A Technical Race Guide to a Half Ironman

Hello Start of Fall Semester 2011! Yahoo :-)

The thrill of school is finally starting to settle in, and yet my schedule continues to get more crazy. I figured that before I forget all of my good advice from my recent half Ironman, that I should jot it all down for all you loyal readers out there :-) This will be rather lengthy, and everything in it is my advice compiled from five years of racing plus the events on August 14th. Reader be ware! You might just want to sign up for a triathlon (I recommend it)!

As far as I’m concerned, there are five areas associated with succeeding in an epic race such as a half or full Ironman. Disclaimer: That statement is not grounded in scientific research, just my personal race and training experiences.

The mileage associated with those events (70.3 and 140.6 respectively) is nothing to sneeze at, and you need to spend a great deal of time grinding and pounding your body into shape to handle the beating it will receive. No one said this was going to be easy, but it will be rewarding! These are in order of importance to me, but they are all critical to race success. To move a boat, you need a rudder. To succeed at ultra endurance, you need to ROCK in these areas.

  1. Confidence – First and foremost, you must have confidence in yourself and your athletic expertise. Clearly, you’ve set aside a huge time commitment to train for such a large event, and have undoubtedly made great sacrifices in your personal life to reach for these goals. Your mindset is a huge determining factor in how you do on race day, so you might as well stay positive. Five hours is a really, really long time to race so keep your confidence high knowing that you trained enough (under training is even better) and that you will finish. It’s as simple as that.
  2. Race morning and bike nutrition – Clearly, a certain aspect of ultra endurance is keeping enough gas in the tank! Humans take fuel (calories, food, what have you) to move and a huge challenge for athletes is keeping enough stored up. My race morning nutrition consists of a peanut butter and jelly bagel along with a substantial banana (about 500-600 calories) at least 3.5 hours before the gun goes off. During my half Iron, I was up at 2:30 for food with a start time of 6:30. I then crashed till around 4:00 and continue sipping water until 30 minutes before the start of the race. I never have a sports/electrolyte drink before I hit the water, but again that’s just personal preference. During the bike I consumed 3 GUs (TriBerry, Blackberry, Vanilla, and Strawberry Banana are my recommended flavors), two sports drinks, a Lara bar (I wish I had two), and a bottle and a half of water. I was actually surprised how little I felt I was consuming, although I didn’t feel like I was bonking or running low on fuel. In my previous Olympic races, I was over consuming on calories during the bike leaving me a little squeamish for the run. It wasn’t an issue this time around.
  3. Run nutrition – For the half Iron, I felt great hopping off the bike and had tons of energy left for the 13 mile run. I consumed 2 GUs over the 1:40 run course and stopped at every other aid station for banana chunks, gulping sports drink and water from those ridiculous paper cups, and my personal favorite, an icy cold sponge :-) It was nice having aid stations every mile so that you could set your goals to survive “just another mile” and keep pace with both the physical and mental aspect of the half marathon. My best advice, if you have trouble consuming solids during the run then consume the GUs in thirds, and let them soak in your saliva for a bit before swallowing. It sounds kind of gross but leaves my intestines rather happy…
  4. Athletic skill – When push comes to shove, there will be a point when being a natural athlete will just help more than training your butt off. I would argue that athletes who focus on the fundamentals of the three sports will be much more successful than people who just train whenever and however they feel, but natural abilities still play a big role. I highly recommend increasing the volume of brick workouts (bike followed by a run) in the month/month and a half before a long race. Obviously doing all three sports as often as possible is the way to go, but who has that kind of time? I’ve always struggled with calves that lock up in my bike to run transition, but the increase in bricks helped a ton. Piece of cake after 52 miles on the bike to hit my running stride right away.
  5. Guts – Finally, you just have to have the willpower to step up to the starting line (or mass swim start in this case). Not only are you proving something to the world, but you are proving to your friends and family, who you’ve probably been seeing a little less of lately because you’re out there grinding the miles, that you’re stepping up your game, achieving your goals, and fulfilling your dreams. There’s nothing in the world that can take that feeling away from you, and you owe it to yourself after all of the hard work and time you’ve invested.

Hope that helps (and think of all the pain you avoided by not doing the race)! Also, here’s a great article on aerodynamics on the bike and how weight affects (or doesn’t) your race time.

Photo credit 1. Photo credit 2. Photo credit 3.

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5 Comments

  1. I have no experience with some of the other “fuel intake” you mention, but I sure can vouch for Lara bars–handy to have around. Congratulations on the race and on yet another helpful post!

  2. I don’t know why you use Lara bas with nutes; you already are since you confess partaking in a 760+ mile event and long (pun intended) for more.

    BTW: What’s a GU? must have something to do with ‘gross’ something or another.

    Congrads.

    Keep on truckin’

    1. Haha, that’s true, you have to have something wrong with you to enjoy this as much as I do :-) GU is one of those little gel packs that is loaded with sugar and kind of gets stuck in your esophagus and intestines if not consumed properly.

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