Well, it’s Ironman training season again! Whether you’re doing the 70.3 distance or the full 140.6, (or know someone who is) it’s a pretty daunting undertaking and will require an enormous amount of time, energy, and mental stamina. Earlier in the month, I was speaking with one of my soon-to-be first time Iron-distance triathletes about some challenges to expect and obstacles to face during her journey toward becoming an Ironman. So, I thought I’d share them with you - and whether you’re training for your first Ironman, or your 10th, here are a few tips to remember along the way to get the most out of your long-course race experience:
1) Even if the rest of the weekly workouts don't fall into place, don't skip the long ride and long run. They are the foundation of the training plan and your race strategy. They build fitness and confidence, so don't skip them. Even if the rest of the training week falls apart, carve out the time for the long ride and run.
2) Something is better than nothing. Life will get crazy and you'll have to skip workouts and alter things. Get creative - if you can't do a 3 hr ride on a sat morning, ride for an hour on the trainer before the sun comes up, then jump back on after dark to add on a few more miles. Can't swim 3000k due to time? Do 1800 but with perfect form.
3) Get buy in from your support system. Sit down with your family, friends, and co workers to discuss your goals, the commitment and sacrifice this will require of you and of them. Don't skip this step! It will be very important to get them involved. Ask early on if they are willing to be there race day, and/or if they can help you to reach your goal.
4) Nutrition, recovery, and strength work are critical to your success race day. Each of these could be separate bullet points and are huge components of keeping you injury free. Long course training beats your body down in a way you've never experienced before- it's critical to recharge. Making sure you're eating enough calories, sleeping enough, and doing your strength training work will ensure you make it to the starting line, which is WAY more difficult than getting to the finish line! Take naps during the day, do lunges in the kitchen while preparing dinner, or stretch and foam roll on the bathroom floor while supervising the kid’s bath time.
5) You've got to go slow to get fast. Stick to the training heart rate and power zones prescribed. If it's a recovery run or easy spin, resist the temptation to go faster. Your body needs time to 1) recover adequately from previous workouts, and 2) and/or to adapt to allow you to become very efficient at utilizing oxygen and fat as fuel. Don't worry about your long runs starting slow as your heart rate stays in the prescribed zones. In time, you will be able to run faster and still keep the HR low.
6) Be mindful of weather. Heat and humidity will require you to slow down and hydrate more. Adjust your workout and race expectations accordingly. Take solace that everyone will be doing so on race day- but if you've learned to do it during training, you'll know your sweat rate, caloric needs, and proper equipment that works for you in the heat. Your heart rate will get higher (cardiac drift) over the course of the workout, but with experience you'll know how far/hard to push and when to back off.
7) Invest in yourself. Ironman training is not cheap! Race entry fees alone are astronomical. So when deliberating how much to spend and on what, remember to invest in things that will give the most bang for the buck on race day. Some examples: a good training plan/working w a coach; proper fuel/hydration (find out what works for you via trial and error); massage/chiropractic as needed to keep you healthy; good running shoes for you (make sure to track mileage and change them out as needed); aerobars (if you're using a road bike); a bike fitting (will keep you healthy on the bike optimize your aero position); an aero helmet (other than aero bars, the biggest bang for your buck in terms of time saved during the ride).
8) Full ironman racing/ training is exponentially harder than 70.3 racing/training; and 70.3 racing is exponentially harder than Olympic-distance racing. Think of it as 3x as hard- and treat it with the same respect! With the shorter distances, you can cut some corners, skip long runs, shorten the bike rides, and gut it out on race day. This is much tougher to do with long-course events. So, have that mindset going in. Be prepared to suffer. Long course racing is not easy, otherwise everyone would do it. But that's what makes it awesome!
9) Don't try anything new on race day that you haven't tried before. At the race expo or in talking w fellow triathletes, you'll hear about a new fuel or gadget or technique that he or she has tried which gives them amazing results. That may be their experience but that doesn't mean it will give you the same results. I had an athlete end up in the ER instead of on the podium because he borrowed some goggle spray from an athlete just prior to starting the swim- it burned both his corneas. Race day isn't the time or place to try something new.
10) Enjoy the journey. Your race is a celebration of an incredible journey you will have accomplished. Getting to the start line prepared is a MONUMENTAL task. Hundreds of hours will have gone into this one day- make sure you enjoy the process and the day. While many times it doesn't feel like a wonderful experience to wake up at 4:45 to swim 3,000 yds and then do a 90 min run, remember that you are becoming an "Ironman" on a daily basis- it is not a singular event. While you may cross the finish line on your race day to make it official, “Ironmen” (and Ironwomen) are made on Tuesday mornings at the pool, and Friday evenings lifting at the gym, or Sunday afternoons running in the heat, not only when you cross the finish line. Enjoy the process of becoming, and enjoy the reward of making it to the start and (finish) lines.
So, those of you who are making the leap to long-course racing this year, enjoy the journey. And remember these few tips that will help you stay on track and get the most out of your long-course experience!