My strategy for Brazil was to have a decent swim, a very conservative bike, and a steady paced marathon. As you can see by my split times, approximately 1:19 swim, 6:30 bike, and 4:25 marathon, I was not particularly good at any single event. However, I never made a mistake during the event in terms of major catastrophes. I remember training with a guy this fall and the one thing he told me that is true of endurance competitions is that it really is not who is the fastest, but who slows down the least. You could do a 1:00 swim, and a 5:00 bike, but if you walk five miles during the marathon you just lost that time you spent exerting yourself in the previous two events. It goes to show you that you can be terrible at three events, but never walk in the marathon and still have an Ironman around twelve hours. Long and slow, there is no rush.
1) I ran my marathon on untested shoes. They were brand new, and I only ran on them for fifteen minutes the day before the race. Turns out they worked fine, but when I took them off after the race I realized they were too small and now I will lose both big toe nails. So wear shoes ½ size bigger than the shoes you train with because after 112 miles of cycling your feet swell and keep swelling until you finish.
2) I raced on an untested nutritional plan. It is a good thing I have a stomach like a goat; I can eat nearly anything and it will not affect my race. Some people have a more finicky stomach and some foods create huge GI problems. So like every magazine/triathlon book says…. Test your nutrition before you race (see #3)
3) Stick to what you know at the aid tents. If you have never done a training run and drank half of a Coke, do not think a soda will save you from the pain you are feeling mid way through the marathon. Skip the cookies, cakes, etc. that the aid stations too. There are no miracle cures. Bring what you trained with that you know works. If you want something sweet or a special soda to drink, throw it in your special needs bag.
4) Only doing one 100-mile ride during my training. I had a solid base of about fifteen 70-90 mile rides but only one that I went beyond 100 miles. I noticed this in my race because at mile 90 I started to lose my legs. If I would have put in the time during my training to get more century rides in I would have had fresh legs at the start of the marathon.
5) The only open water swim I did during my training was in my half Ironman in October. Enough said. If I was smart I would have took my wetsuit with me on one of my trips to San Diego. Open-ocean swimming is a whole other animal. Lakes do not have waves, and swallowing lake water is much easier than stomaching sixteen ounces of salt water.
6) Follow your heart-rate monitor, but your heart-rate monitor (HRM) should not control your race. I found myself glancing at my watch every couple minutes during the bike. After a year of training you should know what zone you are in without looking. And what I have learned about heart rate training and racing is that there are never two days that your HR is the same. If you have a big meal before training your heart rate will be elevated, if you have a squabble with a companion your heart rate will be elevated, nervousness, excitement also raise your HR. Do not get me wrong, listen to your heart rate, but do not swear by it. It is a baseline, not an absolute truth. For example, my HR never was above 135 on the bike, however I trained at 140 beats per minute on every training ride I did. My average HR during my long runs was nearly 140 as well, but on the marathon during the Ironman it was hovering around 120. If I were to push my heart rate to what I trained at I would have blown up and it could have ruined my race.
7) I asked everybody for tips and tricks in Brazil about doing my first Ironman and the majority of people said, “Just have fun!” After doing it, I could not agree more. Ironman is the culmination of an entire year(s) worth of dedication, work, letdowns, and triumphs. This is your day to finally celebrate, so do not take yourself too seriously. It should be a party out there (see #8).
8) Do not take yourself too seriously! There is no reason to have a serious face during the event, not talk to fellow competitors, and freak out with nervousness days before the race. I do not know how many times during the race I tried to start a conversation with someone only to get a strange look from him or her (maybe it was the language barrier ha ha). But really, lighten up people. It is a LONG day, enjoy your time out there and share your fun with other people. When you are struggling half way through the marathon a nice conversation makes a world of difference, and be that difference maker in someone else’s race. Even a slap on the ass gets a good laugh.
9) Talk to other competitors before the event, but take advice with a grain of salt. Not everyone is an expert. You will get annoyed hearing everybody’s miracle mid-race cures, how many century rides they did, how fast they ran their last marathon, how they developed a bullet-proof nutrition plan etc. Listen, but do not listen too hard. I noticed my psyche starting to weaken as I was being overloading with Ironman foes and follies. Maybe it is just me, but hearing Ironman tips from a guy who has never finished a race carries about as much weight as a middle schooler talking about investment banking.
10) Fix small problems before they become big problems. If something even slightly bothers you during training it will only be amplified during the race. If you get a little rash anywhere on your body during a training swim, be prepared to have a HUGE rash on race day. Example: I never had a problem with chaffing under my armpits during other races, but because I did not take the time to cover myself in petroleum jelly/Body Glide I ended up with sores under my arms that hurt the entire race and took nearly a week to heal. Another example would be, when you feel a blister coming on, (keep a safety pin and band-aid with you), pop the thing and cover it with a band-aid. Taking care of these small problems before they turn into big problems just might save the race for you, or at lease make it more comfortable.
11) Slurred speech is not a horrible thing. If you think about it, you have around 2,000 calories of stored energy in your skeletal muscle at the start of a race (in the form of glycogen), you eat about 500 calories before the race, and you eat about 3,000-5,000 calories during the race, but you burn in upwards of 15,000 calories during the race. As you can see the further you get into the Ironman you are operating in a calorie deficit. From what I have researched, your body will shut down different functions in your body that are burning wasted calories in order to save that energy to keep you moving forward in the race. This is why I only remember bits and pieces of my marathon, and why, although still coherent, could barely conjure sentences late in the race. This is normal, your body is transferring energy to extremities that need it most. Think of it like a laptop computer, in order to save power you turn down the brightness on the display, this does not slow down the processing speed in any way, just lightens the power load in order to keep the internal components running longer.
12) The day after the race try and compartmentalize your entire race, your training year, and how the Ironman experience made you feel. It is important to write this down and keep it available. When you are having a tough week and get home and feel like kicking the dog, just pull out your journal/blog etc. and remember that you are an Ironman! You just completed something people only dream about, a feat accomplished by less than 1% of the population! It is a good feeling, and it saves your from kicking canines.
13) Take your time in the transition area! This is a big one. Like I said, if this is your first event you are not trying to break any records here, take your time, get yourself back together, and relax a bit. There is no reason to rush. Stretch, lay on your back, take a nap, eat something, do whatever you need to do to put yourself in the best position to finish the race. Remember the small things, if you rush putting on your socks and you leave a wrinkle in one of them it could lead to the onset of a blister. In the end, a few extra minutes in the changing tent will not kill you, but having a terrible blister and being uncomfortable during any part of the race will add minutes to your final time, and only piss you off that much more.
15) Accept your fate. No matter how many things you read or hear, things ALWAYS go wrong. Accept it, deal with it, and keep moving. You cannot prepare for everything. And best believe, everybody you will talk to about Ironman will always say, “something WILL always go wrong”. Have a plan, but keep it loose. No race is perfect, that is why all of us crazy people keep doing these stupid events.
16) CELEBRATE! Have your spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend, family member etc. have a special something for you at the finish. Whatever your guilty pleasure is, try and have them bring it to you as you finish. I saw many wives hand their husbands a cold beer at the finish line. I even saw guy hand his wife banana Laffy Taffy. It just makes finishing that much better.
17) Sign up for another one, and attempt to correct all the mishaps you had in the first one.
Good luck to everyone doing Ironman Couer d'Alene this weekend! Email me your bib #'s so I can follow you online!
Thanks again to my sponsors
Jeff and Joleen Ervin
Mike and Sandy Ervin
Dewey and Mary Orr