Saturday, July 23, 2016

First Time Ironman Tips From Age-Grouper Turned Pro

Here are some simple tips for your first Ironman. This is written for the first time Ironman athlete but can be applied to previous finishers as well.

These tips come from my own experience as an average age-grouper to Ironman Champion. 2006 Ironman Wisconsin was my first Ironman and 10 years later I won it!!! I have a 4:15 Ironman bike split to my name and a 8:20 finish.

Race Week - Pre Race

#1 Less is more - This is the theme of the week. The hay is in the barn. The logistics of Ironman may keep you busy, but resist the temptation to get in any more crash training. It will only hurt you.

#2 Start planning your recovery now - It is easy to get caught up in what you need to do for the race, but few first-timers think about just how hard the event is on the their body. Luckily there are a few really basics things you can do to be PROACTIVE, like having your family members bring a protein shake to you immediately post race.  I wrote a whole separate article here on recovery that you might also want to glance at before doing your race. Pro Recovery Tips for your Ironman

#3 - Get good sleep - the night before the race you probably won't sleep well. so focus on getting to bed early and sleeping in as much as possible in the week leading up to the race. Do whatever it takes to create the proper sleeping environment for yourself. If possible take an extra day off work, say Tuesday, and just relax.

#4 - Communicate, communicate, communicate - There are lots of logistics that come with an Ironman. Only you know how much preparation you have done and chances are your coworkers, family, and friends don't actually know. Do the level of socialization that is enjoyable to you, but please communicate expectations. Now is the time to be selfish, not polite.

An example of this for me might be going out for dinner with friends. Maybe they want to go out and celebrate but I want to prioritize sleep. I will make sure I communicate my expectations before hand by telling them I want to have dinner at 6pm and be done by 7:30pm

#5 - Write a list of everything you need - There are so many pieces to Ironman it is easy to forget something at home that you need. Write a list of everything you need. Chances are if you create a list, you will still forget something. It is usually the little things, like you either forget or discover you are out of like Body Glide, that can almost always be picked up at the expo. Don't stress it.

Race Day Execution

2006 Ironman Wisconsin as my 1st Ironman /
Winning Ironman Wisconsin 10 years later at the 2015 edition
1# - Slow down - Ironman is supposed to feel easy at the beginning. If it doesn't feel easy then you are definitely going too hard. Ironman is supposed gets tough somewhere around mile 18-19 of the run. If it feels easy and you get carried away then you are in for a long day. Start slow and finish strong!!! 

#2 - Be Realistic, Set Goals - I see a lot of people who are running 8 min miles (3:30 marathon pace) in training, or even 7:30 (3:17 marathon pace). I realize that might sound fast based on your own goals, but the point is people are not realistic about what is possible. You have professional guys and and gals who can run 6:00 minute miles during a regular marathon who can't muster more than 8 minutes miles in an Ironman marathon. Ironman is tough. Be realistic with your goals.

If you have a coach I am sure you have a plan. Personally, I think all first-timers should set their goals to just finish and should NOT set a specific swim, bike or run time. As strange as it is, I believe this is the fastest and most enjoyable way to finish an Ironman.

#3 - 20% Percent rule - Spend the first 20% of each segment (ie, the swim, bike, and run) below the effort you would do for the remainder of the segment. It is faster to start out slower and finish stronger then to go out too hard!! If you feel really good after 20% then you can dial it up to your original 'planned' effort. If your plan was to start easy, then start really really easy. You get my point.

#4 - Plan to walk the aid stations - if you have a coach and he/she has NOT talked to you about walking aid stations then we have a problem. I have seen even World Champions walk aid stations who end up running a 2:50. Walking aid stations gives your body a quick 15 seconds to recover, lets your heart rate fall, and give your body the chance to absorb some calories.

Regardless of your goal, even if you don't feel the need to walk, just walk every aid station, I promise it will be faster and make your experience more enjoyable. Walking aid stations isn't giving up, you are incorporating them into your race to help you finish faster, fresher, and stronger. If you don't want to walk every one then at least walk every 3rd aid station.

#5 - Changing Clothes - If you are a first time athlete and going for just a finish, I would recommend changing clothes in transition. This way you can put on comfy bib shorts for the bike and comfy running gear. Frankly taking your time in transition, is a sure way to also have better success as well.

For those going for time, changing clothes is a big no-no - especially in T1. First off, if you have never swam 2.4 miles before in a 'race' you don't know how hard it is to lift your arms fully over your head. Taking off clothes, and putting on clothes while wet can be harder than it seems. Your heart rate is going to be high, you are going to have a ton of adrenaline, and your motor skills won't be nearly as fine. If you are someone who gets frustrated easily, you are going to spike your heart rate even further and that is not a great way to start the bike.

#6 - If food or drink keeps coming back up - You are going too hard and/or taking in too much food/sports drink. Slow down and/or give your body a chance to digest what is in your stomach. You can't force it, your body is smart and knows what it is doing. Switch to water if you need something to drink.

Practicing what a preach -
Smiling & starting slow to finish strong!!!
#7 - Smile - If you can't smile at any point in the race you are going too hard! Seriously, I have been saying this for years, even as a professional. If you can't smile at any point in the race then please slow down. Slowing down will actually help you finish the race faster and fresher. I practice this to this day in Ironman as a professional!

#8 - Control Your Emotions - It is super easy coming out of the swim and off the bike to plow thru transition. You have all these screaming fans and family and you feel like a celebrity. The feeling can be truly amazing, but you need to stay focused, and slow-down. It is easy to say you are going to control yourself, but it is easier said than done. The highest your heart rate will be all day is coming out of the swim, yet people find it necessary to bolt thru transition. Slow down!!!

#9 Enjoy the finish - Collect yourself prior to the finish and enjoy the amazing feeling that comes with knowing all your hard work has gone into finishing something incredible. If you sprint down the finisher chute not only do you risk a more dramatic passing out at the finish line, you will also have shortened the amazing feeling that comes with finishing an Ironman. Take your time and soak it all in - Ironman finishes are an amazingly powerful and positive drug :)

Ironman is a long day, as a first timer your body has never gone so far. It is far better to start out more conservatively than the other way around. Be slow and finish strong!!! Have a great race :)

Other Ironman articles you might be interested in:
- Ironman Taper Tips + Comparision of two pro tapers for Ben Hoffman and Jesse Thomas
Recovering from your Ironman

Lastly if you are triathlete, endurance athlete, or marathoner, I have set up a FREE Q&A group on Facebook. It will always be FREE. As a long-time age-grouper I spent way too long determining what information I could trust and what I couldn't. As a TRUE student of the sport I have learned a lot, remain open-minded, and realize that so many people disseminate information blindly and then bad myths become lore. I am hoping to shed some light and simplify things for people. Feedback is always appreciated.

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