Things I Wish I Knew For My First IRONMAN!

I want to be super upfront that I am not an expert around IRONMAN nor a particularly good triathlete 🙂 At time of writing I’ve completed 13 full distance IRONMAN events over the past 5 years and am participating in two more in 2019 (Canada and Maryland) this year and am privileged to be going to Kona in 2020 as part of the Legacy program (and will also be doing Texas, St George, Tulsa and Mont-Treblant before it in 2020) . I’ve never DNF’d (and have been part of some IRONMAN events that had high DNF rates) but am also pretty slow compared to most (my PR is 12:41 ish) but I get a little better each year. I’m the turtle that gets there in the end. Over the events I’ve learnt lessons (some painful) and wanted to try and share as much as I can in the same way many people shared with me and helped me. Lets begin:

Preparation

  • Read the Athlete Guide and go to an athlete briefing. You can read the previous years athlete guide for an idea.
  • Understand nutrition that will be on the course and if you plan to use that then train with it. NOTHING NEW ON RACE DAY!!!
  • Don’t use new gear or anything new without fully testing.  I learnt this lesson the hard way. On my second IRONMAN I had a mobile bike vendor tune my bike and they put on bigger tires as they said would make me go faster. They had to Dremel down some of my back break assembly to make it fit and in the end still didn’t fit but left the bigger on my front tier. Well the morning of the IRONMAN you pump up the tires to 100 psi (you don’t leave them pumped up during day before/night for fear of popping). Well when this bigger tire was pumped up to 100 PSI it no longer turned as it rubbed on the frame. I tried pushing the wheel down a little but it moved back up and in the end had to let a lot of air out my tire to enable it to spin. This was horrible. The year later they changed inner tubes but they won’t compatible with the valve extenders so couldn’t actually pump up the tires. Luckily I found this before the day of the IRONMAN!
  • Remove unnecessary moving parts eg valve extenders 🙂 They have inner tubes with long valves so use those!
  • Read race reports for ideas. I try and post race reports for my events on this blog, https://theironbrit.com.
  • Make a gear checklist and check off as pack suitcase, lay out for the event and put in transition bags. I have one I use that is linked in the main menu.
  • Train with others if you can. I’ve never done this but definitely would be more fun 🙂
  • A bad training session won’t ruin your ironman. Accept it and move on.
  • If something doesn’t go your way on the day it sucks but it’s ok. The only real failure is to not try.
  • Remove unnecessary stress points. If you are on your own don’t worry about car keys. Things are safe in morning clothes bag or simply stay near the finish line.
  • I place a backpack in morning clothes bag to help carry transition bags when pick them up after the IRONMAN.
  • Take a thick sharpie pen with you and write your number on all the transition bags in case the stickers come off. I also take a colored one and draw logos on them so I can spot them easier (but the volunteers get them for you at transitions anyway). Some people use tape with patterns!
  • If it may rain people take a plastic cup and make a small hole in the bottom and place it upside down over the top of the big with the string going through the hole. This helps water proof the opening at the top of the bag.
  • An alternative to the plastic cup and something that can always apply is to put the gear into a jumbo zip lock bag or tied up trash bag inside each transition bag. This protects from rain but also if its humid etc. I actually like this better than the plastic cup idea.
  • Take a towel for the T1 bag to help dry off after swim. There are separate male/female changing tents so you can change if you want.
  • If the transition area may be muddy use trash bags or shoe covers (the plastic things that cover the shoe like a shower cap 🙂 ) so when you go through the mud it does not get in your bike cleats.
  • I also often use valet service so can get bike and bags the next day, $40 well spent!
  • Lose a bit of excess weight if you can. This makes it easier for the run and bike (swimming potentially harder as will sink!). I lost 30 lbs between my 2nd and 3rd IRONMANs and found the runs much easier and my joints thanked me!
  • Stick to routine, have a good breakfast (same one during training!)
  • Enjoy the pre-race meals 🙂 Again stick with how you train but a cheese pizza the night before and frozen yogurt does the trick for me!
  • Do something relaxing the day before, I always go see a movie the afternoon before if I can.
  • I like to use TriTats instead of having numbers written on me 🙂 Makes me feel more like a pro so I’m sure that will translate to faster times 😀

Race Day

  • Make sure you eat enough and drink enough during training and on the day. During the bike a good guide is to need to pee twice indicating drinking enough.
  • Don’t shave morning of the IRONMAN. For men the bike helmet strap just rubs and ouchy
  • Take a headlamp for the morning. Often it’s dark and you may be walking over fields or just when you’re in the porta-potties. Also helps pumping up tires and other setup on the bike in the morning
  • On race morning after you pump up tires (they have people to do it or lots of pumps around, the head lamp comes in useful here!) you can go check your transition bags are still there and mentally picture the route.

