After eight months of hard work and dedication, former Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward is just over one week away from racing in the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. Though Ward has competed in three triathlons to date (the SEAL Sprint III, St. Anthony’s and Ironman 70.3 Kansas), this will be by far the biggest challenge of his triathlon journey. Nothing compares to the task of overcoming the pressure of the event and toughness of the Big Island conditions and the race distance. Any Kona rookie, let alone one who will be watched diligently by fans and media, would be nervous, but Ward’s coach, eight-time Ironman world champion Paula Newby-Fraser, is 100 percent confident he will manage the race-week pressure with no problems.
“He’s such a professional,” Newby-Fraser says of the former NFL star. “When I talk to him I realize that he completely understands and gets when something big is coming along. I talked to him a couple of nights ago and for him the week in Kona is the same as going into Super Bowl week. He’s going to do his job. He’s going to handle all of his media. In his mind he’s going to do everything he can do to have his body feel ready so that he can execute.”
Outside of feeling mentally ready, Newby-Fraser also believes that Ward will be physically prepared when he takes to the start line on the morning of Oct. 12. The biggest obstacle over the past two months has been the startup of football season. Though Ward is retired as a player, his broadcasting jobs keep him busy for most of the week. He travels to three different cities over the course of Thursday to Monday each week, making it difficult to get any training in during that time. Newby-Fraser says that the realization that he would only have two to three days per week to dedicate to training was initially terrifying. Now looking back, she sees it as a blessing in disguise.
“It’s almost saved him because it’s given him a lot of rest,” she explains. “If he was at home I think taking a day off would be difficult for him. He’s become so addicted to his schedule and working out that he probably wouldn’t have been happy about doing nothing. As much as it stressed me out when I was looking at the big picture, I think it has actually worked out well.”
In terms of the race itself, Newby-Fraser is least worried about the swim, saying that she expects him to come into T1 “well under an hour and a half.” She’s also confident in his ability to conquer the bike course after several 100-plus mile rides and some time spent training in Kona’s brutal conditions a few months ago. After competing for years as an elite athlete in a sport that is notoriously tough on the body, Ward’s biggest challenge will be making it through the 26.2-mile marathon after 2.4 miles of swimming and 112 miles on the bike.
“The only thing that’s always concerned me is the marathon,” Newby-Fraser says. “He’s run 20 miles once. He will get it done, but he’s going into no-man’s land on that marathon. I think we’re going to see Hines Ward the athlete and the competitor, because those last six miles are going to be painful for him on that marathon, I know it. He’ll find a way to get it done and he’ll do it with a lot of pride. He’s an athlete. He’ll get it done.”
One thing that will help Ward on the marathon is his dramatic weight loss. He’s “the skinniest he’s been since high school” according to Newby-Fraser as a result of the high-mileage training and a focus on what he eats. Ward eats a balanced diet with plenty of protein throughout the day and focuses on limiting carbohydrates and refined sugars in the evenings.
Another big element in Ward’s diet has been the use of chocolate milk for recovery. Ward, along with Eric McElvenny, Chrisann Dalton and Josh Kalb, will be competing in Kona as part of the Refuel, Got Chocolate Milk? Become One team. All four of them have made chocolate milk, which is also the official refuel beverage of Ironman, a part of their recovery routine, and they won’t be the only ones on the Big Island using it. The marketing campaign has brought a lot of recent attention to the benefits of chocolate milk, like the protein content, the ideal carb-to-protein ratio, the right balance of electrolytes and more, but Newby-Fraser says she knows endurance athletes who have been using it for years.
“The whole chocolate milk thing has been around so long,” she tells us. “I remember years and years ago someone saying that chocolate milk is probably one of the best recovery products out there and this was 15–20 years ago. My husband Paul [Huddle] has been drinking chocolate milk ever since I’ve known him. Hines drinks chocolate milk after his workouts all the time. They deliver it to [Hines'] house. When he finishes a workout he hydrates, he drinks chocolate milk and then he eats a meal 30 to 60 minutes later.”
The Refuel, Got Chocolate Milk? team, along with Triathlete.com senior video producer Steve Godwin, have been documenting Ward’s journey to the start line in Kona. See the first eight webisodes here and visit Triathlete.com/HinesWard in the coming days for more.