Ironman triathlon is a particular beast and a VERY long day out. Make sure as well as training like a demon, you also take advantage of as many hacks as you can. Learn the tricks ahead of time, not when it is too late.
My friend Rebecca was doing London triathlon. It was her first triathlon. She was one of those people who thought it was a good idea to go straight for an Ironman triathlon distance.
She was super fit anyway from national rowing days.
So she diligently applied her training principles she learned from rowing to swim, bike and run. She prepared for a year.
She was ready and looking forward to it.
She was used to race day nerves from her rowing regattas -so this was ok.
She set off, everything was going well, she was in the front group on the swim, she made up some more places on the bike, she looked like she would finish top 10 for sure.
But she made one error- she came in for the dismount at T2 and removed her helmet as she was still riding.
This is pretty much -instant disqualification.
Every triathlete knows this rule- and so did she- but in the heat of the race- she forgot but it was too late. The marshals saw- and that was the end of her race, that was the end of her top 10 placing, that was the end of her year of training, her sweaty sessions, her early nights when her friends were out partying and early mornings in the pool when everyone else was still in bed.
Being prepared I think is the greatest ingredient for success in Ironman racing.
The name triathlon is misleading- giving amateurs the impression that they have to train for three disciplines.
In my opinion, in an Ironman triathlon, there are at least three more to be trained- nutrition, mental rehearsal/mental toughness and transition.
If just one of these go wrong- your race is over. And yet most triathletes spend all their time on swim, bike and run and only pay lip service to the other three.
I am staggered at many people ignore this completely.
Obviously they are doing so much triathlon training that they think “I am an Ironman triathlete, I can eat whatever I want!”
And yes whilst the volume of training means they don’t tend to have obesity problems, you are still only as good as the fuel you put in.
If you are eating rubbish calories, your training will be much less effective, you will take longer to recover and you will tend to get ill more often.
Preparation make a key difference to the outcome of Ironman triathlon
If we assume everyone has followed similar training plans and has similar ability, being prepared could put you 200 places higher or more on the rankings simply because your transitions were smooth and quick, you were mentally tough enough to maintain power in the headwind and the driving rain, and your superior nutrition means that you did higher quality sessions, because you had better, cleaner fuel in the tank.
Silly mistakes occur when you do not prepare properly….
As some of you know- one of my friends and I discussed our pre race kit and race day checklist the week before a triathlon… the day before the race- he had forgotten various items and had to run around 3 bike stores at the last minute to get extra inner tubes, spare pair of sunglasses and some extra gels.
Anyway the next day…. he turned up to the race with his race bag packed nicely- but.. forgot to bring his bike!
Ouch! All the training in the world won’t help if you turn up on race day without having thought about what you’re actually going to be doing.
In general the higher spots in Ironman triathlon will go to he or she who prepares most
In general this means more volume, more intensity, more focus in training but as I have discussed many times on this blog, it involves preparing the other disciplines besides the obvious swim, bike and run.
Remember to include mental conditioning in your preparation.
How do you cope if it is windy when you are on the bike? What if a downpour comes when you running and you are still 9 miles from home? Do you get upset? Do you give up and call your spouse to pick you up in the car?
Mental preparation is key to ironman triathlon success.
It is being tough when it hurts, being tough when the conditions are unpleasant and keeping on going no matter what.
Remember to include transition rehearsal… (Practice this with all your kit many times through out training- not just the week before). It is a good idea to have a dedicated transition bag and pack it several times well in advance so you know it all fits and you know you have everything you need.
Remember to practice excellent nutrition throughout your whole training program. This will allow you to get the better results out of every training session than your competitors.
Remember to experiment and test out everything well in advance.
It still surprises me the number of triathletes who buy new running shoes the week before the race, or see a box of sports gels on special and buy those (when they have never tried them before).
All your kit should be worn and tested many times in hot, humid conditions and cold, windy conditions, so no matter how the day turns out you won’t be the one pulling out with a blister because your socks got wet in the rain or forgot something simple like your bodyglide.
I did have a friend called Will who made this mistake. He did all his running outdoors only when the sun shone. Any rainy days he headed indoors to the treadmill. He did not think this was a problem until it poured down with rain on race day. His wet sock started rubbing around 8 miles, got worse by 12 miles, he was limping at 15 miles and ended up pulling out by 18 miles……
I am not sure of the exact number of people who start an ironman triathlon then do not finish- but I would bet most of them are due to problems that could have been prevented with a little pre thought and preparation.
