INDYCAR’s Ironmen take on in-season challenge

During their recent trip to Japan, Vitor Meira and Tony Kanaan built a survey of the 2.983-mile Twin Ring Motegi circuit into their road work for the day – a brisk run around mountaintop venue.

It's all part – one-third actually – of their preparation for the Ford Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, on Oct. 8.

Both IZOD IndyCar Series drives have competed in multiple Ironman 70.3 events, including the Ironman World Championship 70.3 in Clearwater, Fla., in November. This will be their first full Ironman competition – 2.4-mile swim in the Pacific Ocean, followed by a 112-mile bike along the lava fields of the Kohala Coast and finally a 26.2-mile run on the Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway.

Meira and Kanaan were invited to participate in the 33rd annual event by the World Triathlon Corporation, owners and organizers of Ironman, that features a field of 1,800 – professionals and amateurs who qualify or are selected by lottery – in men's and women's age groups from 18 to 74.

"I didn't think twice. Well, I did after I started training. Wow," Meira said. "It looked like triple and quadruple training. It's hard. Countless times we head out for a 100-mile ride and in the heat in Miami it's brutal. I did have my doubts when you're tired. You really appreciate how hard racing is when you have to train the next day and the day after a race."

They began training, focusing on volume instead of intensity or speed, in March and began tapering Sept. 26. In between were 16 IZOD IndyCar Series races and they'll quickly turn around from the adventure on the Big Island to compete in the IZOD INDYCAR World Championships Presented by Honda on Oct. 16 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

"This part, the tapering, is the best because you feel strong, rested and ready," Meira continued. "It's a little bit of speed workout, a little intensity, not much volume. We began with long rides, building a good base layer. Then we started speed intervals until two weeks ago. We had one volume day each week for each area.

"We ran 20 and not the extra six miles because the last third of the run in a triathlon there's nothing you can do that will prepare you for it. It's just going through the pain. It's more detrimental to do a full marathon in the training; you lose more than you can gain because you start to consume you're body."

They consulted fellow Brazilian Leandro Macedo, a professional triathlete, during their six-month training. Both should recover more or less in time to get behind the wheel of their cars for the first practice session on the 1.5-mile oval on Oct. 13.

"My legs won't be recovered," said Meira, 34. "Muscle, tissue and ligaments, it takes two months. Neurologically, it's about three days if you hydrate, take your salt and eat well. Even before agreeing to it we consulted if we're going to be down for the Vegas race."

And competing in the Rohto Ironman 70.3 Miami, joining IZOD IndyCar Series drivers such as Alex Lloyd and Bruno Junqueira and Firestone Indy Lights driver Gustavo Yacaman, on Oct. 30 isn't out of the question.

First, though, is the "main event," as Kanaan christened it. They arrived in Hawaii earlier this week and, along with media obligations, will bike and run portions of the course and swim each day. Of course, they'll leave time to relax and enjoy some of the culture.

The goal is to finish what they started, which shows the mettle of an athlete.

"I've been racing for almost 28 years, and to me, you can always finish a race and see why it didn't go well," said the 36-year-old Kanaan. "Triathlon, you look at yourself, say, 'OK, I've got to train a little more.' It's only up to you.

"This is like the Indy 500 of their sport. I don't do it because I want to be the best triathlete in the world. I'm not even close. I do it because it keeps me on a tight leash to be disciplined. My focus, my stamina, it helps a ton. The way I've been active for so many years, I would never be right if I stopped. My body hurts more when I don't work out than when I do."

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