"The real race begins long before the shot": i advice from Mauro Ciarrocchi to tackle the triathlon and prepare for the Ironman
"When I started, everyone's dream was to be able to compete in an Ironman": this is how Mauro Ciarrocchi, triathlete and Ironman from Brescia, president of Triathlon Brescia DTTRI and Floky ambassador, recalls his debut in triathlon, almost thirty years ago . A visceral passion for the combination of swimming, cycling and running, and a seemingly impossible dream: to participate in the Ironman world championships in Hawaii.
Today, having competed in 42 Ironmans, including 8 in Hawaii (with the ninth in preparation for next May!), the passion for the sport burns as much as ever. Exclusively for the community, Floky reveals all the secrets to not be intimidated by the triathlon and, why not, start dreaming of conquering the Ironman qualification.
How have you seen triathlon change over the years?
When I started triathlon in 1993, everyone only knew long distances and was intimidated by the challenge. However, when the Olympic triathlon was brought to the attention of the whole world at the Athens Olympics in 2004, all of a sudden triathlon as a whole started to seem a little more accessible to everyone. A lot of fear remains even today, but - and I'm not saying this in an opinionated way - in my opinion anyone is at least capable of tackling a sprint or Olympic distance. The big rock is the swimming part, but the distances for cycling and running are accessible to everyone.
How did your passion for triathlon start?
I've always loved running, especially the marathon. The beauty of triathlon, which is also the reason why I was able to carry on this sport for so many years, it is the combination of three different disciplines, which is a guarantee of variety. When I was running marathons, if I had an injury and couldn't run anymore, my mood plummeted. Now I swim or cycle and still manage to play sports, which is what I need to feel good. I have never felt the need to stop or interrupt the workouts, even though they are very heavy. And then there's the question of travel: traveling the world to compete is a great way to play sport!
What feeling did you have at the first race?
My first Ironman was in Germany in 2000. Crazy cold, even rain in the evening, even though it was July. After the race I said to my wife: "Never again". The next morning I woke up and I had already changed my mind: "But it was nice". In 2003 in Zurich I did the race that gave me my first qualification for the World Championships in Hawaii. It was an incredible emotion, an impossible dream come true. So much so that I said to myself: "It went well this time, but it will never happen again". And never say never.
What was the moment of your sporting career that made the most impression on you?
I have done many races, but I associate them more with the places where they took place than with the races themselves. Hawaii is always Hawaii: I've been there eight times, this year will be the ninth, and for me all have been good, from the one with the best time to the one with the worst. It was also beautiful in Malaysia and in Los Cabos in Mexico: these are places where, after the race, I spent some wonderful holidays. But also the island of Elba, where they do the Ironman in Italy. I really like the Ironman distance, I could also do it at home, in Brescia, though when you do those kilometers swimming in a Caribbean sea or running in exotic landscapes the experience becomes even more memorable.
How does your daily workout go?
I can afford to train a lot and at many different times. From Monday to Friday in the morning I swim for about an hour, then bike or run every other day. Saturday is dedicated to combined bike-racing, Sunday bike only. I don't have a rest day, but there are days when the training is so light that it's like resting. Everything is commensurate with my availability at that time: if I have injuries or impediments, I change my training. It is a maintenance workout, in order not to lose shape.
What about preparing for a race?
The three months before the competition are very intense, both in terms of length and quality: I choose very heavy, combined workouts, which I mostly do alone and not in company. In the last month, the one of unloading, I decrease the distances to conserve strength. Floky socks accompany me in all training cycles and even in competitions. When I train for long distances I always use the Run Up Longs, while for shorter distances and in competitions I use the Shorts. Since I've been using the Flokys, I've never had problems with blisters on my feet, which were a constant especially at the Ironman. The foot is always rested. One night I dreamed that I had arrived in Hawaii for the World Cup and I had forgotten the Floky: a nightmare! I would really struggle now not to use them. They are addictive!
What's your first thought when you start a race?
An Ironman begins around 4 in the morning, when the alarm goes off. If I'm lucky enough to have slept peacefully, which I never did the first few times, I start the day peacefully with a good breakfast. A jump to the transition area to check the bike and then off we go. Before starting the swim leg in Hawaii there is a very special moment: you enter the water and you stay in the water for about a quarter of an hour, waiting for the shot. These are moments of strong tension, to the point that the shot comes as a real liberation. At the first strokes the thought is: "But who makes me do it?". Then the voice changes: “You are here and you are doing it”. Think of all you've done to get there, all the sacrifices, and hold on. The race in the end is no big deal: it's everything that comes before that is challenging.
What would you say to a person who wants to get into triathlon?
Approaching triathlon, even covering shorter distances, is an experience that I recommend to everyone. Swimming is a sport that gives great benefits to the body and in winter it's an opportunity to get moving, because it can be done in warm places like swimming pools. Throughout the year we keep up with running, which can be done at any temperature by dressing in the right way. This variety of disciplines, all aerobic, allows you to feel good and feel good. It is obvious that there is effort, but, if practiced with criteria, even training three or four times a week, triathlon is a sport that can give great satisfaction, even without having particular competitive goals.
And instead to a person who wants to prepare for a competition like the Ironman?
When you are an amateur, you should avoid looking for the result at all costs. You have to accept the hard truth that, in training, failing the target is the order of the day. My advice is to create a large working base, with medium or even slow speeds, to create the engine. Only after that quality work is done to improve performance. It is very important to train alone often: the Ironman is a solitary race, it doesn't take much to get bored and lose the rhythm or even have a mental crisis. It is also important to train gradually: approach the distances of the Ironman but without doing them. And, in the end, face the race with serenity.
Have you ever been tempted to drop everything and hang up your boots?
I never thought about giving up. I like this sport, I like this distance, I like training (even more than competing!). My wife and I have found a balance: I play sports and compete and then together we enjoy beautiful holidays in the wonderful places where the competitions are held. Hawaii, Malaysia, Mexico. Continuing to train and compete doesn't weigh me down at all, on the contrary, I would find it hard to think about not doing it. Maybe I won't make it to eighty to compete in Hawaii, but the hope is to resist as long as possible.