Remember to simulate in training the exact race time you will be starting at. If you are doing Ironman triathlon, you most likely will need to be eating breakfast at 4am…
If you do most of your training after work at 6pm, and a couple of 10am bike rides on a weekend, your body will get a shock when you are having breakfast at 4am, warming up at 530am and preparing for a 630am start.
Obviously practice exactly what you will eat the morning of race day several times in advance. Experiment until you are pleased and confident in your chosen fuel. Prepare your race box at least a week before the race…remember to include spare tubes, CO2 cartridges, spare sunglasses…
Download your race day checklist as a guide
You do not want to be running around stressed when you wander into your bike shop the day before and find they have run out of your favorite gel or your size inner tube.
It is a good idea to get your bike checked over and properly serviced a week or two before hand.
Write down your race day timetable to prevent you running through endless doomsday scenarios in you head.
- your wake up time
- your breakfast time
- your leave the hotel/house time
- your race briefing time
- your rack the bike time
- how long you will warm up and where
- the time you will have a pre race gel
- the time you expect to be in T1,
- the time you expect to be in T2
- the time you expect to be on the finish line!
Be specific and go over it several times- it will help you calm your nerves as you will have played out every scenario in your head and have an answer to it.
Do your Ironman triathlon course research
Do as much prep as you can on the actual course. You will be spending a long time out there.
If it local to you- go there, swim, bike and run the course in advance (even if you do it in stages)so you are familiar with the tides, the currents, the nasty corners on the bike leg, the wind conditions, the hills on the run and so on.
If you don’t live anywhere near it, get as much info on the course as possible and aim to simulate it as closely as possible.
If it is a hilly course- find some hills! Do them!
Even with high resistance on the turbo, it is very difficult to simulate climbing required on a bike.
On the run- make sure you do outdoor running- aim to find out the gradients involved, estimated average temperatures etc
My friend James, who did ALL his running training on a treadmill. He never ran outdoors- just was more convenient to run on the treadmill. (He did this BEFORE I met him).
I’m sure you can foresee the imminent disaster about to unfold!
His bones and joints were just not used the the concrete running surface and blew up half way round the race…
The first day he ran on concrete was race day!
He managed to limp to the end to finish but he had major shin splints and swollen knee joints for at least 3 months afterwards.
Also your muscles actually work completely differently on the treadmill as the ground is moving under you and you just have to keep up as opposed to running outdoors when you have to move over a stationery surface….
I do love the treadmill and think it is a great training tool but you do need to run outdoors as well.
For the swim course study the pre race information so you have memorised it in your head.
Sometimes it is confusing on the day if there are quite a lot of buoys that you must negotiate.
It helps to line up a landmark near the buoy- ie a big tree behind it or a tall building so you do not get confused and start heading off to the wrong buoy.
Most important know clearly where the exit to the swim is…
This did happen to me in one of my first races.
It was a lake swim and a water start. I did not even think of checking exactly where the exit was.
It was only a problem because I was leading the swim, so I had no one to follow. I came to where I thought it was but had misjudged it by 10 meters… the marshals were shouting at me to move to the left.
It was not a total disaster- but I lost some important seconds but most importantly it made me a little flustered and broke my rhythm of being in control… I never made this mistake again!
The other thing to check out is the type of exit. If it is a beach or a natural lake it is usually no problem.
Some of them have a gentle man made slope which is easy to run up. I have seen some that are just like a pontoon that you have to lift yourself out from the lake.
A friend of mine-Cathy- made this mistake –she did not lift herself high enough as she was not expecting it, caught her leg on the edge had to complete the rest of the race with a bleeding shin.
Where is my bike?
We have discussed finding out exactly the course of the bike.
Also find out carefully where the feed stations are and how far apart between each one. Make sure as much as possible to simulate this in training.
Now a very important tip for the swim-bike transition which I do not see mentioned much on triathlon sites is to pick a landmark to identify exactly where your bike is.
This is a classic error!
I have lost count of the number of times I have seen swimmers come out of the water in an Ironman triathlon slightly dizzy and disorientated and unable to locate their bike.
