Friday, March 31, 2017

Ironman 70.3 Triathlon Race Tips - From Age-Grouper Turned Professional

Here are some simple tips for a better Ironman 70.3 triathlon. Regardless of whether you are a first-time finisher or Ironman 70.3 World Championship qualifier, these tips can help you finish faster and fresher.

Rolling thru the corn fields at one my favorite 70.3s
Note, these tips come from my own accumulated experience as a long-time age-grouper turned pro and Ironman Champion competing in 50+ half Ironmans.

The 2006 Spirit of Racine 70.3 was may first triathlon and I went 4:48:50. Over a decade later I am still racing and going even faster. In 2016 I had my Ironman 70.3 PR at Ironman Texas 70.3 Galveston and went 3:55:13.

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 70.3 may keep you busy, but resist the temptation to get in any more serious 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 start thinking about recovery too! There are a few basic things you can do to expedite the recovery process. One of the simplest and most effective is having your family members bring you a protein shake immediately post race. I wrote a separate article on Ironman recovery here and a lot of the same ideas apply.

#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 during the week leading up to the race. Do whatever it takes to create the proper sleeping environment for yourself. Take an extra day off of work if you can.

Flashback to my first race ever in 2006 at
The Spirit of Racine 70.3
#4 - Communicate with your team - Communicate with your support team ahead of time. Don't let it add stress. Often times our personalities can change in the days leading into the race as excitement builds. Everyone handles the stress differently and it is important for your support team to have an understanding of your needs. Communicate with them along with the way. If you need help, ask for help, if you need space, tell them you need space.

#5 - Write a list of everything you need before travel - Write a list of everything you need then check it off as you pack. If you forget something don't stress it. You can likely get whatever you need on site.

#6 - Stay hydrated. Focus on staying hydrated before the race. This is especially important if you are traveling by air or have a road trip.

Race Day Morning 

#1 - Morning breakfast - aim to have your breakfast finished no later than 2 hours before the start of your race. The simpler the breakfast the better.

For me I keep it super simple with a Ensures or a couple of PE Powerbars + 4 gels. Yes gels for breakfast. I know that sounds gross to many but it is fast to digest. That's about 800-1000 calories and then I have another gel about 20 minutes before the start of the race.

#2 - Be mindful of race day logistics - if this is your first 70.3 or your first 70.3 at this particular event give yourself more time for unplanned things like traffic, bathrooms, etc that can leave you feeling rushed. If you are veteran of the race you already know the gotchas.

Swim Cords - A great way to warm up when
you can't get in the water to warm-up
#3 - Refrain from putting on the wetsuit too early - Understand your core temp rises and your body starts sweating immediately when you put on your wetsuit. It is better to wear breathable clothes to keep warm. Start putting on your wetsuit about 15-20 minutes before you expect to get in the water. Wearing a wetsuit for extended periods in the morning, especially on warmer days, is a recipe for dehydration. I like to put on the bottom first, and leave the torso exposed even longer. If it is sunny try to stand in the shade.

#4 - If you aren't allowed a swim warm-up - bring some stretch cords to get the body warmed up.

#5 - If the water is really cold (ie below 62) - Please try to get in the water if you can for a warm-up. Cold water can cause some people to have a panic even if you have never panicked before. If you aren't allowed to warm-up then dump a bottle of water in your wetsuit a few minutes before getting in. This will help build a barrier and the cold water won't shock the system.

The Actual Race

1# - Slow down - You are likely tapered, excited, and caffeinated, and it is very easy to start too fast. The beginning of each segment should feel easy - if it doesn't feel easy then you are going too hard!

I suggest the 20% rule. For roughly 20% of each segment (ie, the first 400 meters swim, 10 miles bike, and 3 run) start below your race pace effort for that segment. This will allow your body to work into the effort and it will result in a faster and more pleasant experience.

#2 - Check your ego - don't let your ego get the best of you on race day. There will be people who are faster and slower than you and they come in all shapes and sizes. Stick to your race plan! Stick to your pace! Don't chase!

