Insider’s Guide to Ironman Success

You’ve done all the training, made all the sacrifices, all the work is done, it’s race morning, you’re nervous, you walked around the day before surrounded by 2000 other athletes who literally make you feel like you’re not prepared enough, the fittest looking age group athletes on the planet mixed in with body types that years ago told you that you could do an ironman too if they could. It’s race morning. The hay is in the barn. You woke up 3 hours early to get in a final breakfast – just like you did weeks ago for your last big training session right? Of course you did since you don’t change anything on race day. Well, maybe we’ll let that early wake-up go. There’s really nothing else you can do except check your bike tires one last time, hit the porta johns, put your wetsuit on and walk to the race start. If you want to think about nothing on race day, at least follow these tips to execute pacing on race day.

1. Pre-start – Talk to people. You want to think about anything except how you feel. The social atmosphere will fill the time. When you did that long all-day training camp that went great were you thinking about how you felt when you started swimming? Of course not, you were too busy making your coffee just right and joking about what normal people were doing at 6am on a Saturday. OK, maybe you joked about how tired you felt, and that’s a good thing. You didn’t waste any energy worrying then so don’t start now.

2. Swim – The gun goes off and the chaos is amazing. You can still hear the loudspeaker voice as you start swimming. Enjoy or laugh at it now as it’ll be quiet soon. Quiet is good since I want you to relax so much in your swim that you want to fall asleep. That’s right, try to zone out and fall asleep. Really see if you can. It takes all the stress and anxiety out of your body and will put you in the exact place you want to be in at this point in the day. This is quite similar to how you felt in the swim on that long training day – that went quite well I’ll remind you – you could have stopped and taken a nap at the first turn-around of the pond, but you didn’t because your training buddy kept going. There are swimmers around you nervous about the swim finish, how they will do everything properly in transition, picking up their kick at the swim finish, but not you. You’re about to come out of your slumber and start your day. You’re surprised that you come out of the water within minutes of the swim time you projected had you pushed the swim. It’s amazing what wetsuits and swimming along a long chain of swimmers does to your swim time. You blink and you’re riding your bike. You can wake up now.

3. Bike – It’s a great feeling starting out on the bike. The busy bike start with all the cheering finally settles into quiet roads where you can settle into your pace. You have your Garmin computer fields set the same way you’ve done all your training. All you’re doing is shifting gears so your power and cadence fall within your ranges, and heart rate stays under your ceiling. You have a TSS (Training Stress Score)  field so you don’t exceed 280 TSS for the ride. You’ll adjust things if you’re over or under TSS of 70 at the 28-mile mark, and knowing yourself and how little else there is to worry about you’re keeping an eye on it well before that. If you get off the bike with a TSS of 280 you’re going to be passing people all day on the run. If you have a power meter and your coach isn’t using TSS as a pacing guide you should at least be asking why. You still have couple months before your Ironman to set that data field, so there’s plenty of time to learn. If it’s hot out then remember heart rate trumps power and you’re going to let that TSS value drop off. If you’re really into it you tested your FTP in similar conditions so the TSS still is correct, but not only do I digress, but that’s not very realistic now is it? You’re surprised how many riders you pass toward the end of the bike. They tell you how good you look, and maybe comment that you really picked it up toward the end of the bike. You don’t have the heart to tell them you didn’t, actually you did but sugarcoated it in saying you’re just riding the numbers your coach gave you. There weren’t any hills, there was only power, heart rate, cadence, and that properly fitted tri bike setup with the gearing that allowed you to ride your Ironman at your potential.

4. Run – What an incredible feeling the run start is. The only thing between you and the finish is you and your running shoes. While the thought of running 26 miles is absurd, you’re not even thinking about it. The experience is incredible as you set out on an easy run pace. Things have slowed down but in a great way – you can see spectator faces now. They’re all smiling looking at you and it makes you smile. They keep telling you how good you look and you’re also wondering why you’re passing so many runners and walkers. You hit the first two mile markers and aid stations and finally see your coach – “you look great” he says. The pacing is easy, and logistically all you’re doing is walking and drinking the aid stations and enjoying the run. You reach that 18-mile mark and know you can start thinking about the finish. It drives you in a way you never imagined. The pros have been done for hours, but it doesn’t bother you. You wouldn’t let anybody stop you right now for the world. You’re savoring the experience, but let’s face it you want it to end too. It’ll be nice when the suffering stops. Is this really suffering you ask yourself? Not really. You’ll tell your family and friends it is though. The 20-mile mark looks so cool. It’s getting closer. You’re thinking about it now. You make yourself stop thinking about it because you’re getting emotional. Save that energy. That effortless look of your run has been replaced by something less effortless-looking, and you need to be reminded to smile, but you still do. It’s OK. You are suffering now but it’s worth every step of it. 2 miles go. You’re still running but man, you really are suffering now. Forget suffering, that blister on your foot is f#ck!ng killing you. You’re afraid to look at it and just keeping going. You force a smile when you hear people cheer for you. You really are happy but just saving that smiling energy now.

I’ll let you experience the finish yourself. You’ll remember every minute. You’ll thank me for reminding you to try to fall asleep in the swim.

I would know right? Nope. I’ve never done an Ironman, and while I could suggest it’s from thousands of bike fittings and power meter training plans that I know what it’s like, the more likely reason coaching Marty and living the Ironman training and racing through him. Marty’s racing IM Lake Placid in 4 months. He already has his TSS field set in his Garmin.

Fit Werx Co-Owner, Dean Phillips, “Retired” Pro Triathlete

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