When I wake up every morning, this is what I see:
Swim: 60m w/ 20m moderate nonstop, then 5-10x 50 sprint w/ 20s recoveries, then any extra time and energy for kicking and other strokes; or
Bike: 1.5 hours outdoors w/ 2-3x 10-minutes quick @70%HR, or 75m indoors; or
Run: 60m w/ 1/3 @70%HR, then 1/3 @75%HR, then 1/3 @80%HR
For me, understanding and doing what I just listed above is the easy part. For some, sticking to a crazy workout schedule is the hard part. But from my experience, following "the plan" is the easy part.
Do you like being alone with you, yourself and your soul? Ironman training makes you feel lonely. Yes, training buddies are great but even when you are with them it's still you, your thoughts, your demons, and the road ahead of you. Just that. You have to be willing to get in your own head, get emotional, allow yourself to cry, bribe yourself, recognize when you're in trouble, talk to yourself, be your own support crew, celebrate big and small victories alike, sing, scream, laugh. You learn to get to know yourself.
Ok. It's clear. I'm on my own. Now, I need to talk myself into getting out of bed every day and cooking, eating healthy, count calories, go to work, deal with stress, run errands. And when you are tired, just like everyone else, after a hard day at work, and all you need is a beer... you gotta talk yourself into "sticking to the plan". Is that it? No...
Ironman training is painful. You get blisters. Lose toenails. Body parts that you previously didn't know existed ache, chafe, swell. It's like being stuck in a cage with a grizzly. It beats you up, and yet you come back the day after and go at it again. It doesn't care how tired and hurting you are, you have to dig deep, find a way to press on, suck it up, get out of that freakin' nightmare in one piece... then line right back up to do it again. It sucks. It's awesome. It hurts.
But obviously, you have to "enjoy" pain to make it through training. Feel the high as your legs are screaming at you during your tempo run, as your lungs fire up after you've completed your 100m sprints (10 times) in a pool. Smile at the incredible pain in your lower back after an 80, 90, 100 or more miles on your bike.. And so on.
If you've read this far, then I'm sure I can read your mind: "This is stupid. I would never do this." Yes. It is stupid. Ironman training is stupid. It's stupid to get up at 4am some days. It's stupid to ride your bike in 35 degree weather, in hail, snow, and wind. It's stupid to run 20 miles when it's 90 degrees out. It's stupid to spend money in "salt pills". It's stupid to sit on your bike, that sits on a trainer, that's set up in front of a tv... for 3+ hours.
So, "why do you do this?" you wonder. For the privilege. For the privilege of being there at the start line. Prepared and confident. For the goosebumps I get when 3500 people line up waiting for a canon to go off. For the adrenaline rush I get when I have to run into the water. For the smiles I give away when I come out of the water. For the amazing scenery I get to enjoy while riding my bike. For the deep breaths I take before starting my run. For the sound that my shoes make when I put a foot in front of the other. For the last mile. For hearing the music and the announcer when you cannot even see them yet. For the last 500 yards... where a whole town gathers and cheers you on. Because you are champion. For crossing that finish line... laughing, crying, and out of breath.
So, if you ever sign up for one of these and think it's as simple as following a plan, you are mistaken. It is much more than that. Much more.