Ryan McCauley is an IREP Athlete, representative of United States Military Endurance Sports, and an active duty Airman. Ryan just completed his first full Ironman distance triathlon on 5 Nov 2016 at Ironman Florida. I wanted to catch up with him a couple days after to get his feelings on the race and training
CK: How’s the body feeling after your first Ironman?
RM: Much better than I expected it to. I paid close attention to my recovery process from previous races and had a plan for this one and stuck to it. The worst part is not being able to get quality sleep and this second night was, by far, the worst. I’ll be happy when I don’t wake up in the middle of the night from sore muscles.
CK: Are you happy with your results?
RM: Absolutely. I was within 10 minutes of my marathon PR after a 114.4 mile warm-up. I can’t be disappointed with my race in any way. Especially being that it was my first at this distance. That said…12 hours is still on the table and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t irritated by that.
CK: You had some injuries leading into this race. Did they bother you at all during Ironman Florida? If so, at what points?
RM: Not at all. Which was partially a surprise. I was concerned that the shoulder was going to cause enough discomfort to limit my mobility during the swim but the day prior to the race I was completely pain free and that has continued on here post race. I fully expected my knee to begin hurting at some point during the race but it also stayed away. They’re still issues I need to get completely resolved, but the pain prevention measures taken in advance of the race worked for me.
CK: High and low moments of the race?
RM: First high moment came when I got off the bike and realized I had enough of a cushion to make my first goal of 12 hours. The next high moments came when I saw my family at miles 5, 11, and 17. My low moments were first at mile 9 of the run when my stomach started to turn on me and I got a serious vomiting sensation. All I could think about was how bad it would be to throw up since I would lose calories I needed to get through the second half of the run. After successfully dealing with that issue, the next low point came at mile 20 when I did the math and realized there was no way I was going to finish in less than 12 hours. That reality coupled with the fact that I wouldn’t see the family again until the finish line destroyed my motivation.
CK: How did you get through the tough moments?
RM: I really just tried to get in tune with my body and remember what to do given the body’s different responses. Beyond that I just thought about the accomplishment that was up the road and in the meantime just being in the moment. Enjoying the company of other athletes, appreciating the role of spectators, and thanking volunteers.
CK: Can you tell me about why you wanted to race an Ironman?
RM: Just like running a 5k and thinking about how cool it would be to run a marathon someday, after my first sprint distance triathlon I knew I wanted to someday complete an Ironman. I had no idea what it would take to get to that point…but I knew it was something I wanted.
CK: Ironman training can be exhausting. It provides the opportunity to put family and other obligations on the backburner. Did you ever find yourself feeling guilty about training vs spending time with family?
RM: I did. But before I started this journey my wife and I talked about the sacrifices that this would entail and she fully supported me pursuing this goal. We knew there would be times that it would be frustrating and at times I would be absent from activities or not be able to commit to different events due to training needs. Having that conversation ahead of time gave me the confidence to continue to train even when I felt like I was not carrying my weight in the household.
CK: Was/is your family supportive of your athletic goals?
RM: Incredibly. At 3 and 5, my kids are still too young to understand beyond knowing that daddy has to go swim, run, or needs to head into the garage to ride his bike. Having them come out to races or participate in events like the IronKids races is great and my 5 year old is already looking forward to his next race. Having that opportunity to show them what all is incorporated in a healthy, active life is important to both of us and serving as a role model to them in that arena is a priority for us. I can’t say enough about how much sacrifice and support my wife, Sandy, gave me through this year. She always supports my crazy hobbies and triathlon is no different.
CK: So you are an active duty Airman, what do you do?
RM: I’m an instructor as the USAF First Sergeant Academy. I train selected Senior NCOs to go out and advise Commander’s by serving the Airmen in their unit.
CK: Is it fulfilling to see the transformation from when Airmen start class on the first day and then graduate? It is a similar idea to what you just accomplished, right?
RM: There is certainly some polarity there. I see students arrive on day 1 of the First Sergeant Academy who are fired up and ready to First Sergeants and others who are unsure about what they’re getting into and even sometimes others who do not want to become First Sergeants. But one thing they all have in common is that they want to take care of Airmen and one of the greatest skills you can have in this role is a relentless drive and determination to either find solutions yourself or guide Airmen to their own solutions. It’s that same drive and determination that I relied upon to keep going in training and racing.
CK: Was it tough to balance your career in the military and training?
RM: Sometimes. In this position I’m in now I have the most predictable schedule I’ve ever had during my time in the service. That’s going to be a hard thing to give up when my time here is finished. Teaching and being on your feet all day is mentally and physically draining and training isn’t always the first thing on your mind when you get home in the evenings but working closely with you during the busiest times and adjusting the training schedule accordingly made the balance very achievable.
CK: What is next for Ryan?
RM: Next year is big unknown for my family as we are scheduled to pack up and move for another assignment. So I’m lining up races in the early part of the year and will have to shut it down earlier than I would like to prepare to move come late summer. I’ve also realized that this was my first real year of training in my life. I’ve always been a “12 weeks to race day” type athlete and in this last year I’ve learned just how much I’ve been missing by taking that canned approach to training and racing. There will be another full Ironman in the future…I just can’t say when or where. The Air Force is going to have a greater say in that decision than I do at this point.
CK: Favorite workout?
RM Trail runs
CK: Best Youtube video for those tough trainer workouts?
RM: https://youtu.be/E4b4DJFStVQ Gets me going every time.
CK: Zwift or TrainerRoad?
CK: Nastiest Gel flavor?
RM: Chocolate anything…awful.
CK: Peanut butter and Fluff or Peanut butter and Jelly?
CK: Biggest pet peeve?
RM: Wishing people luck…people put time and effort into eliminating luck from the equation. Don’t disrespect their sacrifices by suggesting luck is the greatest contributing factor.
CK: Most valuable lesson learned in life?
RM: You become what you spend your time doing.
CK: Most inspirational person?
RM: People don’t inspire me so much as principles and ideals.
CK: Ryan, thank you for taking the time to talk about your first Ironman finish.