Every triathlete has a training regimen to get in shape for any race and, naturally, the longer the race the longer the training. But when you’re running, biking, and swimming through the unforgiving environs of the Antarctic you have to take special measures to prepare, right? According to the Iceman himself, Anders Hofman, training for the world’s first Antarctic Ironman is not as unusual as you’d think. In our continuing, exclusive, profile of Hofman he shares the secrets to his success.
Most of Anders’ training has consisted of standard triathlon training, even following the common “80/20 rule,” that trainers have shown to be effective for any athlete attempting to build greater endurance. The methodology is simple, eighty percent of your training is “low intensity,” where your heart rate remains below 70% of it’s maximum pulse, while the final twenty percent of your training exists in “high intensity” bursts, pushing through seventy percent of your maximum pulse up to the full hundred. According to Anders, and multiple studies, “this is the most effective way to gain the endurance needed for ultra distance events, like an ironman, and help to minimize potential injuries.” The 80/20 system, coupled with normal swimming, biking, running, and strength training, provides the baseline necessary for Anders’, or any potential Ironman participant’s, athletic requirements.
Of course, when running the Iceman, there will be multiple factors beyond simply going the distance for Anders to contend with, possibly most notably the cold. This is where Ander’s training regime gets a bit more unique, “I do extreme training like taking ice baths, running or spinning in a cooling container in minus 30 degrees Celsius, running and biking in deep sand, etc.” By using the sand to simulate the resistance provided by traveling through snow and training inside freezers colder than the average temperature in Antarctica, Anders has created systems to mimic what his body will experience during the Iceman. Coupled with several trips to the world’s coldest climates (Anders has already completed triathlons and training in Greenland, Iceland, and Svalbard, Norway) to get some first-hand experience, Anders can prepare his body for the shock of exercise in temperatures most humans would avoid all together.
Still, the most daunting task of all – the three-point eight-six kilometer swim – is the most vital to prepare for. The distance itself isn’t the biggest hurdle; it’s the natural reactions the body has to the frigid waves of the Antarctic oceans. These autonomic responses exist not in the muscles, but the mind. They are reactions that exist to protect people, but in this context, reactions to the cold are only going to hinder Anders’ ability to swim and stop him from reaching the finish line. To counteract this suddenly unhelpful biological response, Anders has taken to training his brain just as diligently as his body in preparation for his polar plunge.
In his own words, Anders describes the process of teaching his body to overcome the shock of water just above the point of freezing: “I wanted to see how much longer I could stay in ice water by jumping in ice water 7 days in a row. The first day I could only stay in for 35 seconds until my mind gave up, on the 7th day I stayed in for 11:05 minutes (a 1800% improvement), this really showed me how much it’s all about power over your mind, staying in control of yourself and your breath, as I couldn’t possibly have changed that much physically in that short period of time.”
As much of a physical challenge the Iceman poses to be, Anders makes it clear that it is these mental barriers that pose the greatest challenge. But even those he has no fear for saying, “I’ve practiced my entire life. For me, you get mentally ready by progressively and continuously pushing yourself. A sharp body helps me stay sharp mentally as well.”
Anders shows us that there are no limits to what the body can do when you’ve honed your mind to be an unstoppable force. Focusing on what is directly in front of you and pushing through those impediments leads to the mental fortitude needed to become a triathlete at any distance, developing that even further, to the point of seemingly superhuman levels, is what creates the path to the Iceman.
Anders didn’t start as an elite athlete; he stayed focused and dedicated and built a routine that helps to push him further every day. As he says of his routine, comprised of exercise and twice-daily journaling, it, “shows you, what the small things you do, daily or weekly, can accumulate to in the long term.” Just like we highlighted in our last piece about Anders, his only superpower is the ability to focus and see limitations as goals to be broken, rather than edges to avoid. With the same dedication, there’s no reason to think anyone would be incapable of the same feats Anders has accomplished.
All of this isn’t to downplay the remarkable difficulty of the Iceman, or the momentous nature of Anders’ attempt, but rather to show that it is within reach for anyone with the dedication necessary. There are always doubts that creep into your head, related to hundreds of different things. Anders himself has concerns, not of the race but the for journey to get there. Traveling to the world’s southern most continent takes place over a week via boat from Argentina to Antarctica, and to hear Anders tell it, this is the most daunting part of the hundred and eighty kilometer journey that awaits him on the south end of the world. “I wasn’t “born on the ocean,” I easily get seasick, so that is going to be interesting.” Still the method of preparation is the same, Anders will see what’s in front of him and push through the challenge. Once he makes it off the boat, the race itself should be a swim, a bike-ride, and a walk through a very cold park.