When it comes to racing an Ironman, I believe that the training is the hardest part. Sure, 140.6 total miles of swimming, biking and running is a major feat on the body and requires proper pacing, fueling and mental focus and strength. But racing in an endurance event is simply the accumulation of days and weeks and months of training. The early morning and evening workouts, the balance of work, life, family and training, the sacrifices for a good night of rest, the investment in recovery tools, the passion for proper daily and sport nutrition, the money, the time and the commitment….so much work for the BIG day that comes and goes within an instant. No matter how long it takes a person to finish an Ironman within the allotted amount of time (17 hours), it is nothing more than 3,6,9,12 months of training only for a one-day event.
Thanks to thousands of spectators, athletes, volunteers and friends and family from afar, the Ironman race day is the “easy” part. All you do is show up to the race venue start and do what you love to do. Swim. Bike. Run. Even if you are racing for an age-group award, Kona slot or personal best time or just to finish, the entire day is up to your mind controlling your trained body. You imagined the race start day during every workout and you were motivated by your race day finish fist-pump and post-race eats. The day when everyone out on the course and on the sidelines is there to finish the race or to help you finish the race. It’s the most self-centered day for an athlete yet the most inspiring and motivating day for a spectator.
To help myself out before an Ironman, I always keep a to-do list/itinerary for what I need to accomplish before the race start. Because an Ironman requires that you pack transition bags to be turned in with your bike on the day before the race, instead of setting up your transition area on race day morning, I find that this can be a very stressful and overwhelming process for an athlete. For no matter how many long weekends you have trained for the race, there’s that little feeling like you are forgetting something before a race alongside second guessing what has worked so many times in training. I encourage athletes to always start a packing list well-before race day, typically after your last “long” training weekend. Simply write down your pre-training nutrition, during training nutrition (products/fluids, etc.), gear and clothing used as well as what gadgets were best used (ex. setting up your screens on your Garmin to show useful variables to monitor such as normalized power, cadence, current HR on the bike and current pace, lap mile pace, current HR and lap time on the run). But then there are the thoughts as to doing something for the first time or not trying things out in training (ex. using a fuel belt for the first time in a race, not wearing your HR monitor during a race, using race wheels for the first time) that may stress you out for you don’t know if it will work or not.
Since this will be Karel’s first Ironman and his 6thtriathlon since he learned to swim last May and made the transition from Cat 1 cyclist to triathlete, there are many unknowns for Karel which I am sure is true for many athletes out there. One thing that is on Karel's mind - he has never worked out for more than 7 hours before. I remember at my first IM, I couldn't believe that my heart would beat for so long in one day, continuously. If anything on your IM race day, always be thankful to your body for what it allows you to do. And if you feel as if your body is failing you, just be smart. Likely it is just giving you a warning sign to modify your strategy or slow down.
Of course, Karel and I are a team so we both help each other out all the time (he cleans my bike, I make him dinner J) but with Karel being my Sherpa for my past 5 Ironman’s, he is very educated on what he needs for race day and with every long training session, Karel and myself simulated race day scenarios. We are prepared for the what-if’s, oh-no’s and awesome moments.
To help you out if you are planning for an Ironman or triathlon, here is my current packing list:
Pre-race Sandals/old tennis shoes if warming up with a jog Zip-up hoodie Skirt or comfy pants Sport nutrition – 1 scoop hammer heed + water bottle, water bottle to toss, hammer gel, endurance aminos, electrolytes. Pre race nutrition - ~450-600 calories (low fiber, low fat, energy dense, low volume but high carb foods, as tolerated, `3 hours before your race start time) + 16 ounces water + cup of coffee. Typically I have rye wasa crackers (3) + honey + banana + walnuts + granola + milk (however before races my tummy doesn’t like milk except in coffee so I will omit but I always do milk before training) + PB + raisins. Karel typically has a base of waffles or oatmeal and then some additional toppings, similar to mine. He also likes the Bolthouse yogurt-based drinks. Spray sunscreen Body Glide Race outfit (often I put on dry clothes in transition area, especially if weather is chilly) NO ANTI-INFLAMMATORIES PRE RACE!!!!
Swim Goggles (2 pairs) Cap (provided by race) Wetsuit or speed suit (depending on water temp) Garmin 910XT (set on multisport function) – for swim I have it set to lap every 400 yards and on my screen I can see distance, time and pace.
Bike Garmin edge 500 (charged and reset)– I have multiple screens on my garmin but I will set my garmin to my interval screen for the majority of the ride (3sec power, normalized power, current cadence, current HR, lap speed, lap time, average speed) Cycling shoes Socks Bike pump (pump tires race morning if needed and check brakes to avoid rubbing) Helmet (I will not be wearing an aero helmet for IM Placid because I feel the advantages of having the helmet will not be too my advantage at this race because of my riding style and because of the toughness of this course). Race wheels (practiced many times in training) w/ power meter properly working Sport nutrition – I will be bringing 4 bottles with me so that I do not have to rely on the aid stations except as needed and for water for sipping and cooling. I will always have 2 bottles of sport nutrition and 1 bottle of water on my bike at all times for most of the race. I will bring a gel flask to supplement additional calories w/ gels + water so I don’t have to mess with gel wrappers during the race. I do not eat solids during an IM but if I need something it will be at an aid station. I take in around 300 calories per hour from sport drinks and additional calories from gels as needed. Electrolytes and endurance aminos - wrapped in mini plastic wrap bags w/ tape Oakley commit sunglasses (I find these lighter than my Radar glasses which is important since I will be wearing sunglasses for 9.5+ hours) Tri/jersey top and cycling shorts (depending on weather – I will be wearing my Trimarni Cycling shorts through the entire race, the padding in the shorts does not bother me and I prefer to ride in cycling shorts) Additional clothing pending weather – gloves, ear covers, arm warmers (depending on the race day weather) Towel (small) in transition bag to wipe off after swim
Run Race belt w/ race bib number (first name) + extra race belt w/ race number (last name) – I always have a back-up if needed. IN the past Ironman required a race number on the bike and I would use my first name number and put backup last name in my T2 bag but now you only have to wear a number on the run so I will use my pink race belt w/ first name bib. Extra sunglasses (my Oakley’s never fall or slip but in the case of an emergency I will have a backup) Visor 2 gel flasks filled with gels (I will rely on aid stations for water and additional calories as needed/tolerated. Pretzels are often my best friend if my tummy feels off from swallowing the water in the swim portion) Tums (in case of an emergency) Endurance aminos and electrolytes - wrapped in mini plastic bags w/ tape Extra socks Running shoes w/ lace locks Towel (small) in bag to wipe off after bike NO ANTI-INFLAMMATORIES!!!
Extra I put all my individual items in large zip lock bags within my transition bags so that when the volunteer dumps my bag, nothings gets lost as it can be a little chaotic in the transition tent. Also, in the case of overnight or day showers, this prevents items from getting wet in the transition bags. I tie bright string on my bags to easily locate my bags if the volunteer cannot help me out. I always thank the volunteers J I always review the course as much as possible before the race to get familiar with how the aid stations will be placed as well as what to expect along the course which may affect/impact my pacing / nutrition strategy. This also helps me visualize the course as I am in the moment as I don't like to jump ahead with my mind on race day. I was taught by my mental coach Gloria to always stay in the moment. Think only about the swim while you are swimming, etc.