Swim

  • Enjoy it, everything will be OK but everyone is nervous. Once you get in the water everything will be fine.
  • If it’s wetsuit optional and you are not a good swimmer wear it. Many others will. You can’t age group place for Kona and a set 1000 points towards All World Athlete (AWA) status but still get full 17 hours and everything else. I sink like a stone and while I’m training towards no wetsuit I wear it if it’s optional as today I need the added buoyancy (I’m 190 lbs and 8% body fat).
  • Bring a plastic bag to help put on the wetsuit. You put your foot in the plastic bag then slide that into the legs. Goes in very easily then just pull the bag through and use on the next foot!
  • Put lubricant round your neck for the wetsuit to stop it rubbing and cutting (if you wear one).
  • Make sure you have googles that don’t leak. Look for good suction when you put them on. If they leak a little during the swim I try to leave them alone as generally I make it worse. if its really bad stop at a buoy or canoe to adjust then continue on. I use a little bit of liquid around the seals of the googles to help them get a good seal. Also keep a neutral face during the swim which helps avoid stretching the face breaking the seal.
  • The swim is a rolling, self-seed start (apart from Kona). Place yourself roughly in the right time or you’ll get stuck behind slow people and swam over by fast people. Also drafting by having your head roughly at waist level of person to your side can save energy! Not so close as you are touching them! For most age groupers drafting is not a big deal 🙂
  • In the swim if nervous swim on the outside away from people. Adding even 20 meters additional distance is not going to make any real difference to your overall time.
  • Consider having a mini mouthwash available if swimming in a dirty lake in your T1 bag just to rinse away some of the yucky 🙂

Bike and Run

  • When applying butt cream before the bike ride be generous and apply where you really need it (not so much over the butt cheeks but more under if you’re a guy).
  • Wear sunscreen. I got second degree sunburn on my first IRONMAN (Texas 2015) during the bike ride. I had sunscreen on but it sucked and then had to basically walk a very painful marathon.
  • Go at your training intensity or things won’t work, for example you won’t be able to absorb calories etc as you could in training. Stress will already mess with this so you’ve trained at a certain intensity, do this on the day (just for longer).
  • On the bike focus on low to mid RPMs which helps for long rides. You should practice this way.
  • If not a great runner or maybe bike took it out of you don’t be afraid of run-walk intervals. For Texas 2019 I hadn’t been able to run for over 3 months and my first run was 2 weeks before the IRONMAN. I decided to use 2 minute intervals of run 2 minutes, walk 2 minutes and was able to do that the entire marathon finishing the marathon in 5:15. Not great but worked and was better than running for some then having to walk for 2-3 hours which is just miserable. By intervaling at the start the walks were a nice recovery I enjoyed and my muscles and repository system never got to the point of failure.
  • Use water bottles to squirt water on your body/shorts to cool. Try to be careful of shoulders/arms as may wash off sunscreen then get burnt. Throwing cups of water on yourself during run can also help! Ice down your shirt, why not!
  • Use salt in training and on the day. This is a huge problem I see. I take a lick of salt every mile during the run. Never found needed it during the bike.
  • You don’t get special needs bags back so if you don’t collect them make sure you don’t have anything you care about in them.
  • Have two spare inner tubes, mini pump and gas. Know how to change tire so not a source of dread. Be self sufficient.
  • Smile for pictures at the end and whenever you can.

Post Completion!

  • Encourage others and thank the volunteers who are awesome.
  • Once you finish eat soon after and have some protein. I have protein powder in the room I have when I get back.
  • When you finish you may start shaking or feel tingling, it’ll pass. Don’t panic. Your body is just a bit upset with you for what you put it through 🙂 Eat and drink. I actually try to avoid sitting down until I get back to my room as once I sit down problems start. I find I just need to lay down for 15 minutes before tingling etc goes away.
  • You may not sleep the night after the IRONMAN. It’s normal. I think the caffeine, sugar, adreline etc just stops you sleeping.
  • People start queueing at the store next day at 6 :).
  • Brag the next day. Wear those finisher items and medals with pride.
  • The results site has a downloadable certificate.

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