A year-long journey ends with ultimate Ironman Arizona challenge

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

    The hundreds of hours invested, the thousands of calories burned, the six days a week training, all the money – which I dare not calculate – spent, that one bike crash, all towards that one goal: Ironman Arizona. And it’s here.

    The goal that I set for my 30th birthday is upon me. I’m happy to report that what is supposed to be an unwelcome visit from Father Time has passed by without the sprouting of grey hairs, the onset of arthritis, and the feeling of impending doom.

    After touching down in the US a week ago to try and beat the jet lag, I’ve never felt fitter or more full of beans. Having eased off from a heavy workload two weeks prior – which had left me aching for sleep – the body feels serviced after a year’s worth of mileage.


    Striking up conversations in the Ironman village also serves as a reminder that really, I’m just a young pup among age group athletes.

    Faces usually tell the story of someone’s life but the toned calves, sleek torsos and general sprightliness speaks for the age-defying sport of triathlon.

    John Croft is one such person. The 71-year-old, who hails from Montana, is heading into his fourth full Ironman – and there will be no shame if he, at more than twice my age, is chilling in the ice bath while I’m still slogging around Tempe Town Lake.

    Indeed, this event is a great leveller. No matter whether you’re a first-timer or seasoned vet, I’ve been told by everybody that there will be pain, there will be suffering, but the sacrifice is worth it. And it’s what makes everyone so relatable.

    Perhaps because of that, the atmosphere in the college town of Tempe, which borders Phoenix and is a fun six-hour road trip from Los Angeles, is incredibly welcoming. Americans are filled with a natural, friendly curiosity and a British accent only helps to make you an object of wonder.

    IronmanAZ (1)


    I’ll admit – I haven’t been crushing the acai bowls and salads in the build-up to the Ironman. I’ve watched my beloved Los Angeles Rams, witnessed LeBron James play for the Lakers, had a chuckle at the Comedy Store and taken a dip at Santa Monica beach. The hearty servings of food that go with all this have been great fun too and I’ve ‘carb-loaded’ my fair share.

    The conditioning hasn’t disappeared, nor has the trim(mer) waistline, and having a little fun isn’t going to cost me that finisher’s medal.

    The game face, however, is officially on. Kick-off is at approximately 18:00 GST this Sunday (November 24) and the recent rains have ‘cooled’ the lake down a touch – we’re looking at what will feel like an arctic 15 degrees celsius compared to Dubai.

    After the 2.4 mile swim it’s three loops of 30 miles, slightly ascending on the way out and onto dusty desert roads, though I’ve been assured there will be plenty of bike technicians on course that will help me with puncture repair (I’ve never had to do so) should it come to that.

    To finish we’ve been promised a two-lap run course filled with noisy well-wishers, which I’ll need to complete my first-ever marathon, let alone on the third leg of an Ironman.

    If you’re so inclined, you can follow my bib number 1986 on the official Ironman tracker app. Ready or not, here I come …

    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.


    Dmitriy Firsov – ILSS Dubai coach

    Leading up to the race Chris has been on the deloading phase, which means the hardest workouts are done and we’re in tapering mode. We’ve been reducing the volume while keeping the same intensity, trying to make his body recover as much as possible before the race.

    Tapering has to be done for the full distance – depending on the body and athlete level – varying between two-and-a-half to three weeks prior to the race.

    It’s important to ensure your body recovers slowly, to keep the performance tuned up while ensuring the day of best conditioning lands on race day.  If you stop training completely, the recovery would happen too fast and you’d feel very tired when the time comes.

    I want Chris to be strong, I want him to keep a cool head, to be rational and everything to be done on time. It’s like a theatrical performance – everything has to happen at a particular moment, with a particular line, in a particular place. I’m relying on his persistence and understanding of why that is important.

    The training has gone well, there were some minor things we’ve change before the race with the jet lag. It’s very tough for the body to adapt, which is why the workouts were structured so as not to overload.

    There’s accepted wisdom among athletes that the Ironman starts on the run, and the marathon feeling happens at the 30km mark, because then you don’t have anything apart from mental strength. That’s where you have to push yourself – the body can move as far as the mind can be pushed. I am expecting Chris to show his mental strength, as the body is ready – I am 100 per cent sure of it.