Our reporter gears up for Ironman challenge with help from ILSS Dubai

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  • Sport360°’s Chris Bailey has signed up for the challenge of his life – an Ironman. Follow his 10-month adventure as he prepares his body for a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile cycle and a marathon to finish …

    For a long, long time I felt mild horror at the prospect of going to the gym. Not for the pain, but for the sheer mundanity of it all.

    Whether it was listlessly grinding out 5km after 5km on the treadmill, or pumping out deadlifts until I dropped dead from sheer boredom, I figured that going through the motions was an unavoidable truth of healthiness.

    I didn’t even know I needed a challenge until it dropped into my inbox – an invite to the ITU World Triathlon in Abu Dhabi last March.

    My swimming needed work. My running needed heavy repairs. And my cycling … I had barely picked up a bike for 15 years. But I entered and after four or five weeks of extremely spotty training, I lumbered around the sprint course at Yas Marina.

    It was exhausting, and uncomfortable teetering on painful. The feeling of crossing the line, though, was exhilarating. Having been sedentary for much of my life, it felt like a real accomplishment.


    So naturally, I sought out my next challenge – an Ironman in Tempe, Arizona. Just like a sprint triathlon, but 200km longer.

    Facetiousness aside, during the rest of 2018 it slowly sunk in that scouring a few websites and loosely following a random plan would slap a ‘DNF’ next to my name.

    November 2019 suddenly felt close. If I had a diary there’d be no excuse to not jot it down. So I enlisted the help of I Love Supersport Dubai (ILSS), the organisers of the Ironstar SwimRun on JBR in November that I worryingly wheezed around.

    Thankfully, these guys know what they’re doing. You only have to look at the curriculum vitae of Dmitriy Firsov, an elite endurance athlete who will also be a familiar face (particularly on Wednesday mornings at the seafront to anyone involved with TriDubai).

    Dmitriy was a national team triathlete for his native Ukraine and, while a full-time coach with ILSS, recently completed the Ironman 70.3 in Bahrain in a stonking time of 4:08:20 – good enough for second in his category.

    When he sat me down and explained what it’d take – every ounce of effort and then some more – I felt strangely reassured.

    He regaled me with a story of when he broke a bone in his hand a few days before an Ironman in Mallorca and told the aghast doctor not to wrap it up in a cast as he wouldn’t be able to compete properly. Did it affect his time? Well, maybe by a few minutes. Completion was never a doubt.

    For now – at least – my body is whole. And having witnessed young and old, weighty and thin, all finish Friday’s Ironman 70.3 in Dubai, the last wisps of any excuse melted away.

    As Dmitriy explains below, the first part of the training programme is called the dragging-in phase. So, feeling a little like Michael Corleone, I’ve allowed myself to be pulled in. Keep a life raft handy.


    Dmitriy Firsov

    The first thing you have to do – with any long-term goal – is to find someone who will give you understanding of the basic timeframe for completing the competitions. When you’ve understood how much time it takes, go ahead and buy a slot and find yourself a coach.

    The preparation time for an Ironman, depending on the level of the athlete, is nine to 12 months – so 10 months for Chris should be more than enough as well.

    I have been preparing a few students for an Ironman and make no mistake, this is a hard endurance programme. First and foremost you have to be prepared mentally – you have to be tough and understand from the very beginning what goes into it and what you have to pay attention to.

    The mental part is the most important thing – if you are strong mentally, you are capable of doing any workout, any training, and you will be successful in competing and reaching your goals.

    Schedule a training session so the coach has to assess you, and prepare a structured training plan. Concentrate on the nutrition basis as well to understand the midterm realistic goals in order to get through an Ironman. Discipline will guide you to success.

    Chris has started with the dragging in period. This is a phase at the first weeks of the training programme, to prepare the body for the loading and understanding its capability and limits for now. That prepares the body for the testing period to come – to make sure and understand what those limits are, and how to properly load it.

    I Love Supersport Dubai is the premier international endurance sports school. No matter your age or ability, achieve your goals as a swimmer, runner, cyclist and triathlete under the tutelage of some of the region’s best coaches. Visit dubai.ilovesupersport.com for more details.