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.
Swimming:
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. Running: 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. [caption id="attachment_4893" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Thank You KC. I am more excited about the race because of these great gifts."]secret_santa_ironman_gift[/caption]
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Jason Bahamundi

About the Author:

I grew up in New York and lived there for 34 years until I got divorced and moved 1600 miles to my new home in Texas.  I love New York and miss it but that does not mean that Texas hasn’t been great to me because it has.  It was here that I discovered endurance sports and specifically the sport of triathlon.  Triathlon has given me new life through all the challenges it presents.  I no longer look at life the same way and I can say that is in part due to my endeavor into this sport.

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