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Why my Soul NEEDS Ironman 

While every training session gives you a chance to reach your goals, every year presents the opportunity for new challenges and adventures in triathlon. Whether you are you thinking about attempting your first Ironman or thinking about how you want to do another one better than before, the new race season sits on the horizon, beckoning with its dreams of hitting new benchmarks, and testing out all your cool gear.

But wait, is that all there is? The big I-M is a huge goal, a passion filled journey and a significant time commitment, and below the surface of your training schedules there is probably a deeper excitement and purpose pulling you along.  Life is a balance of both the physical and the emotional, and there is no doubt that Ironman creates lasting healthy benefits for athletes and their families.

So, while personal bests and looking awesome are just fine, here are a few more intrinsic reasons why Ironman is good for you and why the pursuit of the Ironman achievement is very much worth your while.


1. You Are a Role Model

Women are strong role models for family habits. Kids pay attention what their parents do, and girls especially use their mothers as role models for behaviour. Alyce Barnes, an education researcher at the University of Newcastle in Australia coauthored a recent study that has linked active moms to active daughters, and how a mom’s physical activity has a direct effect on her daughter. “Importantly, our study has shown that mothers have an important influence on their daughter's physical activity in relation to their parenting for physical activity and behaviors," Barnes says. The study of 40 girls ages 5 to 12 found that those with more active mothers were more physically active themselves. And the more time a mom spent being sedentary, the longer her daughter spent in front of a screen. (http://tribune.com.pk/story/919912/mothers-best-role-models-for-daughters/). It’s not just your own daughter, but girls in general who need to see women taking care of themselves, being physically active and having fun. Actions speak louder than words in this case!

2. You Have Vitality and Health

Stay healthy, stay out of the hospital, and enjoy an awesome sense of well-being! Triathlon training prevents excess weight gain and helps maintain weight loss. Studies have shown that regular exercise boosts “afterburn”—that is, the number of calories you burn after exercise. Scientists call this EPOC, which stands for excess post oxygen consumption.

Data from the US department of Health and Human Services:

  • More than 2 in 3 adults are considered to be overweight or obese.
  • More than 1 in 3 adults are considered to be obese.
  • More than 1 in 20 adults are considered to have extreme obesity.
  • About one-third of children and adolescents ages 6 to 19 are considered to be overweight or obese.
  • More than 1 in 6 children and adolescents ages 6 to 19 are considered to be obese.

(*See my prior point about “role modelling”)

Related to obesity, triathlon training combats health conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, boosts high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good," cholesterol and decreases unhealthy triglycerides. This one-two punch keeps your blood flowing smoothly, which decreases your risk of cardiovascular diseases. Physical training can help you prevent or manage a wide range of health problems and concerns, including stroke, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, depression, and certain types of cancer, arthritis and falls. It’s long been known that running increases bone mass, and even helps stem age-related bone loss.

3. Your Brain Feels Alive and Your Creativity Soars

Women are often multitasking: balancing children, work, friends, a busy household and their own needs. Training allows a woman to ground herself, and re focus, especially during the times when the brain gets busy. Creativity and the brain power to tackle projects, brainstorm, and think clearly to problem solve tend to soar during and after workouts.

For the working world, research shows that adults who take time for exercise on a regular basis are more productive and have more energy than their more sedentary peers. While busy schedules can make it tough to squeeze in a swim in the middle of the day, some experts believe that midday is the ideal time for a workout due to the body’s circadian rhythms.

In a 2014 study from the University of Georgia, Thirty-six healthy, young adults who reported persistent feelings of fatigue were randomly assigned to a moderate-intensity exercise, low-intensity exercise or no treatment control group. Participants in each condition then visited the “exercise laboratory” on 18 occasions over a 6-week period. Vigor and fatigue mood state scores were obtained. Big surprise:  moderate and low intensity exercise groups reported beneficial effects on feelings of energy over their sedentary peers.

Creativity is related to productivity. Post workout is a good time for an office brainstorm session (consider a quick shower first). A heart-pumping run session can boost creativity for up to two hours afterwards. Supercharge post-workout inspiration by exercising outdoors and interacting with nature. Next time you need a burst of creative thinking, hit the trails for a run to refresh the body and the brain at the same time.

4. You are Happy

This is proven anecdotally every day by the post workout smiles and high fives a million people share. Training and racing is fun and makes you happy. The combination of personal empowerment through achievement and the endorphins is a powerful force in your life.

Triathlon training is simply a positive addition to your happiness. Working up a sweat can help manage mental stress. Exercise also increases concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress. Slogging through a few miles on the ‘mill is worth the effort! Exercise releases endorphins, which create feelings of happiness and euphoria. Studies have shown that exercise can alleviate symptoms among the clinically depressed. In some cases, exercise can be just as effective as antidepressant pills. And on those days when you have to force yourself out the door, even for 30 minutes, exercise still protects you against anxiety and depression.

5. You Feel Attractive Because of What You Can Do

When you know that you can ride a 180km and do Ironman like a warrior, the airbrushed magazine ads with so called perfect looking women start to lose their power.  Women who exercise gain so much more than a strong heart: they improve their body image as well. Your body becomes something beautiful that is strong, powerful and can DO amazing things. You’ll eat to power your muscles, not to attain an idealized look generated from marketing companies. This all points to the upwards positive spiral (of food, fitness and image) in doing triathlon for personal well-being.

