Apolo Ohno’s Advice to Conquer an Ironman

Apolo Ohno competed in the Ironman World Championships with Team Chocolate Milk.
Apolo Ohno competed in the Ironman World Championships with Team Chocolate Milk.

Apolo Ohno won eight Olympic medals, but crossing the finish line in Kona was his most trying athletic feat. "It was bigger, harder, and more emotional than I ever dreamed," says Ohno.

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Over the course of six months, the former speed skater transformed his mind and body from a 40-second short track racer to a 10-hour triathlete ready for the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii (9:52:27 to be exact; including a 3:36 marathon at the end!). He shared his lessons and experiences preparing for and racing the 140-mile trial of endurance.

Put in the Time
"You can't cheat the training," says Apolo, who was fortunate enough to work with coach and eight-time Ironman women's champion Paula Newby-Fraser. With her guidance, Ohno started training 10 hours a week on top his regular work and social commitments. Eventually he ramped his weekly hours up about 20 per week to prepare himself for the 140-mile race. 

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Recovery Is King
"The fourth discipline of triathlon is nutrition and recovery," says Ohno. "But so many athletes get obsessed with doing too much work without focusing on recovery." While Ohno benefited from the training insights of Newby-Fraser, an Ironman legend, proper nutrition was still on his shoulders. For every workout, he says, he made sure to have a recovery meal ready. 

Train Your Mind
With 10 miles left in the marathon, Ohno's legs were toast and his stomach was in revolt. He wouldn't give up on his goal of a 10-hour finish, and focused his concentration on keeping his pace, no matter how awful he felt. "I concentrated on the moment and what I needed to do for every single mile," he says. 

To prepare his mind, Ohno practiced meditation and race visualization whenever he had a spare 10 to 15 minutes in his day. "It helped me keep control over my body, keep my heart rate down, and maintaining focus on myself."

Prepare to Sweat
Ohno says the weather in Kona was the biggest surprise on race day. "It feels like there's a hair dryer on you, even if it's dark and cloudy." The length of any Ironman takes you through the hottest part of the day, so Ohno suggests packing more electrolytes in your race nutrition if additional losses from hot and humid weather are possible.

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