Apolo Ohno is used to riding a bike in training.
Back in his speedskating days, he might pedal all-out for 30 seconds then let his legs recover for a bit before repeating the interval. That’s not exactly great preparation for cycling for 5½ hours.
The most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian in history is taking on a new athletic challenge: an Ironman triathlon. Ohno plans to compete at the world championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, in October - swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, then run a marathon.
“I’m still not entirely sure I can grasp the difficulty of this,” Ohno said in a recent phone interview with The Associated Press about six weeks into his training.
A winner of eight medals in three Olympics, he certainly knows how to push himself in workouts. But he’s not accustomed to the sort of pain that comes with endurance sports.
When Ohno goes for a run with one of his coaches, eight-time Ironman world champion Paula Newby-Fraser, his body is ready to stop after about an hour.
“Paula’s just getting warmed up,” he said.
She’ll be getting more and more chatty. He’s fantasizing about calling a car service.
Ohno’s speedskating training was all about performing at his peak for 80 seconds. The Ironman requires preparing his body to hold up over the steady grind of more than 11 hours.
Newby-Fraser keeps needing to remind him to slow down in training.
“It sounds easy, but it goes against the instinct and nature of an athlete that’s used to emptying the tank every day,” she said.
Hines Ward knows how Ohno feels. The former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver trained with Newby-Fraser for last October’s Ironman as part of the same promotional campaign for chocolate milk.
Like Ohno, Ward’s sport was much more about fast-twitch muscles than stamina. Those long strides that helped Ward sprint a fast 40-yard dash aren’t effective over 26.2 miles.
“I had to learn how to run,” said Ward, who completed the Ironman in just over 13 hours.
Unlike Ward, the 31-year-old Ohno comes in with experience in each of the three disciplines. Along with biking as part of his speedskating training, Ohno swam competitively until he was 12. Even better, he ran the 2011 New York City Marathon, finishing in a very respectable 3 hours, 25 minutes.
Still, his legs will feel very different at the start of the marathon in Hawaii after the swim and bike.
“I have no doubt in my mind he can accomplish this and actually do very well,” Newby-Fraser said.
Fitting in time to run during his busy travel schedule was feasible for Ohno, who makes frequent trips to Asia for his various business ventures. Finding places to bike and swim - not to mention the extra hours needed for training three disciplines - is a bit more vexing.
Ohno so far has been doing about 10 hours a week of training. Newby-Fraser hopes to get that up to 14-16 hours. By July, it will need to be more like 20 hours. Three-time Ironman world champion Craig Alexander will also help coach Ohno.
He’s noticed that the training makes him feel mentally sharper at business meetings. Not that he also doesn’t feel exhausted.
Ohno had bulked up his upper body since last competing at the 2010 Olympics, which isn’t conducive to endurance sports. He was in decent shape by most people’s standards when he started his Ironman training. But Ohno’s idea of a good workout before was going to the gym for less than an hour.
His progress will be documented in an eight-episode online series. Ohno figures it will capture plenty of failures along the way, but maybe seeing an elite athlete humbled will inspire others to push their limits.
Ohno has kept plenty busy since Vancouver: hosting “Minute to Win It” on the Game Show Network, commentating for NBC at the Olympics.
But it’s hard to give up the rush of competition.
“I need something like this in my life,” he said.
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