The Ironman Triathlon is quite different from most other triathlons that are shorter in length.   Here are a few quick tips to help you through your day.  Remember, this is not a comprehensive/exhaustive list of tips I give athletes, just the highlights:

Pre-race

  • Start to make a list of what you want to put in your special needs bags and transition bags about 1-2 weeks before race day and continue to append it over time.  You’ll think of things in the middle of the night, on your way to work, in the shower, etc. and when you do, add them to your list.  Once you are a few days away from race day, go through your lists and shop for anything on them you don’t have yet.
  • Try to check in 2-3 days before the race so that you can get your bags and pack them (using your lists that you’ve made) and out of the way.  One less thing to worry about as race day approaches.
  • Get your bike tuned up from a professional bike mechanic approximately 2-3 weeks before race day so that you can ride it and get any “kinks” worked out (i.e. cable stretch, new strange clicks, etc.) before race day.  Also if you’ve been training for the past 6-9 months on your current chain and tires, put on a new chain and new tires to make 2 less things that can go wrong on race day…saving the old ones as they will still be good “spares” to use in the future.
  • Tape a to-do list inside your T1 and T2 bags in the order you want to accomplish things (i.e. put on helmet, put on sunglasses, put on socks, etc.)

Race Morning

  • Make a to-do list for race morning (i.e. pump tires, put fuel on bike, fill bottles with water, check in special needs bags, add anything you forgot to your T1 or T2 bags, etc.) Get to transition EARLY and use your race morning to-do list.  You want to get all your stuff done early when transition is not packed with a bunch of nervious/anxious athletes and have that energy rub off on you.  You want to get to a quiet place with just 1 or 2 close friends/family as quickly as possible to stay calm and focused.

Swim

  • There is plenty of time to get in the water.  Irrespective of what race officials want you to do, don’t get in the water too early.  Stay in your calm spot with your close friends for as long as possible.  Mingling about/treading water with a bunch of nervious/anxious athletes should be kept to as short amount of time as possible.
  • Take a gu or drink 12-24oz of sport drink to help alleviate any nervousness-induced hypoglycemia as well as get you primed for your 1-1.5+ hour effort in the water.
  • Kick your legs vigorously the last 100 meters of the swim to force blood down into your legs so that you are not dizzy when exiting the water.
  • Be one with your peers.  Don’t fight any contact you might receive, stay relaxed, smooth, and focused.  It’s very similar to falling, the more relaxed you are the easier/less impact you will experience.

T1

  • Use the wetsuit strippers.  They are a god send.
  • Stay relaxed through transition but move with a purpose.
  • Use your to-do list that you taped on the inside of your bag and follow the bouncing ball.  You’ve already thought this through so use your planning to your advantage.
  • Go to the bathroom even if you think you don’t have to go so you start the bike with an empty bladder.
  • Put on sunscreen even if it will be cloudy all day.  You WILL get sunburned no matter what the sky looks like.  UV rays are not blocked by clouds.
  • Don’t depend on the volunteers to hit every spot you need sunscreen on.  Rather, have some in your T1 bag and apply it in places they might miss like your ears and the space that can sometimes occur between your shorts and your race jersey.
  • Don’t try to be Flash Gordon in transition.  1-2 minutes extra in transition to make sure you have done everything you need to will not make a significant difference in an all day race like Ironman.

Bike

  • Obey your HR/watts.  #1 mistake made at Ironman is starting the bike too hard and/or riding the bike leg too hard.  People think that since it’s the longest leg of the race and the most time is spent on the bike, that is where they can “make up” some time.  These people are most likely inexperienced Ironman athletes and/or have not/will not be able to put together a good marathon.  The bike leg is all about setting yourself up for a great marathon leg.
  • If you feel good, eat; if you don’t, slow down.  The #2 mistake made at Ironman is improper fueling.  Ensuring your stomach is digesting everything you are giving it is very important so you can have a good marathon.  If you begin to feel even the slightest sign of upset stomach or gastrointestinal issues you need to SLOW DOWN your heart rate; which will drive more blood from your working muscles and surface of your skin back to your internal organs needed in the digestion process.  DO NOT lower your caloric intake until you have tried to lower your HR for about 30-45 min.  If you still are having issues after 30min, then lower caloric intake…but only do this as a last resort.  If you have trained to know how much your stomach can handle, lowering your HR should work just fine.   Also, the quicker you notice and begin to solve GI issues the quicker they will go away.
  • Go to the bathroom.  If you have not gone to the bathroom by mile 80, you are risking dehydration and need to drink drink drink.  Ideally you will have to go to the bathroom by mile 45-50ish and mile 80-85ish.  If you haven’t gone to the bathroom by T2 and don’t feel the need to, begin to worry a lot and drink like they’re paying you $100/oz to drink as a DNF is very likely on your horizon.
  • Stay aero.  112 miles is a long way and staying aero gains you seconds and seconds add up over a 112 mile effort.  Of course, of your going up a hill at less than 10mph, sit up and stretch your back a bit.
  • Manage your effort with your gears and don’t manage your effort with your legs.  The effort you put out with your legs and the pressure you feel between your shoes and your pedals should be managed almost solely by your gears and NOT by you.  This will ensure that you keep your cadence effort even throughout race day.