It can be dazzling- when you may rack up your bike early when there are not many there then suddenly next time you see them, there are 2000 bikes next to yours. You can lose valuable time in locating it.
This is again a mistake I have made (only once!) but a silly error -which does not need to happen at all if you are aware of it.
This may be the evening before or the morning of the race.
So do not miss this. It will give you important information about the race, the course and the rules.
Turn up and make sure you listen.
It is best if the briefing is the evening before as you will listen and absorb more.
I know most people- the morning of the race, hear nothing, see nothing, they are just full of adrenalin and obsessed with the major question of the day: do I need to go to the loo again before I start?
Make sure you register in time- bring all your ID and your own race belt.
When you are allowed to- go to transition, rack your bike and lay your things out-tidy, organised and prepared. Do not be deciding on the morning of the race where things should go!
Major tip: When you rack your bike- have it already in the right gear for you to start riding easily….
Some people fix their shoes to the pedals with elastic bands to hold shoes in position… these will break off when you start riding. It will save you a few seconds.
Depending on time, some people do an easy run or a few drills to warm up and ease off pre race nerves.
When you are ready put wetsuit on (Vaseline, bodyglide or baby oil around ankles and wrists to make it easy to get it off).
If you are allowed to -jump in the water and do a few strokes to warm up the shoulders and get mentally ready.
You will have already worked out in your prep where you want to start- if you are strong swimmer get as close to the front as possible.
If you are weaker – you do not want to experience all those people swimming over you. Just go where you are comfortable- it might be on the side or towards the back. Yes you might lose 10-20 seconds…. But you will lose this anyway if you have to cope with getting trampled on, nursing a black eye or swallowing water.
This will allow you to swim your own race without getting elbowed or kicked in the face.
Mentally break the swim into sections in Ironman triathlon.
Many people start of too quickly with the excitement then have nothing left.
So race smart.
Get into a decent rhythm you have planned in training and stick to it. Whilst at first you may feel everyone moving ahead of you- you will be surprised at how many of them fade later on and the feeling of passing them by as you power by in the second half is an amazing confidence booster.
In the last 100m start thinking of transition, stay calm, kick a bit ore to get the blood in the legs, keep breathing.
By the time you get to your bike- you should have your cap and goggles off and wetsuit already off to your waist. At your bike continue taking wetsuit off and put your helmet on straight away.
This is where many people get disqualified- they start cycling or running with the bike with out their helmet. This is very important and the marshals are very strict on this. You may be disqualified.
Your bike should have your fluids and gels taped on it. Your shoes may already be on the bike (or quickly put them on in T2).
Get moving as soon as possible now. Take a drink when you are on the bike. Keep your fluids up early- do not play catch up and wait until your are thirsty. It will be too late.
Stay alert and watch out for people around you- some may be disorientated from the swim. Anticipate any accidents and avoid them. Other competitors may not be experienced riding in a pack or around corners. Anticipate this and stay safe.
When you come back to T2, keep your helmet on UNTIL the bike is racked. As I discussed earlier I know of athletes who coast into T2 undoing they helmet strap as they are still moving and have been disqualified. Very sad! But true.
Swap your shoes, put on a sunhat, sunglasses if needed, grab nutrition if it is part of your plan.
Pace yourself carefully, focus on your technique. Remember your drills, have relaxed legs, breathe steady, relax you neck, give yourself lots of positive self talk now. you are nearly there.
If you have anything left- put on a burst in the last 1km-2km. You will be able to pick up a lot of places… Keep nutrition and fluids up early in the run, anything you take in during the last half hour will have no effect.
At the end move away from the finish line so others can cross the line. Grab some fluids, recover and celebrate!!
If it is cold, put on something warm and dry and remember to cheer in your fellow athletes. It is an amazing support for those finishing after you to be cheered in.
So an Ironman triathlon is a massive commitment but remember to consider, prepare and plan for all aspects. You are only as strong as your weakest link. You might be a world record holding swimmer, cyclist and runner but it only takes one thing to go wrong to take all that way.
Prepare well for Ironman triathlon -many won’t-this will be another great advantage to you!
Enjoy the process.
Please comment below if you have any stories of lack of preparation or if it has happened to you!
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