Kanaan and Dixon: Iron men on and off track

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Reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon excuses himself for a moment to reach out to Tony Kanaan.

“I’ve been texting TK constantly about what kind of shorts to wear, what kind of drink bottle to bring,” Dixon says of the Ironman 70.3 Miami that the Chip Ganassi Racing Teams teammates will compete in Oct. 25. “It’s been kind of fun to dive into it again.”

They’ll dive into Biscayne Bay for an early morning 1.2-mile swim, which will immediately be followed by a 56-mile bike and 13.1-mile run in the triathlon that has attracted more than 3,200 entrants to South Florida. Former Indy car driver Vitor Meira also is among the participants.

The athletes incorporate the triathlon disciplines into their regular year-round workout regimens, though Dixon hasn’t tied them together in a competitive environment in quite a few years.

“It’s really hard to tell how it’s going to go; I’m just kind of going for the experience,” says Dixon, 35. “I’ve not had a lot of time to prep, but still I forgot how much I missed putting in the time and trying to get a little more out of all three disciplines and that kind of training. It will be fun to get back into a half-Ironman distance and next year maybe do a few more.”

His trainer, Jim Leo of Indianapolis-based PitFit Training, says the prep work for an Ironman event usually covers about 18 weeks. Dixon has had about six weeks of training, which has been mixed in with team and media obligations associated with earning his fourth Verizon IndyCar Series title, since he committed to the event.

“He already had high-intensity training from the season, but what we didn’t have was longer-distance stuff,” says Leo, who also will compete in the event. “During the season he does a lot of strength-based work, a lot of reaction-based work, neck training that will help inside the car.

“I can’t really tell you what his best sport is. He’s a phenomenal runner; he’s a really good swimmer. He’s fast on the bike and aerobically a robot. He could be an athlete in any sport. It will be fun to watch them race.”

Both Kanaan and Dixon are iron men on the racetrack, too. Kanaan, 40, is the all-time Indy car leader with 249 consecutive starts. Dixon has made 191 consecutive starts, which is second on the active list.

Kanaan, who competed in the inaugural Miami event in 2010 and the subsequent three years, attended a training camp two weeks ago in Hawaii during the Ironman World Championship. Kanaan put in miles on the new, high-tech Trek bike that he and Dixon will ride and picked up some tips from pros that he knows.

“The bike is very advanced and we have a lot more bike than we have legs for it,” Kanaan says with a laugh. “It’s like going to the Indy 500 and people give you a Ganassi car to race. It is futuristic and aerodynamic, which is similar to the race car.”

Triathlon disciplines crossed Kanaan in waves. He swam as a youngster in Brazil, started running at about age 14 and added biking when he was 18. About 15 years ago, a friend suggested Kanaan try combining all three in a triathlon. He was immediately hooked.

Kanaan has competed in other 70.3 events and in 2011 completed the grueling Ironman World Championship event (2.4-mile ocean swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run). His objective for this half-Ironman distance event is to compete solely against his body.

“I’m not too concerned about time or racing against anyone,” the 2004 Verizon IndyCar Series champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner says. “The intention is to enjoy the weekend. I’m doing this to be more fit in a race car. It’s similar to what I do for the IndyCar season and focus on a goal just to improve your fitness. I do triathlons to have the stamina to be faster in the race car.

“My focus, my stamina, it helps a ton. The way I've been active for so many years, I would never be right if I stopped. My body hurts more when I don't work out than when I do.”

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