Planning and Executing The Ironman

ironman_texas_triathlonIronman Texas is a total of 21 weeks away and being a planner I am starting to think about how to race that day.  It may seem early to be thinking about that but the reason I am thinking about it is because I train the way that I race.  If I can eliminate as many surprises for that day as I can the more successful I will be.  This is why I will be practicing my nutrition and hydration now so there are no GI issues later.  Planning is what I do and then going out and executing that plan to the best of my ability lets me know if it was a successful day or not.

I have asked a few questions of myself like:

  • Where do you position yourself for a swim you’ve never done before?
  • How fast do you go on the bike?
  • Do you eat in the first 3 hours and then all liquid in the last 3 hours of the bike assuming you maintain ~18mph?
  • What type of strategy do you implore for the run portion of the marathon?
I have also emailed a handful of friends who have completed the distance recently to gain some insight from them, kinda like rubbing a babies head to get younger.  I want to learn all that I can from this group of people so I will keep asking questions until I feel comfortable with my strategy for that day which will most likely be finalized sometime between today and 7am on Saturday, May 19th.  Of course I will consult with my coach about her thoughts on how to attack this race.
I also have the fortune of having friends like Jen of From Fat To Finish and KC of 140 point 6 miles of Awesome.  Both recently sent me articles from Endurance Nation about how to attack the swim and the run.  Both are great pieces but the swim made 100% sense to me and maybe because it is the first portion of the race and my biggest concern is with blowing up on the run.  I know that all Ironman are created different, just like a finger print but there are certain rules of thumb that one should follow.  I emailed that group of 140.6 finishers to get their thoughts on the article and they were all helpful.
I am now going to open up the conversation to all of you.  What are your thoughts on the swimming and running portions of an Ironman as pointed out in these tips.
Where to Line Up
We’ve learned that a lot of fast people position themselves right on the buoy line. Many more people position themselves as far as possible away from these people, as far from the buoy line as they can get. As a consequence, the middle of the start line is often less crowded than you would expect.

Only Swim as Fast as Your Ability to Maintain Form
The net difference between you swimming “hard” and swimming “easy” is usually only about 2-4 minutes in an 11-17 hour day. It’s just not worth it to try to make something happen. Instead, focus on swimming as smoothly and efficiently as you know how. Swim with your best possible form and only swim fast enough as your ability to maintain your form.

Keep Your Head Inside the Box
Maintain your focus by keeping your head inside The Box of what you can control:

  • In the Box: Head position, breathing, body rotation, catch, pull, etc. All of your form cues. These are things you CAN control, focus on these.
  • Out of the Box: Any contact you experience, the pacing of other athletes, etc. Basically anything that takes your focus away your form.

Keep Head-Lift to a Minimum
We typically lift our heads to keep feet in sight as we draft (a little), or to sight on navigation buoys (a lot!). Every time you lift your head…you drop your feet/hips…and you compromise your form a bit. Here’s what to do.


It’s Not About Pace, It’s About Not Slowing Down

Instead, a great Ironman marathon is simply about not slowing down. If you look at the detailed results of any Ironman event, you’ll see that the splits for the majority of the field over the second half of the race are significantly slower than the first half. Usually a minute or more slower per mile.

Your goal when racing isn’t to find new speed, but to find a sustainable speed that you can hold across your entire day while the competition takes off too fast…and then blows up as you run steadily by.

Incorporate Walking as a Strategy, Not as Failure

If anyone tells you that they aren’t going to walk a single step in an Ironman they are either Criag Alexander (so fit!) or a total newbie (so unaware!). Based on our experience coaching thousands of Ironman finishers through Endurance Nation, we have learned that walking is actually an important part of your overall strategy.

We encourage our athletes to walk 30-45 steps at every single aid station, which is roughly once a mile.

Six Miles of Conservative Pacing Is the Key to a Strong Finish

In other words, if you want to have a great race, your job is to focus on slowing down over the first six miles. We recommend you aim for a target pace of approximately 30″ slower per mile for these first six miles. After that point, you can bump it up to your target run pace and go from there. Since 2008 thousands of Endurance Nation athletes have applied this 30 second per mile strategy to dozens of Ironman PR marathons. It works! Just give us three minutes (30 seconds x 6 miles) and we’ll make your day. Your last 10k will thank us for sure!

Have Three Physical Running Cues for Your Day

Instead of following a pace into a brick wall, identify three running form cues that will allow you to maintain good form and proper pace. My personal favorites are Chin Up to promote good posture; Elbows Back to keep my stride open and Loose Fingers to reduce tension in hands, arms, shoulders and the neck area.

