Friday, October 10, 2014

Interview: Apolo Ohno Pushes New Boundaries

This weekend, while the majority of us are watching college and pro football, stuffing our faces at bars or outside barbecues, or just hanging out reading a book or watching TV, world-champion speed skater Apolo Ohno will be burning enough calories for all of us. Tomorrow, Oct. 11, Apolo will be competing in the Ironman World Championship, which is a 140.6-mile triathlon competition that takes place in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. He's been training for months to compete in this only-the-strong-survive competition, and I spoke with him recently about his training, and his hopes for the competition.

Celebrity Extra: What was the impetus behind your decision to participate in Ironman?

Apolo Ohno: [Fellow Dancing with the Stars champion] Hines Ward completed his first Ironman challenge in Kona last year, and I was inspired by it. I had been thinking about doing it last year, but I was traveling so much, it didn’t make sense. But I needed a challenge. I needed to inspire other people. I needed to inspire myself. I needed something that wasn’t anything like speed skating. I was a 40-second athlete. I could sprint. I was ballistic. I was powerful. But then after 40 seconds, that’s when my laces came off. Hines said this is the complete opposite side of the spectrum. It’s endurance based. It’s a triathlon. It’s three sports in one.

CE: Personally, I can’t imagine myself ever being able to survive an Ironman, but if I were to try, how would I train? How have you been training?

AO: You know, you think you can’t, but you could. It just takes consistency. It takes dedication. It takes a lot of time. The businesses that I’m involved with require me to be up very late, and I’m traveling internationally. And so it’s all about scheduling. I need this in my life, but I also do it because I want to inspire other people. One of the things that I was really, really adamant about is, I said, “Look, if I’m going to do this, we’ve got to make sure that we chronicle all the steps of the way.” So, that’s what we’ve been doing.

You can see the episodes of my training on There will be eight specific webisodes total. We’re chronicling from when I first arrived in Kona and seeing the transformation process — seeing my mind, my body, my struggles, and the difficulty in training for something of this nature.

It also chronicles my training. It’s different every week. This week, on Thursday I had a very long bike ride, a seven-hour bike ride. I rode like 100 or 110 miles or something like that, solo. It’s going to be very interesting. And then I follow that with a T run — or a transition run — which is a 40-minute run right after I get off the bike. It’s wild. I mean, anytime you bike 100-something miles, it’s a pretty intense day.

CE: Since you are a world-renowned athlete, that has to give you some advantages, but since your previous training is so different, that must present some cons for you as well.

AO: The pros are that I know what training is like. I’ve suffered through difficulty and pain in my own sport. The cons are I’m not an endurance athlete. I’m based around power, explosiveness, speed. Like any sprinter who’s designed for that, we require lots of rest between intervals. I’m very good at doing intervals as long as I have a little bit of rest. But with Ironman training, there is no rest. You’re going nonstop for hours and hours and hours, and you have to complete the entire 2.4-mile open-water ocean swim to 112-mile bike ride followed by running a marathon (which is 26.2 miles). And you have to do that all in under 17 hours.

CE: Wow.

AO: I know. Whenever I say that, it blows my mind. Especially in the conditions that we compete in in Kona, Hawaii. You’re in an incredibly beautiful place, but make no mistake, the conditions are brutal: 100-degree weather; 100 percent humidity; 60-mile-an-hour crosswinds; black lava rocks in which you have to run through and bike through; ambient temperatures upwards of 120 to 130 degrees. It just sucks all of the energy, nutrients, and minerals out of your system, so you have to make sure that nutrition is a key component in that entire process.

CE: How are you preparing mentally for the competition?

AO: I do meditation, and I focus on my breathing, making sure that I have those goals in sight. Any time you have somebody in front of you, you have to make sure you are achieving those goals, whether it is on a daily basis, weekly basis, or monthly basis. And I have specific goals set up. That’s the best way to maximize performance, whether in business, life, relationships, or in sports.

CE: Did Hines give you any advice for the big day?

AO: The first thing Hines said to me was, “Brother, I’m praying for you.” He said to just enjoy it. He said to take my time. It’s once in a lifetime. It’s pretty incredible.

I’m in a whole new place now. I’m more confident; I’m stronger; I’m getting leaner; and I can’t wait to arrive in Kona. It’s a good feeling.

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