How I Crushed My First Half Ironman with the Help of Quick Strength Workouts
Strength training allowed Carolyn Desrosiers to push past weaknesses and sustain her max effort on a challenging course.
By Carolyn Desrosiers as told to Karen Iorio Adelson
I’m always doing physical activities outdoors. On the weekends, I’m usually hiking or skiing with my husband Troy [Taylor, Tonal’s Senior Director of Performance] and our two sons in Park City, Utah, where we live. I’ve always been an athlete, figure skating and swimming in my younger years, but triathlon is now the sport that gives me life
Triathlon is the activity I do for myself. It’s the one thing I do as Carolyn the athlete not as Carolyn the worker, mom, or wife.
Back in 2015, my sister asked if I wanted to do a sprint triathlon with her. I had no idea what to expect, but I figured I’d give it a shot. I remember crossing the finish line and thinking, I can do better. I caught the itch right away and kept signing up for more races. This year, I took my racing to the next level in my first half Ironman distance triathlon: A 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, and 13.1-mile run.
I’d been talking about doing a half Ironman for years, but I kept hemming and hawing about it and ultimately not signing up. Last May, my dad passed away and that shifted my perspective. I realized I should go after my goals now instead of waiting. That pushed me to register for the Ironman 70.3 in St. George, Utah, this May.
I was nervous about the race, but I told myself that I’d stepped up before—going from sprint to Olympic distance triathlons—so I could step up again and take on the next challenge. I knew I had to include strength training, though, if I wanted to feel strong through the finish line. A lot of endurance athletes overlook strength training, but I really wanted to build a strong foundation, especially for cycling, which is not my best of the three disciplines.
With 20-minute workouts and 20-in-20 programs, Tonal made it easy to include resistance training along with the hours each week I spent swimming, biking, and running. I started with Coach Kristina Centenari’s 20-in-20: Strength for Runners program. I could fit in these 20-minute strength workouts every day and my legs wouldn’t be completely blasted for the rest of my training. I could still manage to get in my running, swimming, or biking, on top of that strength session without being too sore.
My legs have gotten considerably stronger and I’ve noticed a big improvement in my running and cycling. My running stride is more forceful. I’m much more powerful on the bike now and can find the strength to push past other cyclists while going uphill. I attribute that to my leg strength and how I’ve built power in my quads and glutes through moves such as RDLs, resisted step-ups, and lunges on Tonal. I’m able to push up a hill more successfully now than someone who just does endurance training on a bike.
The cycling leg of my race included more than 3,000 feet of elevation. There’s a famous climb through Snow Canyon that comes about 40 miles into the 56-mile bike ride. Because I had that muscular strength in my legs, I knew I could make it even though my quads were burning. My strength training helped me sustain my max effort for over 30 minutes of chugging up that hill. Even after spending more than three hours on the bike, I had the strength and endurance to push myself in the run instead of just hanging on and running passively.
As I approached the end of the race, I could hear Troy and my sons cheering for me. That gave me the boost to push through to the finish line. I love that my kids get to see me out there doing hard things. They see me working out on Tonal at home, but getting to watch me compete connects the dots for them that I’m going after my own goals. That’s the example I want to set.
Immediately after the race, I said, “Don’t ever let me do that again,” but I’m already signed up for another 70.3 race in October. I’d love to improve my time, and I know I need to get stronger and more powerful if I want to get there. In the endurance world, you put in a lot of time running, swimming, and biking. But if you don’t have that strength foundation, the job is going to be a lot harder. If you want to be successful in a triathlon, you can’t sleep on strength training.