Build A Repeatable Nutrition Schedule by Mile Marker

Having a food plan is better than not having one. Just because there’s a ton of free food on the course doesn’t mean that your body will be able to process it all. Instead of relying on a plan based on time (i.e., a gel every 30 minutes) build these into the existing support structure on the course.

Since aid stations on the run are located about every mile, use your calculator to do some fancy math. If you plan on running 8:00/miles and you need a gel around 30 minutes, then you are eating at miles 4, 8, 12, and so on. You can then fill in the other miles with water and sports drink.

Be Equal Parts Mentally and Physically Ready

While many Ironman competitors have hit the “wall” when running a stand alone marathon, that struggle pales in comparison to what happens at the end of the Ironman. With your body pushed beyond its limits, running on fumes of gels and sports drink, you have to find a way to will yourself to the finish line despite the pain and/or discomfort you are experiencing.

What Are Your Experiences With The Swim and Bike at the 140.6 Mile Race?


And KC is not just about sending me articles to get prepared for the race, she was also my secret santa.  In addition to that she is one of the angels on my shoulder I have come to rely on during my racing.  Check out the gift that she got me and just know that I have not wiped the smile from my face yet.


Thank You KC. I am more excited about the race because of these great gifts.

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  1. It is a little early to worry about the swim but not too early to practice nutrition. Two hints for this holiday season:

    1) Swim. Until you have done it you can’t imagine the mosh pot of an Ironman start. There really is not place that is calm at the beginning. I started in the middle/back in IMFL and would take a different strategy next time of moving closer to the front (but not on the line). You are going to get hit anyway so might as well get dragged along with the faster swimmers.

    2) Nutrition. You need to plan on something going wrong. I have heard many stories about how nutrition gets dropped, special needs is lost, etc. Because of this you need to make sure that you get used to eating/drinking what is out on the course. Ironman Perform (aka IronCrap) is definitely an acquired taste so start now. On the bike, the rule of thumb is at least 2 bottles an hour and 250-400 cals. Hot days could mean more fluid. If you haven’t peed like a race horse in the first half of the bike, you need to ramp up drinking. Practice drinking. Practice drinking….

    • CTER says:

      I wouldn’t use the term worry but more planning. I am a planner. For 13 years I planned television advertising campaigns for Fortune 500 companies and we did the planning a full year in advance so its in my blood. Its about reading and processing as much information as I can and learning from you and your experiences as well as others will help me configure a plan as the days on the calendar move along.

      I have 3 bottles of that Perform and I am deathly afraid to drink it. I know I will have to give it a go at some point but still not happy even thinking about it.

  2. kc says:

    You are a student of the sport my friend and soaking it all up and practicing to find what works and what doesn’t, is going to result in a well executed IM come May 19th!

    You have no idea how freakin’ excited I was when Jill emailed me my Secret Santa exchangee! First thought that came into my head was what a perfect match up! Glad you like the gift.
    kc recently posted..2 years ago today …My Profile

    • CTER says:

      There are days during training that I wish something would go wrong so I know to eliminate it altogether. For example I drank a bottle of Gatorade during a 4 hour ride in the 100* temps this summer and puked on the ride and know for sure that Gatorade will never touch these lips. I want to find what works for sure, but simultaneously remove anything that is guaranteed not to work.

      I couldn’t have been happier to see that you were the secret Honey Badger. It is poetic for sure.

  3. Karen says:

    On the swim… I went with the buoy line. I don’t know if it was intentional but the day was gray and our swim caps were also gray which made sighting difficult so I tried to stick close to where I could see the buoys easily. I was probably about a third of the way back. My plan was to swim comfortably, not too slow but I was not racing either – more like a faster warm up I suppose. Ditto what Rock Star said, you are going to get hit no matter where you are in the IM scenario. I would say position yourself not unlike you would if it were a race with age group waves. If you are fast get up front, a little slower head to the back.

    There wasn’t any mention of the bike but I think that leg of the race surprised me most. It felt more like a century ride in some aspects. Lots of people getting off the bike and taking breaks. At special needs, people were in the grass as if they were at a picnic. I am sure it is more of a grab and go scenario if you have a serious time goal but to me that would be something you would want to plan out as well. Are you going to allow yourself to take breaks on the bike or just keep moving without breaks and which aid stations are you going to grab water versus stop and get off the bike for a second?

    and running… I have read a lot of advice that planned walk breaks are common in an IM. I walked 30 to 60 seconds per mile and was able to maintain fairly consistent splits. My race had a crazy assortment of food to choose from at each mile marker. It was so tempting to grab whatever struck your fancy as you hit each station. Definitely have a plan for how you are going to handle the aid stations. I did GU every 4 miles along with endurolytes eveyr hour and drank water at every station. In the later stations, I tried out chicken broth and Coke but no solids. Drink more than you think you need to. I was purposefully trying to take in extra water and it still was not enough.
    Karen recently posted..I’ll show you mine if…My Profile

    • CTER says:

      I didn’t look for the bike post from Endurance Nation which is why there is none. Knowing myself this will be a race with a time goal and so my plan is to work around that. I have ideas on what I want to do and will be planning that out and going over it with my coach.

