happy face coming out of the water. Getting ready for 50 mile bike.

The conditions I were training at were a higher level and intensity than the day of the competition would ever throw at me.

Cycling

Cycling was my least favorite out of the three disciplines. I just sucked at it. And I did not find it enjoyable.

I needed to get motivated by the sport. So I watched hours of Lance Armstrong footage. I read everything about him. I wanted to try and understand what this biking bug was all about and how I could feel it.

Once again, I started with the lowest barrier to entry: Spinning classes. Why? Because; It was nice and easy.

But I was never going to get ready for the two Iron Man events. If I spent all my time in a gym with a bunch of beautiful women. As much as I wanted too.

I have never cycled on my own and out in the open.

I had to get out there, I borrowed a friends bike and went out over the Golden Gate Bridge.

Hawk Hill loop.

Hawk Hill loop.

It was a Sunday, and I had nowhere else to be. I decided to just get lost. I climbed up Hawk Hill, Mt Tam, Stinson and then to Bolinas Beach.

One of the best views in San Fransisco. Hawk Hill

One of the best views in San Fransisco. Hawk Hill

Determined to never get off the bike to stop. It was a 45-mile loop in total. This was my first proper bike ride I had ever taken. The 70.3 Iron Man demanded a 50-mile bike ride. The most I had done before was around 20 miles in a spinning class.

The climb back went on and on and on.

My legs were filling up with lactic acid and cramp. I had no water or anything to eat all day. And I was feeling faint.

That ride brought me to tears.

But, I never got off that bike. I just kept going.

A usual loop I would venture out on. Leaving from the Giants Stadium to Stinson Beach and back.

Another day: My usual loop I would venture out on. Leaving from the Giants Stadium to Stinson Beach and back.

Looking back, It was days like that which made me so much better.

It was ugly and it sucked.

I replicated many more of these experiences. Finding the steepest and toughest hills around San Fransisco.

When we drove the course the night before the race in Kona and Sonoma. I was amazed both times of how flat the course was. I had raised my own standards by “training ugly.” And I set new expectations upon myself.

What I may have found intimidating before, was now a gentle ride.

Getting lost

Getting lost on the bike in San Fransisco.

Conclusion

I learned that the “Train Ugly” philosophy, can be implemented and It works.

It is a way for you to condition and raise your level of performance in preparation for what you may be looking to achieve.

Crossing the finish line at Kona.

Crossing the finish line at Kona.

The train ugly philosophy is not meant to be fun, it is anything but fun. And when you do it right, you will know what you are up against.

I would throw it in once every couple of weeks to sharpen the toolkit. It will get you ready for when that day comes.

Enjoy, and let me know what you implemented.

(Special thanks to JZ, Tim and Alex – who taught me so much along this journey.)