From Steeler to Ironman: Hines Ward trains for triathlon

Written by Dan Gigler on .

hines finish

So here's an interesting bit of confessional trivia for you -- Hines Ward never ran a mile in all his years of football training.

The all-everything former Steeler holds nearly every team receiving record, was the Super Bowl XL MVP, a blocker so ferocious they made a rule because of him, a 4-time Pro Bowler and multi-year captain who outworked everybody, by his own admission never once ran one mile continuously when he played football. 

Clearly he's making up for that now, because he's getting plenty of miles behind him as he trains for the 2013 Ironman World Championship Triathlon in Kona, Hawaii, in October as part of the BECOME ONE team sponsored by Got Chocolate Milk. 

The Kona Ironman is the mother of all triathlons -- a 2.4-mile swim followed by 112-miles cycling and topped off with a full 26.2-mile marathon. Ward's been training under the tutelage of 8-time World Triathlon Champion Paula Newby-Fraser -- dubbed the "Queen of Kona." 

Recently he completed his first event, the  SEAL Sprint Triathlon (500m swim, 20K bike, 6K run) in Coronado, Calif., on St. Patrick's Day. He finished 92nd overall out of 264 overall competitors (male and female) with a time of 1 hour 27 minutes and 45 seconds. 

I was able to catch up with Ward at before an autograph appearance Saturday at the Westmoreland Mall with Steel City Collectibles and ask him about his training.

hines runningQ: So how was your first race?

WARD: I had a blast, but I was very nervous in the sense that it was my first time, so I didn’t know what to expect, being out there with other people, because I’ve been training by myself and through Paula. She emails me what I’m supposed to do and I just go by what’s she puts on my email, and I’m on the Map My Fitness thing, so I can’t hide from her [laughs] – she sees me working out every day – she knows when I don’t work out if she doesn’t get an alert on her phone.

But it was overwhelming in the sense of how everyone kind of welcomed me to the triathlon world. Everyone was very positive and very encouraging. When I felt tired and felt like walking, everyone kept giving me high-fives like ‘good job Hines, keep it up!’ so I’m just running like, ‘I can’t stop now’ but all in all, it was good.

It was totally different than what I’ve been doing my whole life training for football. It’s basically on the opposite end of the spectrum – trying to be an endurance athlete. But I’m happy with it. It was a good first trial I guess. Our goal was to finish in an hour thirty, I ended up finishing in an hour twenty-seven, so anytime you accomplish your goal, it’s a great day. But I still have a long ways to go. Now we start to go up in intensity and more miles, the longer, harder and more excruciating all the events will be come now.

Q: You’ve played a team sport your entire life. Even your reality shows [Dancing with the Stars, Celebrity Cook Off] were kind of team sports. This has got to be drastically different.  

WARD: This is individual. This is myself. No one can vote me in to the next round. I’m not getting judged by anyone. It’s just me vs. myself – and that clock. ... Me being by myself, waking up in the morning for a six or seven mile run – I never ran more than a mile! I never had to. Everything was 40-yard times. No more than 100-yards. I mean total it may have added up to be a mile, but [I’ve] never just run consistently for that long, over a mile, period, at one time. I’m enjoying it though.

It’s definitely life-changing ... I don’t want to take a day off. I want to continue the same work ethic I had in football and kind of carry it over into the Ironman world. I’m eating right – sitting around playing golf and watching football I’ve kind of let my weight go up to 228. But now I’m down to like 207, 208 so I’ve lost 20 pounds since January. So in three months. And I haven’t really picked up the intensity yet, so when I start running 15 miles a day and stuff like that, when the weather gets warmer, I’m going to lose even more weight.

From what I’ve learned, I will be in better shape than I’ve ever been in the 14 years that I played. As far as conditioning wise, it’s night and day from what I’m accustomed to – totally going to the opposite end and training to be an endurance athlete. ... And when the weather gets hotter and the intensity goes up – before Kona gets here I want to be 185 maybe 190.

hines bikeQ: When was the last time you weighed that much? [note: Ward listed at 205 pounds through most of playing career]

WARD: [laughs] I saw a college photo – I’m pretty sure in college, in Georgia. It’s been a long time. Probably over 18 years ago. When I was in high school going to college, I think I weighed 185 or 190. But crossing over into the Ironman world, I’m big to be an endurance athlete.

Q: Does that make any of the events harder?

The swimming ... you know how to swim, but you think of 2.4 miles – that’s a long way!

hines readyQ: How was the open water swim at Coronado?

It was a nightmare. It was a 500 meter race, but I probably swam 600 or 700 meters because I was zigzagging all over – I swam that whole part blind. I couldn’t see. My goggles were foggy ... It was like 6 ‘o’ clock in the morning – still dark – you can’t see in the bay. It wasn’t like Hawaii where it’s clear and you can see everything – you can’t see anything.

I remember going in and I saw the buoy and I put my head down for three or four strokes, I looked up and I didn’t see the buoy. So I followed a group of people and they were going the wrong way. So, I end up zigzagging the whole way out towards the thing. But 500 meters – I got out in like 13 [or] 14 minutes and I felt like I was the last one out, but I was kind of in the middle of the section. When I ran to the transition to my bike, my bike was the only bike on the rack [laughs] I was like oh jeeze – this is not good.

hines waterWhen I got on my bike, I caught up because my bike is probably the thing that I love the most – and I was passing so many people on the bike and it felt good and was very encouraging. Then when I got off the bike all the people I passed started passing me in the run section.

But all in all, it was fun. And I loved how encouraging everyone was ... for them to still welcome me into that world – because I know when I went out there, they’re looking at me, I’m looking at them, they’re kind of eyeballing me like they really want to beat the crap out of me – by like an hour or so – and I’m looking at them like, I don’t know anything about the endurance world, so bear with me, take it easy on me – but all in all everybody was very encouraging and that’s what I really needed and really enjoyed about that.

Q: What is your goal time?

For Kona? I can’t tell you that yet ... Just to finish.



Watch Hines Ward begin his training under the guidance of world champion triathlete Paula Newby-Fraser.

(All photos courtesy Got Chocolate Milk)

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