Zack Carr joins us on The Kona Edge to chat about his Ironman story, Coming from a family of 9 children and leading a very unhealthy lifestyle, Zach shares the decision to enter the world of Ironman.
Swim faster without spending more time in the water
Discover the 4 most common swim killers and how to fix them so that you can shave minutes off your swim time.
BRAD BROWN: We head to Wisconsin now to catch up with our next guest here on The Kona Edge, Zack Carr. Zach welcome onto the podcast. Thanks for joining us.
ZACK CARR: Thanks for having me.
BRAD BROWN: Zach you’re one of the lucky ones. You’ve got an Ironman in your back yard so you could do one every year. You don’t even have to travel much. Is it a blessing or is it a curse?
The convenience of racing in your back yard
ZACK CARR: It’s a bit of both. It’s a blessing that I can go on the course and I can train the actual course and figure out how to race it properly. But it’s also a curse because it is that close. I need to get up there more often than not to ride the course, so it’s a bit of both.
BRAD BROWN: Do you end up using that one as your qualifier for Kona, is that the plan generally?
ZACK CARR: I’m doing it in September and this will be my fourth time doing it. I did it in 2010, 2012 and 2016. I tried to get others to qualify but this one is just so convenient, it’s hard not to race it.
BRAD BROWN: How far is it from home? Do you get to sleep in your own bed the night before the race?
ZACK CARR: I do. It’s just over a half hour, so that’s great.
BRAD BROWN: That is awesome. Zach you were telling me before we started recording this that you’ve been around the sport of triathlon for close on a decade now, just under. How did you get involved in the sport?
Unhealthy lifestyle leads to Ironman achievements
ZACK CARR: A little bit of a back story. I was travelling a lot for work and I’d put on quite a bit weight. 70 Pounds heavier than I am now and I just had a very unhealthy lifestyle. Was a heavy smoker, I didn’t work out, ate a ton and kind of just had that ‘Aha’ moment where I needed to make some lifestyle changes.
I needed to lose the weight and my wife was training with a group of cyclists and I joined her on the training rides. The weight wasn’t falling off as quickly as I had hoped, so I started to jog and run and the weight started to melt off. Someone said “Hey, have you thought of doing a tri, just add a swim to it”, and the rest is history.
BRAD BROWN: 70 Pounds, that’s seven zero for people listening. That’s one of the Jonas brothers, that’s incredible.
ZACK CARR: I started to lose the weight in the fall and the winter, and I came out the spring and my neighbours didn’t even recognise who I was.
BRAD BROWN: Isn’t that a cool feeling?
AC: It is. A very cool feeling.
Make the decision to become healthier
BRAD BROWN: You say working too much and poor lifestyle choices and I think it happens to a lot of us where we go to college and we end up like a slow spiral where we just let ourselves go. I’m putting my hand up here because my story is almost the same, and before you know it, like you say, you’re 70 pounds heavier than what you should be and it’s time to take some drastic action. Is that pretty much yours? Was it eating, drinking, and smoking, what was the deal?
ZACK CARR: All the above. It was going out late for dinners with clients and co-workers and then going back to the hotel and having deserts and not working out and smoking and drinking. It was a combination of all of that and just gradually over time putting on the weight. You don’t realise how much weight you’re putting on until there was that moment and I grabbed a handful of gut and realised how much weight I’d really put on.
BRAD BROWN: What was the turning point for you? Can you remember where you thought to yourself something’s got to give?
ZACK CARR: Yes I remember pretty vividly. I was in a hotel room in Cincinnati Ohio and I was laying on the bed. I don’t know exactly what hit me but it was like I said, I had put on a ton of weight and I was sitting there thinking about my young kids and what the future would be like if I continued down this road. It was like a lightning bolt struck me.
Be smart with your health if work gets in the way
I needed to make some changes if I wanted to be around for them. I just started to change my lifestyle and make choices that would help that. One of them was to cut down on the travel. Travelling is very difficult to be healthy. You can do it if you’re smart about it but at the time I wasn’t educated enough to know how to do it.
BRAD BROWN: And that’s two-fold because you’re missing out, especially if you’re active, you’re missing out on your regular routine. You’re probably not training as much as you should unless you’ve got the discipline to go to the gym in a hotel or find the local YMCA closest to where you’re travelling. And the second one is the eating. You’re not eating at home. You’re eating in restaurants pretty much 3 meals a day and that’s not ideal.
Use available resources for training when you’re travelling
ZACK CARR: That’s right. I’m a CPA and accountant so I’m still pretty busy and travel quite a bit between January and April so I’ve learnt how to do it on the road. The hotel usually does have treadmill and workout equipment. I usually bring my bike trainer with me and just hook my bike trainer up in the hotel room and like you say, you just learn where to go to eat.