Bike Special Needs Bag

  • Put whatever you want in here but assume you will NOT get it.  Nothing can break your day faster than depending on nutrition or something else in your SN bag only to find out that no one can find it.  (It’s happened in the past)

T2

  • You won’t need to re-rack your bike so just hand it off and get your T2 bag.
  • Use your to-do list!
  • Move with a purpose.
  • Reapply sunscreen!  You will get burned and you don’t want to have to recover from Ironman in addition to sunburn.

Run

  • This is it, this is where the race BEGINS.   All experienced Ironman athletes know that putting together a strong marathon is the key to Ironman personal records.  You feel good and throw down an IM marathon PR you will almost certainly get an Ironman PR.  Not true with a bike split PR.  It’s very rare that an Ironman athlete puts together a bike split PR and gets an Ironman PR.  You walk 2.5 miles total during the marathon, you just gave back about 1mph avg on your bike split.
  • Start out SSSSLLLLLOOOOWWWW and let your heart rate come down as quickly as possible (first 2-3 miles) so you can start on your nutrition.  Taking in nutrition at a very high heart rate this late in the day can case some serious back-up issues in your gut that can be hard to recovery from.
  • Ease into an effort that feels easy with a little “hard” sprinkled on top and hold that effort until about mile 16ish.
  • Once mile 16-18 comes and you are racing to your potential, you will feel as is God’s wrath has come down upon you.  Accept this pain as your fate, put your head down and get ‘er done.  If this was easy, everyone would be doing Ironman.  There is no magical “tip” to give you for putting together a strong last 10k of an IM Marathon.  You gotta feel the pain and keep it painful.  No easy way around it.  It’s gonna hurt….period.

Run Special Needs Bag

  • Just like the bike SN bag, assume you will not get it so don’t put anything in there that your race depends on…but heeding that advice, put in whatever you like.
  • Put in a long sleeved technical t-shirt just in case the wheels fall off and you walking in the dark to finish.  You might need it to stay warm since your body will have cooled down a ton not only because it’s dark, but also because you’re not running and generating your own heat.
  • Dry socks might be nice, but again, assume you won’t get them.

Finish Chute

  • If this is your first Ironman, the best advice I can give you is DO NOT RUSH THE FINISH CHUTE.  Use the extra 10-15 seconds it will take you to slow down and enjoy your “moment”.  For those 50-100 yards all eyes are on you!  They are cheering you!!!  Wave, take it all in, shed a tear if you like…you’ve deserved it!  This is your moment, enjoy it for as long as you can.  You’ll NEVER again be able to experience your first Ironman finish.  There is absolutely nothing like it.

Post Race

  • Get your photo taken even if you THINK you don’t want to purchase one.  At least you’ll have the option if you change your mind later.
  • Thank every single volunteer you see.
  • Depending on how your day went, do your best to slowly (but as soon as possible) introduce your nutritional recovery protocol.  Go to the medical tent if you think you need it.  They will assess you and tell you you’re good to go or you need treatment.  Better to be safe than sorry.
  • Go get your FREE massage!  It will be only 10-15 min but all you need right now and will absolutely have a dramatic impact on the speed of your recovery.
  • After your massage (and only AFTER) go take an ice baths even if you haven’t tried one before.  The water does NOT need to be that cold to be helpful.  Even water that is 55-60 degrees only will have some recovery benefit.  60 degree water is typically 100% cold tap water in a hotel bathtub plus about one 5-gallon bucket of ice.  Remember, you do NOT need to put all the ice in at once.  A good way to take a post IM ice bath is to get in the cold tap water and get used to that, then slowly introduce the ice as you stay in the water.