After months of rigorous training, no athlete wants their Ironman dreams to be jeopardized by poor weather. As Ironman Maryland looks to be a cold-weather race, I've put together a few times to help you have a successful race day, even in sub-optimal conditions. Having raced Iron-distance events in the cold before, I know it can hamper even the best athletes if they are not well prepared beforehand. In 2013, I raced an Iron-distance race and it was 37 degrees at race start! But don't worry IMMD triathletes, hopefully with some of these tips, you'll avoid some cold-weather mistakes and have a great day out there this weekend:
1) Put on your wetsuit early. Don't stand around shivering in your Tri kit. Also wear shoes and socks (heat is sucked out via the ground), a jacket or hoodie, gloves, and a beanie over the top of the wetsuit and cap while waiting to start. Give you excess gear to family or friends to hold, or just wear cheap clothes and ditch them at race start. Also, you may wish to wear a thermal cap and/or booties if the water is sub mid 50's. (Practice before race day in a pool)
2) Warm up. If a warm up is not permitted for the swim, jog to get core body temp up and do some easy push ups/arm swings to get blood moving into the shoulders. You can also take a warm (not hot) container of water w you and pour it down your wetsuit (a wetsuit works by trapping water warmed by your body against you.) This gives your body a head start. DO YOUR WARM UP SWIM! It will allow your face to acclimate to the cold water without gasping (cold water on the face forces a gag reflex and causes many people to panic and hyperventilate as they swim.) Warm up as close to starting time as allowed, and throw on flip flops (insulates while water drains from wetsuit) and a beanie /jacket/ gloves after to remain warm until the start.
3) Upon swim exit, don't use a wet suit stripper. You are left on the cold ground, wet and exposed, left to run the rest of the way to a changing tent, letting vital heat leave your body. Wait til you get into the changing tent to take it off. If your fingers are too numb to get the zipper down, however there are volunteers in the changing area to help. Slather hair conditioner on arms and legs from the knee/elbow down prior to putting on your wetsuit and it will make taking it off a breeze.
4) Towel off WELL in T1. Take the few extra seconds to dry yourself. It will make putting on your extra gear easier, not to mention you will have a warmer ride. Make sure you have layers (arm warmers, ear warmers, vests, etc) that you can strip off and discard at aid stations or remove and store - carefully- on the bike. You will get warmer out there, but again, practice removing clothing while riding before race day!
5) Alter your nutrition plan. You won't sweat as much on a cold day so you'll need to drink less. Also, due to the temperature your body will be burning more calories to stay warm so you may need to up your fuel intake slightly. If a significant portion of your calories are coming from liquid, you may need to make some last-min changes. Consult your coach to help make the adjustments.
6) Stay focused. Don't let numb toes, fingers, ears, or face distract you from your race and nutrition plans. Much easier said than done! Cold is said to be "mind numbing"- don't let his happen to you! Be conscious of your metrics (wattage, HR, cadence, etc.) and of the other athletes around you- just because you're focused doesn't mean your fellow athletes are! Be safe first and fast second.
7) Change your race plan to fit the conditions. Just like 90 degree temps will usually make it more difficult to get a PR, 40 degree temps might as well. Adapt. Be realistic about the day and work to make a manageable plan to follow beforehand. Consult your coach if needed.
8) The run is the payback! This is where you can gain back some time as the ideal temperature to run is 50 degrees. You won't overheat as much and and you'll be able to carefully make up for lost time if you've managed your wattage output on the bike and fueling plan properly to this point. For once in your life you may get to enjoy the run!
9) Use special needs bags wisely. Pack extra warm clothes, fuel, etc. to prepare for a cooler run. While optimal running temperature is in the 50's, that means RUNNING. If you are taking significant walk breaks, you can get chilled quickly. So prepare for it. Also, pack headlamps and glow sticks to help remain visible. On the bike, the special needs bag can be used for extra fuel, arm warmers, etc. as well as the all-important extra cartridges and tubes.
10) ENJOY THE DAY REGARDLESS! You've trained all year for this- CHOOSE to have fun! Be realistic in your expectations and the day will be payback for all your countless hours of training, the sacrifices made by friends and family, and your huge investment of mental and physical energy. Be POSITIVE- most breakdowns on sub-optimal race days are mental. Give yourself a mantra to say to yourself when things get tough. "Focus, strong, and push on!" Above all, enjoy the day!
So, as long as you follow those simple tips (and avoid kicking cement curbs), your Ironman should be an amazing experience, even in with the cold temperatures. Have a great weekend future Ironmen, and GOOD LUCK!