Ironman race first timers have a lot to think about, even if you are a naturally confident person who has raced a few triathlons before, an Ironman race is most definitely a step-up for the majority of us, and we need all the help we can get. 20 weeks of pounding yourself into shape all culminate into the nervous bag of energy that most of us become just before the swim starts.
Many people defeat themselves with their own mind before they do anything, but as with many things in life the anticipation and the waiting are often much worse than the reality, how many times have you been worried about something like a job interview and come out the other side wondering why you made such a fuss?
To give beginners a helping hand to rid them of their nerves here are a few tips to make the whole process go as smoothly as possible on the day.
1. It is always good to go through the race in your mind before you even arrive, you can do this weeks, days and even the night before a race. Find a quiet place where you can relax and will not be disturbed, preferably lie down and close your eyes and forget about everything else that is going on in your life. Concentrate on the race and take yourself through every stage, hear the sounds, feel the water and the wind, see yourself eating up the miles.
If you come up against problems during this process or things that you need to work on you can write them down at the end and solve them, before you swim a single stroke, cycle or run.
Many athletes find that using hypnosis CD’s and mp3s are a great way of focusing and being guided through this process, I have used these techniques in the past for different things and although I initially felt silly I can honestly say they helped me get through and do things I never thought I would do. Maybe I am kidding myself? Because at the end of the day only I can make myself do what I want, but the CD’s certainly got me focused and made me get things done, and I am a notorious procrastinator!
2. When the swim starts you want to swim hard and try and get into a good position over the first 400 meters, if you are a weaker swimmer and are just pacing yourself to make sure you finish, let the faster swimmers go and race your own race. Always make sure you are going in the right direction, do not follow the person in front as they may not know where they are going, look up, breathe and do not get too close to the other swimmers and risk getting kicked. For a more comprehensive guide to triathlon swimming check out this article on my blog.
3. You should have your transitions down and know where your bike is, get to the race very early, relax and setup. To speed up this particular transition you can wear your bike clothes underneath your wetsuit, you can have your bike shoes ready to go by clipping them onto your bike pedals. I have a blog post on transitioning if you want to know the best way to set things up, go to triathlon transitions for more information.
4. Hydrate, before, during and after you race, this will help you avoid stomach cramps and lactic acid build up, but never load-up on water because it can be dangerous, small and often is much better. The volume of liquids you consume is important and something you need to work on in training, if you eat a solid meal before a race you will need to drink more than someone who prefers a liquid pre-race meal. Keep away from caffeine and alcoholic drinks, and also steer clear of roughage in your diet before a race, for obvious reasons.
5. Know how you are going to get your liquids actually into yourself, are you going to strap packs on yourself or use bottles for instance? Using packs is sometimes easier for a newer triathlete because you do not have to deal with the feed zones and cups. Drinking most of your liquids is best done during the cycling phase because it is the longest part of the race. Drinking is actually easier while you are running, but this can make things hard on your stomach. Practice taking in liquids during training and doing bottle swaps so it is second nature, have a friend hand them to you during the race if you can so you do not have to stop, it is one less thing to worry about on race day.
6. Always be aware of the rules and do not break them. Drafting for instance is not allowed so do not even think about it, even if you need a rest, keep enough distance so you do not get called for it because the penalty is not worth the risk. Also, always keep your helmet done up at all times because you will get disqualified if you do not.
To actually cross the finish line of an Ironman is something special that you will never forget. Make sure you finish by planning everything well in advance, try and think of every situation that might be a problem, ask your friends, read articles and books to try and narrow down the unexpected. Even after all this something will probably happen that you did not foresee, but you should be able to negotiate most things that happen during the race and finish well and in a healthy state because of your pre-race preparation.