#3 - Be mindful of transition - Your heart rate will never been higher than in the transition from swim to bike. Be mindful of running thru transition and try to consciously slow down a bit. With the excitement of the crowd and moment it is very easy to get even more carried away.

#4 - Keep the nutrition simple - the less stuff you have on your bike the better from an aerodynamics, digestive, and simplicity standpoint. Focus on foods that are easily absorbed and digested even with a high heart rate. Gels, gummies, and very basic bars work the best.

#5 - It is ok to walk during run - yes sometimes incorporating some walking can be faster than continuous running. Doing so can give your muscles a chance to reset, let your core temp fall, and your body absorb calories.

If you are out there to finish, try incorporating strategic walking for 10-15 seconds per mile thru the aid station.

If you are racing competitively even a 3-5 second break in the aid station can be a great strategy to actually run faster.

Did you know that Craig Alexandar walked sections of the Ironman Kona marathon when he set the course record with a 2:40+ marathon? Strategic incorporation of some walking can yield faster running.

#6 - Keeping your core temp cool on hot days - For hot and/or humid races it is important to make sure you keep your core temp in check. Overheating the engine is the surest way to slow your pace dramatically. It is far better to follow the 20% rule and start the run 10-15 seconds per mile slower than goal pace for 3 miles and lose 30-45 seconds, versus overheating and losing 2 minutes per mile in each of the last 3 miles.

Things to keep cool include: grabbing ice and carrying it in your hands, chewing on ice, dumping ice down your jersey or shorts, wearing a visor, grabbing sponges and glasses of water.

#7 - If food or drink keeps coming back up - Then you are likely going too hard and/or taking in too much. Slow down and give your body a chance to digest whatever is in your stomach. You can't force it, your body is smart. Switch to water if you feel thirsty.

Trying to practicing what I preach -
Smiling & starting slow to finish strong!
#8 - Positive attitude & smile - Racing is as much about attitude as anything. For full Ironmans I always tell people if they can't smile at any point they are going too hard!

Ironman 70.3 can be very different for people because the distance is much more doable and some people can push a little more. Nonetheless, it is important to be able to smile for much of the day.

#9 - If you are struggling - try setting smaller goals like getting to the next aid station. Take it one pedal stroke and one stride at a time.

Also, try giving someone else encouragement out there. You would be surprised by how much energy you get back from what you give.

#9 Enjoy the finish - If you are setting a PR or racing for that coveted Ironman 70.3 World Championship qualification slot this doesn't apply to you, but for the rest of us, slow down and enjoy the moment that is the finish. There is such a special sense of accomplishment - take a few seconds to soak up the amazingly powerful drug that is Ironman and great personal accomplisment. You never know when you will get the opportunity again.

Lastly if you are a triathlete or endurance athlete, I have set up a FREE Ironman Q&A group on Facebook. Feel free to ask any question you might have about Ironman Training or endurance sports.

A few more Ironman 70.3 race tips for first timer triathletes

#1 - Body glide is your friend - make sure you have Body Glide for the back of your neck, arms, nipples, armpits, and legs to prevent chafing. In addition, Body Glide makes taking off a wetsuit much easier, and it prevents serious chaffing to your neck.

Body glide is your friend
#2 - Avoid changing clothes - you would be surprised just how hard it is to change clothes in transition. First, clothes don't go on wet very easily. Second, you might have severe mobility restrictions from tighter muscles after the swim. Third, you heart rate is high and your manual dexterity is greatly reduced

#3 - Never make your first open-water swim the race - If you have never swam open-water please at least swim open-water once before race day. Swimming open-water is different than in a pool.

#4 - Never make the race your first swim in a wetsuit - wetsuits can be restrictive, both from a psychological perspective but also physical perspective. If you can't swim open water in your new wetsuit at least once, then please swim in the pool at least once. You will understand what I mean the first time you swim in a wetsuit.