I always have a bag full of food just in case there are not appropriate things around to eat, just more prepared.
BRAD BROWN: In case of an emergency, break the glass. It’s one of those. Zack tell me about growing up and Zack Carr as a kid. Were you active as a youngster?
ZACK CARR: No I wasn’t. I come from a pretty large family. I’m the oldest of 9 kids. I played T-ball as a kid and we were just active around the house with each other. I’d go to the YMCA and play Basketball occasionally but I really wasn’t involved in any sports.
Changing unhealthy habits get you hooked on Ironman
And like I say I had smoked for quite a while. I started in high school and it carried on and I really didn’t have any athletic ability after I was a kid. I did play inter-mural sports in college just as a fun thing with my buddies but that was pretty much the extent of it.
BRAD BROWN: And that first triathlon. Tell me about that experience. It must have been a bit of an eye opener.
ZACK CARR: Oh definitely. I kind of went into it thinking I could get through the swim with no problem and as soon as the gun went off I’m getting kicked and water in my face and I quickly realised that it’s not as easy as you think it is.
But when you cross that finish line there’s nothing like it and just the sense of accomplishment and the camaraderie, hanging out with people after the race. It was definitely something I was hooked on.
Revel in your Ironman achievement
BRAD BROWN: Was it love at first sight for you? I think we all have that experience in our first one when there are times you think “what am I doing here?” But afterwards, as you say that sense of achievement. For you, was it a case of you almost felt like I’m home, this is what I want to be doing?
ZACK CARR: It was. I think with all my workouts and with my races, you have this kind of relationship you’re kind of talking about. During the races there are parts where you just hate it and you think why am I doing this, it sucks. And then when you finish you have this high and you love it and you want to come back for more.
I was instantly hooked and I think what really hooked me was going and spectating at Ironman Wisconsin. Just the energy of the crowds and the athletes. It definitely draws you in.
BRAD BROWN: Was that the turning point for you, spectating at an Ironman event where you went “You know what, I want to do this. I’ve been involved in the sport, the shorter distances but this big one, as crazy as it seems at the time, this is what I want to do?”
Inspired by spectating at an Ironman
ZACK CARR: For sure. And one of the guys that were part of the cycling group that my wife was a part of was doing an Ironman. I had never heard of Ironman before and he started naming off the distances and I just thought it was insane. There’s no way that someone can possibly do this, let alone do it in a day. It just seemed overwhelming.
But I went and watched and saw people doing it and it was such an overwhelming challenge that I wanted to see if I could take it on and do it.
BRAD BROWN: It’s so interesting you say that Zack because I think it doesn’t matter what calibre of athlete you are, everyone has those doubts in the build up to that first one. You think to yourself this is stupid, there’s no way I can physically do this in a day.
I said it to someone last night, we were talking about the mental side of it and I always say that Ironman is not 226 miles, it’s 6 inches. It’s the 6 inches between your ears. If you can master that, anyone can do an Ironman.
Don’t get in your own way with Ironman training
ZACK CARR: Yes exactly. That was one of the things I learnt when I first got a coach. I was in the sport for a couple of years before I decided to get a coach but that was one thing that they really challenged me on.
I would often get in my own head and get in my way where I would go into a workout and think there’s no way I can hit these numbers that they’re asking me to do, because I did X the day before.
But if you just put those blinders on and go out and do the work you surprise yourself. You realise you’re capable of more than what you think. As long as you don’t get in your own way and overly think what you’re doing.
BRAD BROWN: And it’s also important, I’m sure you’ve had this experience too, is to focus on now. Don’t worry about what’s coming in a month’s time or 6 weeks, or 12 weeks. Focus on the session you need to do today because if you take care of that session, next week will take care of itself.
If you’re focusing too much on those and worrying that you’re never going to get there, it’s the sessions today that are the ones that aren’t going to get you there if you don’t do them.
Focus on now with Ironman training
ZACK CARR: I had that same talk with myself last night when I had to get out. I have a 2-hour run tonight, 3-hour bike tomorrow, and a big weekend coming up. And if you think about it in totality it’s just overwhelming.
Just get through the 2-hours tonight and worry about tomorrow, tomorrow and make this a good quality key session and the rest will follow. You’ll surprise yourself and the rest will just follow.
BRAD BROWN: Talk to me about the decision to get a coach a few years in. You had obviously felt your way around the sport and figured things out for yourself, but where did that decision come from? What brought on that decision that you went “you know what, I want to get better at this, and I need help?”
