Secrets of an Iron Man

by Grace McCalmon


Secrets of an Iron Man

by Grace McCalmon

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This week I sat down with Edwin Ortiz – triathlete, marathoner, Iron Man about town, to talk nutrition, training strategy and chocolate-glazed Munchkins.

Ortiz hails from York, PA and since 2009 has called Atlanta his home. For the 11 years prior to that, he served as an aviation mechanic in the U.S. Navy. After spending time in Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa (where he fended off Somali pirates like a real-life Captain Phillips!) Ortiz left the service and signed on as a flight mechanic with Lockheed Martin. He landed the prestigious gig thanks to his smarts, experience, and the fact that he’s one of the few people you’ll see at the grocery store with Top Secret government clearance. NBD.

So Eddie isn’t exactly your average Joe. But he does describe himself as your “typical Navy guy,” which apparently included lots of partying and Subway. According to Ortiz, the extent of his physical fitness after he left the Navy was lifting weights and playing on the company softball team. All that changed when his girlfriend at the time asked him to go for a run, “At first I thought, no way! If I start running I’ll get skinny, but we went, and I ran five miles without even realizing.”

Not your typical first-time, five-mile experience. Clearly running came naturally to Ortiz, who also competed on his high school swim team. When a friend suggested he try a triathlon, it seemed like the thing to do. From triathlons, he moved to marathons, the Iron Man, 50Ks, 50 milers and, of course, Team SmartyPants. “If I say I’m going to do something, I commit.” The understatement of the year.

Ortiz is currently in the middle of triathlon / trail season with a race nearly every weekend. “The hardest part is prioritizing my time,” he says, scheduling swimming on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; running on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays; biking on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and fitting in speed work once a week. Yup that’s a seven day work week.

Ortiz says he can train every day because he’s conditioned for it and he’s always alternating muscle groups. But no matter what the schedule says, Ortiz believes you should listen to your body first: “If you’re getting injured or sick all the time, that’s a good indication you’re over-training.” For newbies, he recommends designating 1-2 days for recovery. He’s also a big fan of cryotherapy, hyperbaric chambers and compression garments.

You might expect this guy to have a diet as strict as his training schedule, but when asked about his eating habits Ortiz was refreshingly low-key and even, dare we say, a little boring? There’s no magical macronutrient ratios or super secret supplements (the only thing he takes is SmartyPants!) Ortiz follows a 90/10 (sometimes 80/20) approach, trying to keep everything in the house as organic and gluten-free as possible. But you won’t catch him toting around a mini fridge filled with special meals. There are times when you just have to eat what’s available, he says. There are also times when you have to treat yourself. Ortiz’s guilty pleasure? That would be a tie between Dunkin’ Donuts’ chocolate-glaze or Nancy’s thin-crust pizza. In fact, after finishing the Boston Marathon, Eddie headed straight to Dunkin’ and polished off a 25-piece box of Munchkins before he even got back to his hotel.

Ortiz wasn’t always a clean eater though. Remember those Subway days? He credits his coach, Andrew Johnson, founder of Triumph Training, for changing his life. Before Johnson, Ortiz was eating a diet of pretty much anything and everything. “Eddie, you’re messed up,” said Johnson, a survivor of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, who takes a holistic approach to food and training. Since Johnson changed up his diet Ortiz has seen definite results, from better recovery to energy and endurance, “I can ride 50 miles on two bottles of water” he says. And there’s no gorging on pasta or bagels the night before a race, “I don’t need to carb load because I eat right every day.”

If you want specifics, Ortiz starts every morning with 8 oz. of water and six SmartyPants (seriously, this is not a plug!). He saves his breakfast – usually egg and Genoa salami on Rudy’s gluten-free bread – for after his morning workout. A standard lunch or dinner would be something like Asian beef with brown rice and veggies. If you’re really dying for an exclusive tip, maybe it’s that Ortiz always makes sure to eat two bananas a day and his pre-marathon go-to is an almond butter and jelly sandwich.

If you’re just starting out, Ortiz advises you to be realistic about your time. Becoming a hard-core athlete takes a lot of it, so if you’ve got family and other commitments, set achievable goals. According to Ortiz, an average triathlon or marathon will take about 6-8 hours a week for 3-6 months. For his Iron Man, he trained 10-12 hours per week for 11 months and he was already in pretty great shape. This is one of the reasons why he focuses on marathons and triathlons now. While training for the Iron Man, he was riding nearly nine hours a day, which didn’t leave much time for eating and sleeping, let alone a life.

Another tip for first-timers is to find a group. For his first triathlon he trained with Team in Training. If you’re going the self-help route, Ortiz likes The Well-Built Triathlete and Holistic Strength Training for Triathlon, written by his former trainer Johnson.

Ortiz credits his military training for his drive and focus, and credits Johnson for his most memorable motivational speech: “If the mailman can do it, you can do it.” Meaning, hail, sleet and snow shouldn’t stop you. According to Ortiz anyone can make it to Boston, “I truly believe you can qualify for whatever you want. If you put in the time and training, anything is possible.”

Eddie is a proud member of Team SmartyPants, a social initiative that celebrates the wins of runners across the country. If you have an upcoming race and would like to be a part of the Team, we’ll send you SmartyPants gear, including a New Balance singlet, a 3-month supply of SmartyPants vitamins and a variety of other health goodies to keep you energized for your race. We ask that you share your running journey through your social platforms using the hashtag #RunSmarty and tagging us as @SmartyHealth.

Email our social media guru for details.


Know anyone thinking about training for a marathon? Share this with them!

What do you think? Are you a marathoner? Iron Man? Do you follow any special diet or training schedule? We’d love to hear your tips and tricks in the comments below!

Posted on May 20, 2015

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Grace McCalmon

Grace is a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) and a graduate of Duke University. She received her nutrition certification from the Nutritional Therapy Association, and her training is based on the work of Dr. Weston A Price, as well as the latest peer-reviewed, scientific research.