Editor’s note: Second in a series.
WALLINGFORD — Wearing a red sweatshirt, sweatpants and carrying a small black gym bag, Larry Wood walked through the doors of the YMCA at 5:24 a.m. last Tuesday.
“You’re early and I’m late,” Wood said as he let out a soft laugh.
Wood, a 67-year-old town resident, is a triathlete. He’s entered six Ironman triathlons and about 20 Half Ironman triathlons. He has his eyes set on Ironman Florida, which takes place in Panama City Beach, Fla., on Nov. 2. Wood participated in the same Ironman competition last year, but had to drop out after 5 miles into the marathon due to an injury he sustained months before race day. Wood believes completing the race this year will make up for his performance last year.
An Ironman triathlon has participants covering a total of 140.6 miles — 2.4 miles swimming, 112 miles biking and 26.2 miles running. A Half Ironman has participants completing 70.3 miles — made up of a 1.2-mile swim; a 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1-mile run.
After training lightly the previous week and completing a sprint triathlon on Saturday, Sept. 7, Wood’s Ironman training began last week. Usually, his day begins at the Wallingford YMCA, 91 S. Elm St., where he starts working out as soon as the doors open at 4:30 a.m.
Seven days a week, Wood works on his endurance and technique in swimming, biking and running. Each day incorporates workouts aimed to develop either his strength, speed or endurance. His training schedule is created by his coach, Kelli Montgomery, who creates workouts that are tailored specifically to each of her athletes. In Wood’s case, Montgomery said she emphasizes more strength workouts.
“Larry’s strength is that he has a lot of endurance. With Ironman training, I definitely try to make sure he’s doing a lot of strength workouts,” Montgomery said. “Ironman just doesn’t require endurance, it requires a lot of strength ... With Larry, he’s got that endurance. We just want to make sure we’re emphasizing strength and a little speed.”
After changing into compression shorts, a gray singlet and his Newton Gravity’s, Wood was ready for his workout. His workout on Tuesday targeted those two specific areas. Wood began by warming up on the bicycle. He raised the seat height, sat down, put his feet in the basket-pedals and started to pedal. Occasionally, Wood would reach down to adjust the tension — each time he increased it his cadence, or the revolutions, would drastically slow. Increasing the tension and fighting to continue pedaling builds up his leg strength. His usual warm up takes 55 minutes, where he alternates between pedaling with high tension for a minute and normal tension for another minute. But because he got to the YMCA an hour later than usual, he had to cut his bike workout short.
From there, he transitions to the treadmill. He tries to be quick when moving onto the next phase of his workout, which is important because it simulates race day, Wood said. On the treadmill, he was supposed to do another interval workout — running 10 minutes at a hard pace for four repetitions. He started his first repetition at half-marathon race pace and eventually sped up to 10K race pace.
Starting at a slower pace and finishing faster prepares the mind, Wood said. It teaches an athlete to get used to the feeling of discomfort — so on race day, when the muscles and legs begin to burn, it’s something to expect, Wood said.
“Going slower first gets your legs warmed up,” Wood said. “(Triathlons) are hard. You’re getting off the bike and you start to run. You’re using your muscles very differently and they don’t really want to work so well early on.”
The majority of athletes training for something, whether it’s a 5K or an Ironman, would usually incorporate a rest day into their training schedule. Training every single day can put the individual at risk of “burning out,” or over-training. When asked if Wood was afraid of this risk by constantly training, he shook his head.
He acknowledged it could be an issue for some, but never for him — something he largely credits to Montgomery. If needed, she’ll include an easy day or rest day for her athletes. Similar to how she creates workouts, the schedules vary from athlete to athlete. Montgomery said Wood is good at recognizing when he needs to scale back his workouts. Other athletes, she said, follow everything on a schedule.
“You need to learn how to read your body,” she added. “It’s important to know when you race. You learn when to not step off too much.”
Another benefit of triathlon training is that each workout has the athlete doing something different, Wood said. If his muscles are sore after a long bike ride, the next day’s workout has him in the pool swimming — using different muscles, Wood said. Montgomery emphasized the importance of following the schedule exactly how it’s set up because each workout allows an athlete to recover properly.
“If an athlete takes their schedule and switches it, they won’t recover well and can potentially over-train,” Montgomery said.
In addition to riding, running and swimming, Wood also does strength workouts. He reflected on the first time he met Montgomery.
“She looked at me and said, ‘You need to put some muscle on,’” Wood said as he laughed.
But it could be difficult for Wood, Montgomery said, because as a person ages, they slowly lose muscle mass. By having Wood do strength workouts, “it’ll slow that process of losing lean muscle mass,” according to Montgomery.
While some may shy away from training every day for two months, Wood said he thrives on it. If he wasn’t training, he’d be doing something every day, he said. As he stopped pedaling, he grabbed his towel and wiped his forehead.
“No rest for the weary,” Wood said. “From here on out.”
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