An Ironman Conversation
Ironman field correspondent Laurie Kearney had this conversation with first time Ironman competitor Rick Ashburn the day after both competed in Ironman USA on July 28.  

LK: How did you become interested in triathlons?
RA: I had some interest back in the days "before kids," but never followed up.  Last fall, a buddy basically dared me to try one.  I'd been cycling a little, so I started running in October 2001.  I added swimming in February this year.
LK: What was your experience in your first race?
RA: My first triathlon was Big Rock in April.  Great swim, great bike.  I was surprised with how well I did in both. I was also surprised at how brutally hard it is to run after swimming and biking.  I walked half the run.  The run was an eye-opener.
LK: When and why did you decide to attempt an Ironman race?
RA: I think it was the day after Big Rock.  I must have had a post-race endorphin high.  I was entered in the California Half IM.  I looked over the calendar and figured this would be a great year to do an IM since we're expecting our third child at the end of August.  I wasn't likely to have time for an IM in 2003.  I also tend to go overboard with anything new, and deciding to do an IM as my fourth triathlon made sense at the time.
LK: Why did you choose IM USA?
RA: I initially wanted to do Canada since I'd heard such great things about it, but after enrolling (via Community Fund slot) I realized that  
8/24 was our "due date."  IM North America let me switch to Lake Placid.
LK: What races did you enter in preparation for IM USA?
RA: Big Rock, California Half IM, San Diego International and two club races.  That schedule made for a nice build-up.
LK: Did you follow the advice of a coach or training program?
RA: I got through the California Half IM following a Computrainer-based program for the bike, and Runner's World magazine's half-marathon program. But my running wasn't progressing like I wanted, so I started working with Mike Plumb to get ready for the Ironman.
LK: What was the most helpful aspect of the program?
RA: Mike did two things. First, he "shamed" me into running beyond my comfort zone.  Before a club race, I told him that I had just "taken it easy" on the run last time I did the club race. He just stared at me for a minute and said, "So what's that all about?"  I didn't have an answer, so I knocked six minutes off my club race time that day--by getting out of my comfort zone.  Second, he got me running more often and with longer intensity sessions than I had been doing, and I had a great race at San Diego International.
LK: What was your most and least favorite aspect of Ironman training?
RA: Least favorite is easy--time away from the family.  In the height of training, I was spending half of Saturday and Sunday out on the roads instead of playing with my two little boys.  My most favorite thing was discovering that my 41-year old body could and did respond to training.  I'd been riding a bike for years, but got 4 mph faster in a 20k time trial in six months.  I got comfortable with 20-mile runs, after never running in my life.
LK: What was the best and worst aspect of the actual race?
RA: My race went totally different from my "plan."  I got leg cramps on the swim that never really went away all day.  I had a good time (1:00:38), but within 10 minutes of getting on my bike, my legs felt like I had already ridden 100 miles.  So, the worst part of the day was that I had a miserable bike ride, which is usually my favorite part.  The best part of the race was the run, because you get to talk to racers, volunteers, spectators, etc.  There is so much comraderie out there.  Despite walking half of it (in 5:31), I had a blast on the run.
LK: Do you intend to race another Ironman, and if so, when?
RA: I will definitely do another IM! At Lake Placid, I really didn't go hard, because I couldn't.  I cramped any time I tried to pick up the pace.  I want to do an IM "out of my comfort zone" (as Mike P would say), and see what I'm capable of.  I made a solemn vow with a fellow age-grouper from Florida to go back to Lake Placid in 2004.
LK: What advice would you give to an athlete about to compete in their first Ironman?
RA: For preparation: Do not neglect long swims.  I think that my neglect of long swims contributed to my leg cramps.  I also don't think three long 20+ mile runs are enough, like some programs lay out. I did four, and wish I had done one more (like Mike P told me to).  For the race: forget thinking ahead too much.  Be "in the moment."  Race as hard as you feel at the moment.  Don't race this moment at a given level in order to accomplish something later in the race, like a time split goal.  I pushed too hard on lap one of the bike despite feeling lousy.  I met my lap one goal, and then went backwards the rest of the day.  Finally--smile a lot.  It makes 13 hours go by REALLY fast!