ZACK CARR: It was after I did Ironman Wisconsin in 2010. I was a couple of hours away from qualifying for Kona and I didn’t think it was a real possibility. But after a year off from Ironman I started to become more comfortable in my abilities.
Make Kona your goal and get a coach
At the same time I was getting injured a lot because I didn’t know how to structure training plans. I would get injured and then I’d come back and try to make up for lost time and I just didn’t have the consistency in the training. I hear that word quite a bit, consistency. And that really is key because if you’re consistent you’re able to stay healthy.
It’s when you’re injured and you try to catch up, you get injured again, it’s just a vicious circle. I was having trouble staying injury free, I needed someone to challenge me and I had a goal that I wanted to get to Kona. So kind of all those things together led to me get a coach.
BRAD BROWN: When did Kona first pop up on the radar? Was it after that first one? Tell me about the thinking. I don’t think anybody goes into their first Ironman thinking Kona is the deal. When did it first pop up for you?
Research your game plan and qualify for Kona
ZACK CARR: It was after. I was training with some buddies and a couple of them had been to Hawaii and they were talking about their times and it really had never entered my mind that I can do it. But then just training with them, seeing what they were capable of doing.
I would draft behind them and I started to get the idea that maybe it is a possibility. Then I went looking at researching times and data. What it would take to get to Kona and basically created a game plan.
I realised these are the times I need in the next year if I want to get to a qualifying time, and this is what it’s going to take. I’m a pretty analytical person so I had the data all charted out, and this is what my goal is and I’m going to go see if I can do it.
BRAD BROWN: As a CPA I’m sure you had spreadsheets, you must have had spreadsheets?
ZACK CARR: Oh I still have the spreadsheets.
BRAD BROWN: Tell me about that first one, how it went from a performance perspective because I get asked that question a lot. People listen to this podcast and they go I want to qualify for Kona and then everyone is telling them they debuted with a sub-10 hour. What was yours?
Make your goal fun in your Ironman debut
ZACK CARR: Mine was 11:01. Not quite under the 11-hours but I really had no time goal. My goal was to go in and have fun and just enjoy the day. I was afraid that I would blow up.
I think it was probably my third triathlon so I had no idea how to pace an Ironman or what it would feel like. I just wanted to get to the day, I just wanted to be a finisher and enjoy the day and that’s what I did. And I felt I was very controlled and steady the whole day and really just had a great time.
BRAD BROWN: Can you remember what your splits were?
ZACK CARR: You’re challenging me. I think it was roughly an hour five swim, I forget, a 5:45 bike and 4 hour run, something like that.
BRAD BROWN: Just for an idea. Guys are always asking me, particularly on debut. Then from that decision to get a coach, how much did your training change? Obviously it must have been a lot more structured. What were some of the major changes that you made from a training perspective with a coach?
Learn to put it together to create a consistent training environment
ZACK CARR: I would always get injured running and so the biggest surprise and change for me was running more consistently and running more frequently than what I thought I should have.
And it wasn’t that I was going out and running 20 miles every day, it was just a few miles here and a few miles there. But then also varying the terrain and surface so I wasn’t always on black tar.
It was really just learning how to put it all together and create a consistent training environment.
BRAD BROWN: Zack, the onslaught to Kona qualification in that build up, you had obviously targeted a race, you knew the race you were going to do and you more or less knew the times you were going to do. How did you approach it from a mental perspective to get yourself ready and in that frame of mind, knowing that this it.
You’re going to suffer and it’s going to be a long time of suffering, but this too shall pass as they say. How did you get your head right to get into that zone?
Be prepared to suffer in your Ironman race
ZACK CARR: That was really it. Just being prepared to suffer and that was my goal going into the race. I’ve never not finished a race but I really didn’t care if I didn’t finish a race. It was just be smart about what you’re doing. You’ve put in the training.
Just having confidence in what you’ve done and the preparation. Even now just going into an Ironman. There’s always doubts of have I done enough, will the results show up on race day. But just having the confidence that what you’ve done will work and then just leaving it all out there.
Not being crazy about it because it is a full Ironman and a long day but still going out there and giving it your best shot.
BRAD BROWN: Yes, the go until you blow strategy can work in an Olympic, it tends to not work in a full Ironman, I’m afraid.
ZACK CARR: No, not at all.
BRAD BROWN: Zach tell me did you qualify at first attempt? Was that the case for you?
The glory of qualifying in your first Ironman attempt
ZACK CARR: I did. It was kind of funny that the goals I had put out there over a year before, I hit almost those times exactly. So I think I was 17th overall including the pros and second in my age group. It was a great day and being from the area my whole family was there, and friends and it was one of the most memorable days.