      Getting hit is not a problem for me on the swim as I’ve gotten better in the water and have gotten more aggressive as well so I do as much hitting as I do getting hit. It’s part of the job description but of course I have yet to do it with 2500 people.

      Thanks for your input it is truly appreciated.

  4. No such thing as drafting at Texas. I stayed totally right, so right I should have been walking on the bank. I had only a couple “up close and personal” moments. I pretty much hammered the bike, and then tried to hold off the strong runners like Jeff (that worked for 8 miles). I am going to incorporate a lot of BRICKs for next year. No substitute for the real thing. I also like the walk through aid station idea.

    • CTER says:

      I guess in TX I could start out right (that is where I normally start out) since I can’t get too off course there with the fact that you have land all along the way. In Cali and Austin b/c of nothing to the right I tended to go wander way out there and having to work harder than I should have to get back.

  5. Really liked this:

    The net difference between you swimming “hard” and swimming “easy” is usually only about 2-4 minutes in an 11-17 hour day.

    And I agree with Rockstar – might was well start up front. I’ve never been in a mass start like an IM but the smaller ones were still like the line of scrimmage on a 4th and inches play so I suppose you just need to multiply that by 1000 which means there is no real safe harbor. Maybe this is one advantage to being 6’0/190.
    Patrick Mahoney recently posted..New Years Day RideMy Profile

    • CTER says:

      Yeah that line hit me like a hammer. I mean 2-4 minutes can be made up on the bike or the run for sure.

      I can only dream of being 6’0″….even on a cinder block I wouldn’t be that tall.

  6. Beth says:

    I have no advice, but I will be stealing all of your knowledge as I prepare for IMCDA. Keep up the informative posts :)

    • CTER says:

      It will be great to go through this process together and learn from each other all along the way. The Journey is the icing on the cake and the race is the reward for the journey. As Nicole Drummer would say: Swim, Ride, Run, Cake…..2012 mantra!

  7. Jill says:

    I am the last one to give advice, obviously, but I have heard that there is no need to kill yourself on the swim portion because of the time difference between hard and easy, as you stated. Not sure if you follow this guy’s blog – I absolutely love his blog – but he just did IMAZ (while injured just two weeks prior) and here is his swim report:
    Just freaking amazes me that anyone can survive that swim!

    Yeah, I rigged a couple bloggers for the gift exchange, knowing how anal you guys are I thought you two were a perfect match :).

    Merry Christmas Mr. Sweathog! You are such an inspiration to me and I cannot wait to see you again in 2012 – at our favorite bakery in the summer hopefully – and watch your incredible 2012 journey!
    Jill recently posted..The Best of the YearMy Profile

    • CTER says:

      I have not read his blog but will be doing so now since I will be racing IMAZ in November as well. Thanks for the tip and the lead to his blog.

      Nice job on the rigging then. KC is one of my favorites for sure. And perfect match is very true but a lot of my mindset has been set by her determination and I am thankful for her starting her blog two years ago.

      Yes, we need to see each other again in 2012. The Sweathogs will live on forever….what a great trip that was. I can’t believe how much we laughed as if we were all family, but I guess in a sense we are all family.

  8. XLMIC says:

    So very impressed by your thorough planning and prep! Were you a Boy Scout? LOL

    Your study and practice will serve you well, Jason. You are going to get to the start line READY to race. Training smart is such a critical piece of staying healthy and building confidence. Can’t wait to see how it all shakes out :)
    XLMIC recently posted..Random Musings of an Semi-Injured Running MomMy Profile

    • CTER says:

      Cub Scout. Never got to the Boy Scouts and can’t remember why.

      I love studying sport. From baseball, my childhood favorite, to now triathlon. What are the pros doing? What are the AG’ers doing? What can I learn from them and apply to my situation?

      My biggest fear is surprise. I need information to calculate scenarios. I won’t be able to know all the scenarios but if I have enough information then I can apply that knowledge to any situation that arises.

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