A solo ironman during COVID-19

Have you ever thought of doing an ironman solo? Meaning, no race just you and you for 140.6 miles? Well, let me introduce you:

Name: Ari Varon

Age: 43

Profession: Run my own business, sell products into the market in China, sell Israeli technology into China.

1-On June 21st you decided to do a solo ironman since most races was cancelled due to covid-19, can you tell us why? (please tell distances)

Corona Stops Competitions, Not an Ironman.

I finished a solo IronMan Distance triathlon (3.8km swim, 180km bike, 42.2km run) on June 21st. It took me a moment to decide to do it, 3.5 months to train for it and just over 13 hours to finish it.

When Corona started shutdowns and restrictions I had just signed up for an official Ironman competition in Austria July 5th, 2020. I was therefore faced with a simple choice, let Corona dictate my life, or take control of my actions despite Corona. I started losing my desire and motivation for training at all, and I didn’t like that. So it was either find a plan B or basically realized I was on the path to stop training.

Truthfully, it was not such a daring or glorious decision. For me, it was part of listening to my inner self, not letting the fear of goal setting set me back and believing that anything and potentially everything is possible if we stop telling ourselves no.

I won’t say I wasn’t afraid to set the goal of a solo Ironman. But with the onset of lockdowns and travel restrictions, I preferred to do something rather than just complain that Corona canceled my competition.

 So why… I train alone anyway so a solo Ironman seemed better than none at all.

2- was that your first ironman?

My first Ironman distance triathlon was the Israman on January 31st, 2020. Taking place in Eilat Israel, it is considered one of the toughest Ironman distance competitions because of the intense uphills on the bike (2900m elevation gain) and the intense downhill on the run (10km with over 700m downhill).

After completing the Israman, I wanted to have the experience of an Ironman Branded competition. I have heard much that the group experiences is exceptional. So I set my goals on a European competition, not far from my home in Tel Aviv Israel.

3- how did you get into the sport? And why ironman?

I slid into triathlons accidently and naturally; Ironman distance by just not stopping.

January 2019 I made a resolution to get off the couch and run 5km in under 30 minutes by my birthday March 30th. Although a true goal, seemed to achievable to be a good new years resolution so I upgraded to a Sprint Triathlon. A friend of mine who had done a few 70.3s told me – anyone can do a sprint, set your goal for an Olympic length and I literally told her, no way that’s way too much.

Early march I did the sprint triathlon, March 26th I upgraded to the Olympic length. I then set my goals for a 70.3 which I did June 20th. It was in the last 10km of that 70.3 that I decided to go for the what I had previously thought was impossible, the full Ironman. I realized, not only was it no longer impossible, it was totally achievable.

I then followed the dear advice of the one friend I knew who had done an Ironman (3X IM finisher). Understand that a 70.3 is different beast than a full Ironman and get a coach. I then searched coaches with IM experience for people on low carb diet and the first person I contacted turned out to be the perfect fit – IM specialist with an emphasis on family first.

A bit of background on why a 5km seemed a decent goal. I was born with a club foot, short Achilles tendon. I had surgery at 6 months with the doctor telling my parents, without the surgery he would never walk, with the surgery he would never run. But my parents never told me that. I started running when I was 10, was on the athletics team in high school, special forces in the Israeli Army. All with constant issues with my ankles and recurring problems with injuries.

December 2003, when training for what I hoped would be my first Marathon I hurt myself so badly I couldn’t walk for 3 months and never could run again without injuring myself.

I gained weight, up to 102kg (230lbs). It was only after a conversation with a friend, a runner who was telling me about a 21km run he had, did I realize I wanted to run again. I decided to lose weight so I could run, I figured I needed to get to 85kg or less. I stopped eating grains and sugars, gradually lost weight and at 85kg, decided to run the 5km.

4-You also end up organizing a kids run, how did that happen? And why?

The kids run was definitely one of the highlights of the entire day, that alongside with actually finishing the Solo Ironman.

The Kids run was initiated and implemented by my son’s school, though I made the medals, shirts and kids run logo. Eventually, kids from beyond just my son’s school joined, and we had almost 100 kids joining me in several starts during the run.

I truly intended for the day to be a solo event. All logistics and everything. I realized I did need the help of one friend at the aide station during the second half of the run. For the second half of the run I planned to put an aide station in a single location, one person there, and have myself do 2 km loops (1km in each direction) to simulate an actual race with an aide station every 1 mile or so.

That friend happens to be the most talented guy I know in almost everything. During my training I came up with a logo including the slogan Corona stops competitions, not an Ironman. He turned it into a very professional logo.

When I finally had the guts to tell my wife my plan I showed her the logo and the slogan. She was really touched by the Corona aspect, not letting Corona stop us. This was in the heart of the lockdowns for us.

She secretly showed the logo to PR person. The local news decided to do a mini-documentary on the day of the race, a positive story of news to share during the Corona lockdowns. Then the school heard about it and started the race. Then the Israeli sports organization who runs the Israman heard about the event and put an article out before the race and covered the race during the day.

I will never forget the evening when she told me about the news deciding to cover the race. She said: please don’t kill me, I know you want this to be just us, but the news wants to cover the race. My first thought was: that is exactly what I don’t want, but since it shows that my wife is truly supporting me in her way, it is the best gesture ever. Honestly, my second thought was, why would the news want to cover it.

But the kids run provided almost a 100 kids with a true taste of using sports as a means of excellence in the midst of the Corona pandemic. For me, running with the kids during my race provided a new level of meaning to any event that I could ever participate in.

5-How was your preparation during the pandemic? And how you manage kids, work and training?