BRAD BROWN: That’s awesome. And then the change, did you change anything in the build up to Kona? From a preparation perspective did you do anything differently, or was it pretty much that it worked for you in qualification and you were going to do the same thing for Hawaii?
ZACK CARR: I had changed coaches between qualifying at Wisconsin and Kona and so there were different strategies in training. The actual volume of training was pretty consistent.
When I went into Kona I was injured because I had done age group nationals for the Olympic which was a month and a half before Kona, so I was trying to do speed work and incorporate long runs and my body just didn’t handle it very well. So I went into Kona injured but the build-up was relatively the same other than the change in the running.
BRAD BROWN: And the first experience of racing in those World Champs, for an amateur athlete it must be pretty special.
Experience the energy of being among the best of the best
ZACK CARR: It’s amazing; it is easily my favourite race. One, it’s an extremely tough race. It’s very challenging but you’re among the best of the best and everywhere you go there are professionals that are hanging out and everyone is there in Kona for the race. It’s a very cool experience. Even if you’re not racing it, just to experience that energy it’s very unique.
BRAD BROWN: If I say the word Kona, what do you think of?
ZACK CARR: The finish line. I think of the heat and the wind first, but surely after it’s the finish line. There’s nothing that compares to finishing that race and when you come up the finishing chute, it’s a pretty steep ramp but behind it, it’s a huge wall of cameras and video cameras. You feel like you’re on top of the world finishing that race.
BRAD BROWN: For you, what’s been your proudest moment in Ironman racing? What are you most proud of so far.
Enjoy the pride on your family’s faces with an Ironman win
ZACK CARR: My proudest moment was actually in the half Ironman. Two years ago I did a local half Ironman and it was my first ever win and it was relatively small so there weren’t a ton of people out there. But my wife and kids were out there and just to see the expression on their face when I’m coming up this big hill with the lead bike on the run. They don’t expect me to be there and all of a sudden here I come in the lead and just to see the pride in their face.
That was really cool. And then coming down the finishing chute having them there just that pride and excitement is something I’ll never forget.
BRAD BROWN: It doesn’t matter how many people are there Zach, claim it. It’s yours. You’ve won it.
ZACK CARR: Oh I’m claiming it.
BRAD BROWN: Let’s talk work life balance. You’re a professional. You said you’re a CPA, you’ve got a family, and you’ve got kids. How do you get the balance right of training enough that you can be competitive in these races but also that things are in check at home. You’re keeping things going, you’ve got bills to pay, and how do you get that balance right?
Your support system is critical to your Ironman success
ZACK CARR: A patient wife. It really comes down to her. We plan out our weeks ahead of time. The kids are obviously involved in their own events like swimming and Taekwondo and we try to make the kids activities a priority so we structure our training. She’s done Ironman a couple of times and she’s training for marathons.
She’s going to be doing the New York City marathon here. So we try to structure our training around the kid’s events but really she’s very patient and lets me go out for long rides and takes the kids to practices. Without her I wouldn’t be able to do it. But that being said, we try being up early getting workouts in and late at night.
On weekends I try to get the workouts in before the kids are up so it’s training in times when the kids have their down time or around work hours.
BRAD BROWN: What’s the biggest life lesson that Ironman has taught you?
Ironman teaches perseverance and confidence
ZACK CARR: Probably perseverance and also confidence that one, you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. You just put achievable goals out there and the more you do it the more confident you become. It’s about perseverance and confidence.
BRAD BROWN: You mentioned you’re 1 of 9. You’re the eldest of 9 siblings. What does the family think of your transformation of where you were 8 years ago to now?
ZACK CARR: They think I’m crazy for what I do.
BRAD BROWN: Are any of the others into endurance sport?
ZACK CARR: No not at all. We went camping as a family last weekend and I spent probably 7 hours on Saturday riding my bike around the countryside and they’re sitting around the camp fire and playing games and they just think I’m crazy for spending my time that way. They’re probably right, that’s not the way to spend your time but anyway, they think I’m crazy.
BRAD BROWN: What’s still left for you to achieve? When the time comes, when you need to hang things up and no longer in the sport, what will you is happy to have achieved?
Dreaming of top 5 at Kona
ZACK CARR: I’m happy with what I’ve achieved to date. There’s only 1 thing on my checklist of things that I would like to accomplish and that’s top 5 at Kona. I was close this last year, top 8 and really it came down to a lack of confidence. I had been injured the 2 previous times I did.
