From Pumping Iron to Ironman: Mayhem Athletes Use Their CrossFit Background to Take on Ironman Chattanooga

September 22, 2023 by
Photo Credit: Jake Lockert
Enjoying Morning Chalk Up? Access additional exclusive interviews, analyses, and stories with an Rx membership.

“Regularly play and learn new sports”

It’s one of the central tenets on which Greg Glassman founded the CrossFit Methodology. The idea that his athletes would utilize the fitness they earned through CrossFit to enrich their lives through a variety of sports and activities was always at the root of what makes CrossFit so incredible.

Over the years, we’ve seen a number of top athletes take on this challenge to the extreme level. Tia-Clair Toomey-Orr competed in the Olympics for weightlifting just weeks after the close of the 2016 CrossFit Games. This past year, former Games champion Rich Froning Jr. completed the Leadville 100 Trail Race, a 100-mile mountain bike race in Colorado.

One big thing: This year, seven athletes from CrossFit Mayhem will rely on their CrossFit backgrounds to take on the Chattanooga Ironman race in Tennessee on September 24th.

The details: Ironman Chattanooga is a 140.6-mile race consisting of swimming, biking, and running. Athletes begin the race with a 2.4-mile swim, move to a 112-mile bike, and finish with a marathon run (26.2 miles).

  • The race is not for the faint of heart and many participants will take over 12 hours to finish.
  • But Jake Lockert, director of Mayhem athlete and president of Mayhem Nation, feels that he and his athletes are up for the challenge.
  • “For me and I think a lot of the guys, I think it was kind of a bucket list type item that seemed to be something we could do, but also something we might fail,” said Lockert.
  • “Of course, there’s no guarantee,” he added.

Despite the daunting challenge of the Ironman, Lockert believes that his crew can rely heavily on their background in CrossFit to help them cross the finish line.

  • “A lot of us haven’t trained nearly as much as most triathletes train,” said Lockert.

While most athletes looking to race in an Ironman will put over 20 hours per week into their endurance training, Lockert and his crew split their efforts more amongst CrossFit and their endurance training.

  • “We were not training even 10 hours a week for most of the year until the last couple of months,” he said.
  • “The fitness really does pay off, and the base of CrossFit really does help. We do just enough fitness to keep it fun,” Lockert added.

Beyond just the fitness groundwork that CrossFit has laid for them, Lockert also believes that mental toughness is a key element that will allow him and his fellow Mayhem athletes to finish the race.

  • “The hurt in the Ironman is way different. It’s more of a mental battle. That’s so different than a 5-minute AMRAP,” said Lockert
  • “But we definitely have the mental resilience. We’re going to finish or we’re gonna die trying,” Lockert added laughing.

How it all started: While Lockert is confident that he will finish, he knows he has a bit of extra pressure going for him to complete the race.

  • A year ago, he posted on Instagram that he was going to complete Ironman Chattanooga and asked if anyone would be interested.
  • “I did the post for the social accountability,” said Lockert.
  • Out of the people in the comments, seven other athletes from Mayhem athlete decided to join him on this journey and six will race in just a few days (the final athlete postponed his race to 2024 due to injury).

The CrossFit to endurance pipeline: While only a small percentage of the world has finished an Ironman, a number of CrossFitters over the years have utilized their base fitness from CrossFit to help them cross the finish line.

  • We surveyed over 100 CrossFitters who have finished either an Ironman race or an Ironman 70.3 to see how CrossFit impacted their training and performance.

By the numbers: Of our surveyed athletes, 58% completed at least one Ironman 70.3, while 42% had completed at least one Ironman.

Ironman AthletesIronman 70.3 Athletes
Hours of CrossFit Training/Wk55
Hours Of Endurance Training/Wk1411
% of Time Spent CrossFit Training25%32%
% of Time Spent Endurance Training75%68%
  • From the data, it seems that while a majority of time was spent in endurance training, especially for the full-distance Ironman athletes, there was still a substantial chunk of time spent training in the CrossFit methodology.
  • While both Ironman and Ironman 70.3 athletes spent about equal amounts of time in CrossFit training, it seems that the full-distance Ironman athletes simply spent more time doing endurance training.

The breakdown:

  • Nearly every athlete felt that CrossFit helped them in their Ironman training.
  • Only two out of 111 responses voiced that CrossFit hindered their training in any significant way.
  • The main complaint when it came to CrossFit was that it was tough to find balance with the volume of endurance training required for the race. Many wished they could fit more CrossFit training into their schedules, but felt like doing too much CrossFit training would take away precious time that could be spent in endurance training.
  • Many athletes reported that tapering down their CrossFit training prior to the race and focusing more on endurance was important for their success in the race.

“Less CrossFit is better, in my opinion,” said former Games athlete Michele Letendre, who has completed several Ironman 70.3s.

  • “If the priority is the race, you’ll need time on the bike and running and especially swimming,” she added.
  • Letendre also added though that CrossFit “Helped a ton, especially for form and core strength,”
  • According to the survey, 37% of athletes said that they would have incorporated more endurance work into their training, and only 4% said they would decrease the volume of endurance training they did.
  • However, 75% of athletes said that they would train the same number of hours in CrossFit if they could do it again and only 18% of athletes said they would add more CrossFit to their training.

From the box to the race: The biggest benefit athletes cited from CrossFit training was in helping to prevent injury and burnout.

  • Other athletes also cited the mental benefits of CrossFit training.
  • “The mental resilience Crossfit teaches you was the key to completing the Ironman for me. We are used to being in a hole and pushing through, and we’re also used to breaking things up into manageable sets or pacing a workout right,” said one athlete who wished to remain anonymous.
  • “The Ironman is too much if you think about it as a whole and you need to pace it right to be comfortable on that run. Go too hard on the bike and you’ll regret it later,” they continued.
  • “CrossFit provided a physical and mental preparedness that wouldn’t have been achievable through endurance training alone…while most competitors needed weeks of recovery my foundation allowed me to get back to CrossFit classes 3 days after my race feeling great,” said Eric Marion who completed an Ironman 70.3
  • According to Robert Garfio, “IronMan in any distance IS CrossFit, it’s just a REALLY long chipper,”

The big picture: For many, completing an Ironman is a once-in-a-lifetime achievement and a big bucket list item to check off and the reality is that whether you spend your time in a CrossFit gym or on the road biking and running, racing 140.6 miles is a challenging feat that should be celebrated. Moreover, the benefits of incorporating CrossFit and strength training as the foundation for your endurance work cannot be overlooked. For these Mayhem athletes, their backgrounds in CrossFit will certainly serve as the foundation for their ability to complete the race both from a fitness and mental aspect.

Get the Newsletter

For a daily digest of all things CrossFit. Community, Competitions, Athletes, Tips, Recipes, Deals and more.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.