Life after BMX: Dave Mirra's journey to the top of Ironman is underway
In the summer of 2012, BMX legend Dave Mirra and his family watched their friend Eric Hinman compete in his first Ironman at Lake Placid. Mirra looked on as 2,500 athletes, including his buddy from his hometown of Syracuse, N.Y., swam two loops around Mirror Lake, biked 112 miles and finished with a 26.2 mile run through the town and around the lake.
Dave wasn’t immediately hooked by his first experience with Ironman competitions, but it didn’t take long before he’d found his newest passion.
“Lake Placid didn’t get me into the sport at the time,” Mirra says. “I remember saying that it was an awesome sport that I’d never get into, but by the end of that summer, I was training like a triathlete with Mike Corona, the same guy who Eric trained with.”
Biking came naturally to Mirra—hardly surprising when one considers how he dominated the X Games BMX scene from the late 90’s through the 2000’s. Mirra is second in X Games history in both total medals (to Bob Burnquist) and gold medals (to Shaun White). 23 of his 24 medals are in BMX, as are all of his gold medals.
The running and swimming portions of Ironman competitions were a different story.
“I was never a swimmer or a runner before I began Ironman training,” Mirra says. “ I started biking longer distances, doing some running, and it felt really cool. I’d say that’s when I really fell in love with it.”
Mirra, now 41, remains a man with a near infinite motor. In March 2013, he competed in his first competition, the Bay Shore 70.3 mile Triathlon in Long Beach, Calif. The love for triathlons he thought he had found was tested in that debut, where he placed fourth.
“I was two miles out from finishing and thinking to myself that I’d never do this again,” confesses Mirra. “But when I got done, I couldn’t wait to do it again. When I called my wife from the finish line I was almost in tears I felt so good.”
Mirra competed regularly after that, with varied amounts of success. His next race was the Raleigh Ironman 70.3. Mirra’s experience there was entirely different than in California.
“Ironman competitions are an entirely different ballgame. The level of competition is much higher, and there are way more athletes,” Mirra says. “I was terrible in the swim, had a really fast bike split, but had a very tough run. I was dying after that race. I could tell I had a lot to learn.”
Ironman competitions are an entirely different ballgame... I was dying after that race. I could tell I had a lot to learn. —Dave Mirra
Corona had helped Mirra devise an introductory training plan, but he struggled to consistently finish races during the 2013 season. Mirra then began training with triathlete Ian Mickelson, with whom he focused on his swimming, at the end of the 2013 season.
“2014 was a much better year,” Mirra says. “I had a few really decent performances, and felt like I was really getting my feet under me.”
Mirra qualified for the 70.3 Mont Tremblant Ironman World Championship in Canada in 2014, where once again the level of competition was raised.
“To quality for Mont Tremblant was a huge goal,” Mirra says. “It was extremely satisfying to look around and see what I consider the best athletes in the world as my competition.”
Today, Mirra is thoroughly embedded in the culture of triathlon and Ironman competitions. He now trains with Cliff English, who trains the top-level competitors within the sport.
“I’ve learned a lot from all three coaches. I’ve jumped around the last three years to switch up styles. They taught me not to focus on speed because technique is far more important when it comes to finishing these races,” says Mirra. “I want to be a decent runner, a decent biker and a decent swimmer. I try to stick to my plan and not go too far outside of it. The whole philosophy is to go hard when you’re supposed to go hard, and go easy when you’re supposed to go easy.“
In 2015, Mirra raised the stakes again. His first race of the year in Raleigh was on Sunday, and though he didn’t complete the running portion, his swim time of 40:37 and bike time of 2:19:27 were competitive among his field. Considering Mirra said that he had no goals heading into the race other than seeing where his fitness was, he should be happy with that finish, but knowing Mirra, his mind is thinking of the next step forward.
This year’s goal, according to Mirra is finish in the top five in his age group at the Lake Placid Ironman competition, the same one where he first saw his friend Eric Hinman compete. That would quality him for the 2015 Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. Lake Placid will be Mirra’s first 140-mile race. Kona is the same distance.
“I’m a little scared of Lake Placid to be honest. I’ll give it a go and do my best, and we’ll see what happens,” Mirra says. “For a big distance, from what I understand, a lot has to go right. You can work your way through a half Ironman, overcook the bike a little bit, but that won’t cut it on a full distance.”
To train for the longer distance competitions, Mirra plans to ratchet up his training program to levels he was simply incapable of when he began in 2012.
“Saturdays will be a 112-117 mile bike ride. On Sundays, I’ll run for two and a half, maybe three hours. Swimming is all about consistency: I’ll do 3,000-5,000 yards in the pool three to four times a week,” Mirra says. “The toughest thing for me is swimming. It’s all about technique and I didn’t swim as a kid. Cycling is natural; I just have to do my homework. Get my workouts in, do the big long rides. Running is the toughest one of all. Very technique based. Keeping the hips forward, the torso learned over and legs fast is the way to good times.”
Mirra has only begun his Ironman career, but says that he plans to do it for the foreseeable future. He enjoys his time within the sport as a fan as much as he does competing.
“I can only imagine, training like I do, what they do and how long they’ve been doing it to have these absolutely amazing engines, they know their bodies. Hot, cold, windy, rainy, they are always fast,” says Mirra. “Heat will slow me down. I’m pretty fit, but I have my weaknesses. I was in Kona last year, and had no problem being a spectator. I would love to qualify and be in the field this year, but if not, it’s not a defeat to me at all.”
It would appear that there is no one clear way to defeat Dave Mirra.