KIDS FIRST! I believe that kids and family come first. For me, everything I do revolves around my kids and my family, including how I build my professional life and time with the kids. My wife is an OBGYN resident at the leading hospital in Tel Aviv. She is an AMAZING mother but works a lot. I fill in at home.

During the lockdown I would use trainer in our backyard and we were allowed to run around the block so I did a bunch of loops and internals and elastic strength training to simulate swimming since no pool or beach was allowed so I just hoped that things would calm down enough before June 21st to allow swimming.

The process was amazing! My three boys are young (8, 5, 3.5) The kids were with me while I was on the personal trainer, they ran loops with me and they did the core strength exercises with me. Truthfully, seeing how I could get them truly excited about sports and training was an initial goal of mine and a sincere push to keep training. They kept on asking me when I was getting on the bike that day, or when they could go running with me. That “together” as well as being a positive role model for my kids is a sincere motivation for my training.

6-What was the difficulty training during this period?
To be honest, I enjoy the training. My coach, the best in the world!, guided me through the process very well. For me the training provides me focus, achievement, inner quiet as well as time to let all the noise of life flow out so I can be true to myself. I tell people that when you are in the middle of a 3 hour bike training session, or even a 1 hour internal session, you don’t have the energy to waste on lying to yourself. So, in training your thoughts can actually be pure, if you let them. 

Almost every week when I got my training schedule I would think, there is no way I can do that sequence, that session so many times in a row. But each week as I let things think in, started to let my mind and body flow and not my instinct to stop myself go, things just worked out.

So the difficulty in the training is honestly all mental, its to stop stopping ourselves. It’s to believe in ourselves, it’s to stop listening to all the people who call us crazy. The rest, just works itself out.

7-What was the hardest part during the solo ironman?
In every long training session as well as during the Solo Ironman itself I always have a – what am I doing this crazy thing moment.  But I define endurance as just not stopping. So I just don’t stop, and those moments pass.

The truth is, there were a several things that could be defined as the “hardest” part. The run was harder than I thought from step one and throughout. I had practiced the transition before, even during the 30 Celcius+ heat of the Tel Aviv Summer. But for some reason I couldn’t get my head in the right space to push for a quick time. It was only at the end of the run, the last 10 kms that I realized why. The time I finished in didn’t matter, just to finish. While every step hurt, it was actually when I was running with the kids, even once, walking with my youngest son who said, Dad walk with me that I realized, those moments were what makes the entire run worthwile. Had I been pushing to finish fast, I would have missed those moments. The funny things about an Ironman, it was after I finally realized that, at km 32 of the race, that I started to finally feel comfortable and pick up the pace without really needing breaks.

 But the idea of an Ironman for me is making impossible possible. Taking a big red line of “impossible” and separating it into a bunch of little light green lines that you can achieve. Both in the training as well as in the logistics and in life.

Logistically I had to plan every single aspect down with lots of backup. 10L of water with me for the bike, all the nutrition, backup and equipment if I had a flat tire, places to ride on various amounts of wind (sometimes up to 26km an hour pushing against you).

But since I had lots of time to think and prepare during the longer training sessions, it all worked itself out.

8- Did you think about quitting? If yes, what made you keep going?

Never about quitting per se. Almost every time about stopping, I guess there is a slight difference.

For me all goals are personal, all challenges are with yourself and the competition is to make yourself better not beat somebody else. So it was always an inner self moment, and that helped keep it pure.

9- did this event changed you in any way shape of form?
It has only been a week since I finished so I am only starting to realize how it changed me. I think it changed me in two core ways: first, always make the impossible possible. I implement that now in every aspect of my life, with my kids and with my work. I am not sure what my next big goal is, but once I identify the idea that is a bit scary at first and seems impossible, I will know I found it. Second, inspiration. I realize this is the first thing I can think of where people have come to me and told me I have inspired them to do better, be better and achieve more. That is a tremendous feeling. That is something I want more of, helping other people be better at what they do. I am not sure exactly what that means in practice, but I am finding out.

10- did this quarantine changed you?

To be honest, the quarantine in Israel was a very positive time for myself and my family. First of all, its all about attitude. As soon as we understood that quarantine was on the way, we decided to use the time to strengthen our family. Also, my wife is an OBGYN MD at the Tel Aviv hospital so her hours are normally crazy. During quarantine, she worked, on what we call the frontline, but she was also home. As a family, we had time to bond, to play, to train together and overall, to be together. So if anything, it changed us as a family in very positive way.

11-anything else that you would like to add?

Thank you Coach! Your Zen perspective towards training and life has changed my attitude towards life and created the confidence in myself to not only finish 2 Ironmans in less than 5 months, but more importantly be a better person, father, partner and push for excellence in all fields.

And thanks for only telling me you thought I was crazy for planning a solo Ironman, after I finished.

12- what touches your soul?

The way people told me my solo event inspired them, that has touched my soul in ways I never felt before. Not in a pat myself on the back type of way. But they told me that their kids will always remember the event, they went to sleep with the medals, they were proud to have been in an Ironman race themselves and they now believe they can do it themselves. The inspiration that gives people, that touches my soul and I want to keep on doing that part again.

13- an example on how not to be an asshole:

Not being an asshole is an attitude and way of life. It is something we have to remind ourselves in every action that we do. With three young boys, there is a lot of challenging going on in my house. When my kids challenge me, I have to remind myself to be strict, but fair. Never to lie, not to be an asshole. But the only way not to be an asshole is to believe in yourself, have confidence and be respectful in ever thing that you do, all day every day.

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