This was the first time I was really healthy going into the race and so I didn’t think I had the ability to compete with the top guys. But finishing top 8, realising that I left something out on the course, mentally, where I probably could have pushed more than I did and so just having the confidence that I can come back and potentially finish top 5 that would probably be the 1 goal that I would like to accomplish.
BRAD BROWN: What are you struggling with right now? What are you working on?
ZACK CARR: Motivation. It’s hard when you’ve been doing the sport for a while. Just to go out for those 6 hours workouts and just to keep the motivation and the drive to keep going.
When you’re out there you still have to stay focused and there’s a goal for the workout it’s hard to get up for those workouts time after time and just to keep focused. That’s probably the biggest struggle.
How to stay motivated for Ironman training
BRAD BROWN: It’s interesting you say that because I’m struggling with the same sort of thing. I’m not riding and I’m not swimming at the moment. I want to just get really consistent running and that’s what I’m focusing on and I’m really struggling to wrap my head around getting back on the bike and back in the water in the build up to my next Ironman.
How do you keep yourself going? Is it a case of drawing a line in the sand saying this is the goal and you know what we’ve got to do it otherwise we’re going to suffer?
ZACK CARR: Yes, exactly. Putting the race on the calendar like Ironman Wisconsin and saying this is what the goal is and I know what it takes to get there. The faster I become the more it takes to maintain that level especially as I age. It doesn’t get any easier.
Hit those key sessions
And so I realise I need to hit the key sessions every week if I want to get out there. I guess that’s probably the motivation is to just keep at it because I know if I don’t it’s going to be a suffer at best.
BRAD BROWN: Talk to me about the confidence thing. I find that fascinating because in what I do for a living, I chat to a lot of top class sports men and women and not just in triathlon but across the board and one thing I’m realising with a lot of them is it’s not an ability thing.
They’re all good at what they do and it’s the same thing I guess in Ironman triathlete. All the top age groupers are good. What separates them I’m finding is their mental capacity to whatever it is. To believe in themselves, to suffer, to push through when things are tough.
What are some of the things that you do to work on that? I think we train ourselves physically but a lot of us don’t train ourselves mentally hard enough. Is it something that you work on a lot?
The fear of failure
ZACK CARR: It is. I think the bottom line is it’s a fear of failure. I want to succeed in everything that I do and that really drives me. Not to get too deep but that acceptance. Coming from a large family it was hard to get acceptance and so I found something that if I train hard at it I can gain that acceptance and that really drives me.
When I’m out doing a workout I try to challenge myself to push beyond what I think I can do and a lot of that is at the end of a long run when I feel dead tired. Just to put myself in the spot where I’m on the race course, it’s the last 10k and really try to make that last 10k my best. I think a lot of it is training by yourself.
I really enjoy training with groups because it makes the time go by, it’s social but it’s hard to really focus and push yourself when you’re with a group. Especially on a long hard effort and so I really try to focus on, not to bury myself, but really pushing myself beyond what I think I can towards the end of a long workout. And that really helps build that confidence that when it comes to race day I know what it feels like. I’ve been there before.
BRAD BROWN: That’s exactly what I was going to ask, is it those sessions, the really tough ones in training that prepares you mentally for when things do get dark because we know they do get dark on race day and it’s those tough sessions that enable you to pull yourself out of those moments on race day.
Training alone build mental strength
ZACK CARR: Yes, and then on race day I’m thinking about those times. There’s a bridge that’s 4 miles from my house, that’s like from here to here and I’ve done that 100 times before. It’s nothing new, I’ve been there before. I can do it again.
BRAD BROWN: And visualisation, are you a big one on visualising?
ZACK CARR: Yes when it’s getting tough I like to visualise. Especially during training. The night or two before a race I’ll visualise and really basically play the race in my head and how it should go.
You can’t prepare for every variable but I think about what happens if I get a flat, how am I going to handle that. And when I come to race day I’m very calm and I feel like I’ve prepared as best as I can and I just take whatever comes.
BRAD BROWN: Brilliant. Well Zack I look forward to talking about your swim, your bike, your run and your nutrition but we’ll save that for next time. Thanks for all your time today here on The Kona Edge.
ZACK CARR: Certainly. Thank you.
Brad Brown is a 40 something age grouper that dreams of one day qualifying for and racing on the big island (He may have to outlive everyone in his age group though).
Morbidly obese in 2009, Brad clocked in at 165kgs (363lbs) at his heaviest.
He's subsequently lost a third of his body weight on the way to a half Ironman pb of 5:06 and a full Ironman pb of 12:21.
If you'd like to advertise on The Kona Edge, download our rate card.
If you'd like to find out more about becoming a Patron of The Kona Edge, click here.