Training for Triathlons and Life: How Ironman Raul Sosa Puts in Work and Gets Results

When Detroit resident Raul Sosa completed his first duathlon (a competition that combines running and biking) 16 years ago, he had no idea that he would eventually qualify for – and compete in – the Ironman World Championships.

Sosa, a HAP member, works as a program manager for Fiat Chrysler Automotive. Originally from Mexico City, he moved to Detroit about 30 years ago, when the company transferred him there. Sosa had run throughout high school and college and continued to run through adulthood.

By the time he reached his early 40s, he was looking for new goals; a friend challenged him to try a triathlon – a competition in which participants swim, bike and run, in that order. “That lit the spark,” Sosa says. “And I’d watched the Ironman [championships] in Hawaii, and I was impressed that people could do that.”

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Raul's medal from the 2018 Ironman World Championship in Hawaii.
A bit intimidated by the swim component, he chose to start with a duathlon – participants run, bike and run again. He bought a bicycle at a garage sale and showed up at the race, unsure of what to expect. While he did well during the running leg, his race fell apart during the cycling.

“Everyone passed me! The chain was coming loose, I was in the hardest gear because I couldn’t change gears and the seat was wobbling!” he says. He caught a few people during the run, though, and his love for the sport was born. After his friend lent him a better bike, Sosa signed up for swim lessons and started training for his first triathlon in the spring of 2002. He completed his first sprint triathlon in the summer of 2002.

The basics of triathalons

Triathlons come in different distances. “Sprint” races are shortest; the full-length Ironman clocks in at a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.2-mile run, in that order. Over the next few years, Sosa increased his training and the distance of the triathlons he raced. In 2006, he competed in a full Ironman for the first time.

“That got me even more involved and passionate about the sport,” says Sosa, who prefers the longer-distance races to shorter ones. “With the longer distances, it’s about pacing yourself instead of going all out.” Since then, he’s continued to train and compete in Ironman-length competitions, which in the Midwest are typically held during the summer months.

In 2018, while in Boston preparing to run the Boston Marathon, he learned that he had qualified for the Ironman World Championships, held in Hawaii that October. He trained hard for months, and finished in 12 hours, 11 minutes, 30 seconds.

Training takes a lot of time, but Sosa’s wife, Debbie, and his adult children, Andrew and Candace, always have supported him. He works out six days a week, with the aim of getting in three swims, three runs and three bikes a week. “I like to push myself,” he says, “and I like the endorphins you get from training hard.” 

And race day? That’s the validation of everything you’ve done, he says.

HAP sponsored Sosa for the Ironman race, which helped him cover the cost of training and traveling to Hawaii for the competition.

Small steps to becoming more active

Sosa started coaching triathletes about three years ago. Not everyone will want to train for a triathlon, but plenty of us can benefit from becoming more active. Sosa’s advice is to set a goal – such as training for a 5K – and then create a training program to meet it; for instance, walking/running for 30 minutes three times a week. Look at your calendar and write down which days and at what times you’ll exercise. Many people like to work out first thing in the morning to get it out of the way, but over your lunch hour or in the evening may fit your schedule better. HAP can even help you train with our 5K challenge program.

Look for an exercise buddy – someone you can walk or bike with – to make you more likely to stick with your routine. (Bonus: You can catch up while you exercise.) And try rewarding yourself when you reach a goal, maybe treating yourself to a movie, a healthy meal out or new workout gear.

Tired after a long day and thinking of skipping your workout? Remind yourself of what you hope to achieve by becoming fitter. “Part of having a goal you’re shooting for is staying focused with it,” Sosa says. “Your mind is stronger than you think … and nobody can do the work for you.”

Sosa plans to continue to train and compete in 2019 and beyond. “To me, age is only a number,” he says. “I may be 57 but I feel like I’m 27 right now. I’m in the best shape of my life.”

He says his dedication has paid off, not only in improved health but also in other areas of his life.

“I can apply everything I do for triathlon to everything else I do in my life,” he explains. “It’s about determination. When you always push, push, push for the next level, you will get it.”

Categories: Get Moving