While long Ironman days can be tiring, overall most women find that triathlon boosts their MOJO. Regular physical activity can leave you feeling energized and looking better, which can have a positive effect on your sex life. But there's more to it than that. Regular physical activity can lead to enhanced arousal for women, according to theUniversity of Washington.

Hop on the treadmill to look (and more importantly, feel) like a million bucks. On a very basic level, physical fitness can boost self-esteem and improve positive self-image. Regardless of weight, size, gender, or age, exercise can quickly elevate a person's perception of his or her attractiveness, that is, self-worth. Exercise to look and feel sexy!

6. You Are Pumping Up Your Brain

Your brain is shrinking! Ironman training can help prevent that. Aging and degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s kill off brain cells. Exercise and a healthy diet can’t “cure” Alzheimer’s, they can help shore up the brain against cognitive decline that begins after age 45. Working out, especially between age 25 and 45, boosts the chemicals in the brain that support and prevent degeneration of the hippocampus, an important part of the brain for memory and learning.

Worried about “losing it” as you get older? Ironman training will help you stay “with it.” A December 2012 study published in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review concluded that the evidence is insurmountable that regular exercise helps defeat age-related mental decline, particularly functions like task switching, selective attention, and working memory. 

Amazingly, studies on mice and men have shown that cardiovascular exercise can create new brain cells and improve overall brain performance. Studies suggest that a tough workout increases levels of a brain-derived protein in the body, believed to help with decision making, higher thinking, and learning. Regular physical activity boosts memory and ability to learn new things. Another study showed that running sprints improved vocabulary retention among healthy adults.

7. Your Confidence Soars

Training for Ironman boosts your competence and confidence. Whether we are 10 years old, or 45, mastering a new skill, learning to overcome obstacles, and pursuing a goal gives us something tangible to be confident about. Ironman is both a technical sport and a test of emotional stamina, and developing competence in these areas will grow habits that will start to trickle into the rest of your life and relationships. Whether it’s learning how to change your own flats, building and disassembling your bike, swimming in a straight line or descending hills well, Ironman will test your abilities and provide opportunities to develop skills. The courage it takes to sign up, and then the self-belief required to get to the finish line will grow your confidence. Triathlon offers a daily challenge that makes us better people.

8. You Sleep Better

Regular exercise can help you sleep better: more soundly and with better quality. People who train for Ironman have to pay close attention to nutrition and sleep to support the rigorous training and learn to develop sleep habits that are beneficial to overall rest. Things like making sure you have enough sleep (usually a minimum of 7-8 hours) become high priorities and going to bed early and at the same time each day has been show to improve sleep quality. Ironman can also get you back into the deeper reading required by books and literature, and off screens. Back lit screens are linked with lower rates of melatonin production and poor sleep quality. Reading may make you a nicer person (leading to the next point #9). Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University in Canada, and Keith Oatley, a professor emeritus of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, found that people who read fiction are more empathic and understanding. (http://ideas.time.com/2013/06/03/why-we-should-read-literature)

9. You Will Raise Money for Charity

Having a deeper purpose, and being a part of something more than yourself is part of why many compete in Ironman. Ironman is such an epic accomplishment, that it also creates a great platform for inspiring donation to a cause that is important to you.

Here’s a great piece on the IRONMAN Foundation:

“We all do triathlon for different reasons, and it's important to stop and look at the "why’s." Maybe you got into the sport to lose weight, or prove something to yourself. Maybe you simply love the activities of swimming, biking and running. For many foundation athletes, fundraising is the logical next step in using their favorite hobby to make a positive change”

There are plenty of bike and run race events out there held to raise money for great causes, such as cancer research, multiple sclerosis research and local organizations. Have a look at what’s going on in your area—most races give options as to how far you want to go so you can pick a distance that fits your training progression. You can use these “training races” to raise money for causes near to your heart. 

10. You Are Choosing the Best Addiction

Ever heard someone call running their “drug”? It actually is pretty similar. Running causes the same kind of neurochemical adaptations in brain reward pathways that also are shared by addictive drugs, according to a 2007 study in Physiological Behavior.

The brain releases dopamine, the “reward chemical” in response to any form of pleasure, be that exercise, sex, drugs, alcohol, or food. Unfortunately, some people become addicted to dopamine and dependent on the substances that produce it, like drugs or alcohol (and more rarely, food and sex). On the bright side, exercise can help in addiction recovery. Short exercise sessions can also effectively distract drug or alcohol addicts, making them de-prioritize cravings (at least in the short term). Working out when on the wagon has other benefits, too. Alcohol abuse disrupts many body processes, including circadian rhythms. As a result, alcoholics find they can’t fall asleep (or stay asleep) without drinking. Training can help reboot the body clock, helping people hit the hay at the right time.

So get out for a run, satisfy your craving, and feel good about your positive addiction!


Lance Watson, LifeSport head coach, has trained a number of Ironman, Olympic and age-group Champions over the past 28 years. He enjoys coaching athletes of all levels. 

Contact Lance to tackle your first IRONMAN or to perform at a higher level. 

For more training tips, visit LifeSport Coaching on Facebook or on Twitter at #LifeSportCoach.



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