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Ryan Robinson Organizes Personal Ironman Triathlon

Fri, Jun  23, 2006 - By Mike Muha

"Now that was fun! I can't remember the last time I done a short ride. It seems like I've been doing nothing shorter than 3 hours forever!" exclaimed Ryan Robinson after completing a 7 x 5:00 interval session on his road bike. This week is going to be an easy week - only 10 hours of training. Last week was an 18 hour week. The week before, a 17 hour week, and before that, 16 hours of training.

Ryan. a member of Team NordicSkiRacer, decided last October to do a full Ironman triathlon to celebrate his 40th birthday. "I've thought about doing one for the past 10 years. Thought I'd better do it now - who knows what's on the other side of 40."

As he started investigating Ironman competitions in the US and Canada, he discovered all of them were already closed for 2006. He thought he was going to have to postpone for a year. But cross country ski racing season changed his mind. He lost three racing weekends to a cruise and a trip to Disney World, then cuaght a bug that he couldn't shake for the rest of the season. Going into the season really fit, then missing a lot of races abd not feeling 100% for remaining races was a huge letdown. Says Ryan, "This last ski season was so bad - I didn't want to go another almost year without some sort of athlete event to look forward to".

With no way to get into an Ironman triathlon, Ryan decide to organize his own personal Ironman. That's a 2.4 miles swim, a 112 mile road bike ride, and a 26.2 mile running marathon on his own with maybe a little help from his friends to cheer him on. Although is birthday is on Friday, July 14 (Bastille Day), he's  planning on racing the following day, Saturday July 15, to avoid commuter traffic.

The Swim

The start, transition zones, and finish area of the "Robinson West Oakland Ironman Triathlon" will be at the Orchard Lake Boat Launch. (The boat launch is off Orchard Lake Road between Pontiac Trail and Long Lake Road on the east side of the lake). He's setting up a pavilion tent for his transition area to make it seem like a real triathlon.

The start gun fires a 6:00am. The swim leg goes counterclockwise around the lake for 1.2 miles. He'll then turn around and double back for the 2.4 mile full distance. The course follows the shoreline, about 30 yards out in 4 feet of water. The lake bottom is " Caribbean sand - no muck anywhere. It's great!" Ryan measured the course last winter with a measuring wheel while the lake was frozen, using Nordic Skates he borrowed from teammate Randy Kessler. He's planning a checking the distance one last time using a kayak and a GPS.

He'll be wearing tri-shorts for the swim and maybe a wet suit. Ryan's wife Michelle will shadow from a kayak, while friend Derek Wiley has signed up to do the swim segment as well.

His goal is to finish the swim in 1:20 and at least under 1:30.

The Bike

Once out of the water, he'll put on a bike jersey, socks and cycling shoes and head for Ann Arbor on his road bike. Although there are likely a couple last minute adjustments to be made, the bike route will likely leave the boat launch area, turn right on Orchard Lake Road, then right on Pontiac Trail, right on Old Orchard Trail, and then left on Commerce Road. Ryan will make his way west through the village of Commerce, then Wixom, then start a huge figure 8 that takes him through Brighton, past Huron Meadows Metropark, then east to skirt South Lyon, south toward Whitmore Lake, and east on Seven Mile Road to Pontiac Trail. Pontiac Trail takes him all the way into Ann Arbor, where he turns left on Barton Drive, dives under M14, and turns north on Whitmore Lake Road back to the village of Whitmore Lake. There, he again heads east on Seven Mile Road, but turns north on Pontiac Trail on a route that eventually puts takes him back to Wixom, where he retraces his route to the Orchard Lake transition area.

Bike course. Click on map for a larger version.

Estimated bike time? Six hours.

Yours truly will be be accompanying him on the bike segment, but he invites others to join for all or part of the route.

Ryan is using an old Canondale road bike on long-term loan from a friend. We're talking down tube shifters here - that's pretty old. No aero bars, aero wheels or aero anything - this is a straight forward road bike. He's put so many miles on that he's had to replace chain rings and the cassette. The bike shop had some difficulty tracking down parts because of the bike's age!

The Run

Back in the transition area, Ryan will don a new shirt then head out on the trail. His route heads south a quarter mile along Orchard Lake Road to the unpaved but firm-surfaced West Bloomfield Rail Trail. He runs west to the West Bloomfield Woods Nature Preserve trail head, does a 10K road loop, then heads 4.25 miles east on the trail to the Sylvan Manor Park trail head. It's back on the pavement for a 5 mile  loop before jumping on the rail trail back west, then back east - anyways, you get the picture. At some point, he has 26 miles in and heads back to Orchard Lake Road and the finish line at the boat launch transition area.

Ryan's wife, daughters Stephanie and Sarah, brother, and others will run sections of the trail with him. His  Dad is planning on pacing him on a bike.

Ryan would like to run as close to 4 hours as possible for the marathon. "The first mile after the bike will be a shuffle, then I'll gradually increase the speed, and then at some point it'll start slowing down. I know it'll become painful and ugly - I just don't know at what point it'll become ugly and painful."

Total target time time for the entire triathlon: under 12 hours.


Ryan's still trying to decide what to do for breakfast the morning of the triathlon. He doesn't really want to get up 3 hours before the event to feed (3:00am). When he does rise at 5:00am he may have oatmeal or some of the E-Caps / Hammer Nutrition products like Hammer Gel.

During the swim, he does not plan to eat anything.

On the bike, he'll fill his 70oz CamelBack with Heed and put Sustained Energy in a pair of 24oz water bottles. During the the last 30 miles he'll eat a banana and Hammerbar. "A little solid food settles my stomach," states Ryan. He thinks 118 fluid ounces will be enough to maintain hydration during the bike segment. he'll stop if necessary to get more water.

During the run, he'll fuel on Sustained Energy, Heed, Hammer Gel, and the occasional banana.

Post-race feeding? He's having a birthday party! Bear and bourbon and whatever food can be found.

Training Plan

So how does one train for their first Ironman? Ryan used a free 20-week Beginner Ironman training plan from The plan starts the first week with 8 hours of training and quickly moves up to 15-18 hours per week. He's currently in the Taper/Race phase of the plan: 10 hours of training this past week, 13 hours next week, then an 8 hour week, then 5 hours of training the week of the Ironman.

Volume graph for Beginner Ironman Training Plan from

Of course, while following his training program religiously, Ryan still has his normal life to deal with. He teaches social studies at Waterford Mott High School and is the school's track and cross country coach. (Track season just ended and cross country season is just beginning). He has a wife, two college age kids (Stephanie and Sarah) and two younger kids (Ryan and Riley). And he's been doing hard physical labor trying to complete a huge pond - large enough to take a few swim strokes - in his back yard. This weekend, he's attending the Training Clinic with Sten Fjeldheim. Cross Country practice has already begun as well.

How does he fit the training in around family, holding track meets, working on his pond, and doing normal household activities? He swims before dawn and bikes into the night.

This guy's ambitious.

Ryan, Ryan, and Riley take a break under the waterfall that Big Ryan constructed as part of his pond-building project

How's the family taking this? Well there are mixed feelings. Son Ryan says, "It's going to be pretty sweet and fun!" but a few minutes later admits, "I can't wait till this darn Ironman is over. I like it better when you do training in the morning because it doesn't take you so long."

Ryan and Ryan: "It's going to be pretty sweet and fun!"

Post race plans? "Start training for ski season! I'll be training with the kids on my cross country team. I'll be in great shape for ski racing season!"

Ryan invites anyone interested to join him on any segment of his triathlon - self sufficiency is required!