Let me preface this first. I am going to speak for my own experiences as a first time Ironman athlete who went 10:56 on the day, (6th place in the 18-24 year old AG). Please take my suggestions and experiences with a grain of salt as they are how I personally feel. If you are faster or slower than me adjust for your own expectations. However, I will first say that IMLP is a challenging course no matter how experienced or inexperienced you are. You must go into the race respecting the course. You must respect the course and in that respect you need to formulate a plan that fits you and execute that plan to a T, if you deviate or try to wing it I will say that you have a 95% of making your day hell. So its easy to steer clear of this by coming in focused, trained, well rested and armed with a plan! With that said lets get down to business.
Register as early as you can on Thursday. Get it out of the way so you don’t waste anymore energy than you have to. Go to the expo after that and then don’t go back until Monday morning when you go and get some finisher swag if thats your thing. I’d suggest getting one of those cool finisher jackets if its your first IM, afterwards if you keeping doing IM its just kinda dorkey to keep getting stuff like that but if its your first by all means celebrate a little and pick up something decent..just please for the love of god don’t get one of the loud finisher jerseys to wear on your bike that is rainbow or american flag colored (depending on your race). Take my word for it, the accomplishment of completing your first IM speaks for itself you don’t need to broadcast this to the world. IMO there is nothing cooler than being an unassuming person who doesn’t appear to be a monster on the course…but when the cannon goes off they are a controlled maniac on a mission.
Your nutrition should be consistent. Get acclimated to the nutrition you are going to take in on race day. Practicing nutrition is JUST as important as getting your yardage in at the pool or getting the miles on the bike. If you screw up your nutrition in the half or full distance Ironman races you will be in a world of hurt. For some perspective here is my basic nutrition strategy. I train and race with the same stuff, Powergels, powerbars, powerbar endurance (now perform) powder mix drink, and clif bloks. That is pretty much it. Keeping the nutrition strategy simple is key since you do not want t encounter and GI issues that you have never had before on race day. So by having your nutrition consistent and simple it allows you to truly get acclimated and create and “iron stomach”. Once you have that knocked it all becomes about timing. Eating on a normal basis is all about timing as well, so if you think of race nutrition on the same basis you can understand that you need to eat certain things at certain times. For example the time to try and get some solids (a powerbar) in your stomach is during the first 2 hours of the IM bike. This is when your stomach will be relatively stable as you are in 1 fixed position more or less. Eating something solid on the run could lead to a heavy gut and GI distress. Therefore as you work into hour 3 and beyond on the ironman bike you should look to start taking your calories in liquid form. Hit the gels and keep drinking. Personally I will use gels and endurance drink all the way until t-2. Once on the run I switch to clif blocks. Basically popping 1 blok every ~2 miles. This provides me with a consistent stream of calories and energy, and gives me something to hold onto when I run. For some reason a clif blok package in my right hand balances out the weight of the garmin on my left. And finally on the run I will usually take 2 powergels, 2x caffeine to take in at any point during the run when I feel like it. These give a little extra “buzz” boost on the run. Some people will drink redbull or other concoctions and thats great, but I warn you to try it out on your long brick workouts before the race. Race day is not the time to try and “grow your wings” by hitting a redbull at mile 12 and then barfing your brains out at mile 14. Just saying…So there it is, a simple strategy. I for one like to have my nutrition available so I do not have to think about getting it from aid stations. I will place my bike gels and bars on my bike before the race, I will place 2 clif blok packages and 2 gels in my t-2 bag, and I will place a few scattered in my special needs bag in case anything goes wrong. This is my way of feeling comfortable. However, the beauty of using the nutrition I have mentioned about is that with the exception of the clif bloks, you can get it all ON-COURSE on race day. All the powergels, powerbars, perform drink will be available to your at the aid stations. This brings me to another point about the powerbar perform drink and hydration strategies/setups in general…
Bring to pairs of sunglasses, clear and dark, most likely you will use the clear on the bike and the dark on the run, place accordingly in the bike and run special needs bags respectively.
Put a small jar of vasoline in your bike and run bag. Take the time to grab a gob and put it down your shorts when you are changing in both T1 and T2, trust me its worth the time. I can attest the issues that can arise from going sans vasoline. I suffered near the end of the first loop with major chaffing down below. It hurt bad and I was stuffing sponges down my pants to stop the pain (Like Macca, only down my pants). This actually worked but it wasn’t the best option (so if in dire need use sponges to stop the burning, but vasoline is soo much better).
Before the race everyone and their brother will be milling around the lake, its a huge huge mess. My advice is (if you can manage the logistics) get to transition and get your stuff in order as soon as it opens then get the heck out of their and either go find some place where you can chill by the lake or head back to your hotel if it is nearby. Either way I would suggest getting into some sweats and a sweatshirt and just laying low for awhile. If you are milling around talking to people and all that jazz you are just wasting energy that can be used at 7am when the cannon blasts.
It’s going to be a wetsuit swim! Do not get caught up in the Slowtwitch and other internet sites that go all crazy in early July and start saying that the LP swim is going to be to warm for wetsuits. Here is a tip, it never has been warm enough and I will say will never be for Age groupers. So don’t go out and buy a new sleeveless wetsuit just because your scared you might overheat or something. YOU WON’T. EDIT: As most of you know in 2011 it was the first time, I am guessing ever that IMLP was non-wetsuit legal for the AG’ers looking to place and Kona Qualify. I must eat my words due to the unseasonably warm temperatures that June and July brought upon us. Not a bad thing though! I will say that this really shouldn’t matter because if you are nervous about the swim and are relying on using a wetsuit to make it through then you most likely are not in the group of people looking to KQ. So for those people, you by all means can wear your wetsuit. What I think it all comes down to is that if you are looking to place high in your AG you should be swimming enough and have enough proficieny that it won’t matter either way. Sure your time will be slower due to no wetsuit, but here’s the thing. Everyone else’s swim will be slower to, and is it just so happens that you are a natural swimmer or have swimming background I bet the non-wetsuit swim will have you coming out a lot sooner than the others. So again don’t worry about it either way. Get your training yards in however you can and come race day you will be ready to rock in or out of a wetsuit.
Ok so what do you need to know to succeed? Well first off is to make sure you are ready to get in the water at 6:30, before that you should be chilling and relaxing and visualizing the amazing day that you have in front of you. As soon as the water opens up for the AG’ers go through the timing arch so you are “in” the race. Once you’ve walked over the mats you can pretty much go anywhere you want. You could go back to your room and sleep until 7:30 and then knock off a 1:30 swim and still be fine..but DON’T that would be stupid, unless you had explosive diarrhea or something. Once your “checked in” I would advise you to start wading into the water. If you are a 1:00 – 1:10 swimmer you will want to get in the water 10-15 minutes in advance to get a decent position. For me that was about 2-3 rows back in the dead center of the group. By center I mean I split the difference between the dock on the left and the shore on my right. If you’ve been to LP you know what I mean, if not take a look at the setup online.
So there you go, now you have a video and a still picture of what it actually looks like. Now that you know what its going to look and sound like let me tell you what it will feel like and the strategy that you might want to take (seemed to work for me). I’d suggest that you break the race down into 3 parts. Once the cannon blasts you freaking go! Your go out hard for the first ~ 400 yards or to about the boat house which will be on your right as you start the swim. Your going to want to go out hard for a couple reasons. The main one is that you want to get yourself into a good place. If you have been training and have a solid swim base you should have no difficulty with the swim and you should be ready to tackle it with vigor. The thing is that many athletes who don’t have the endurance base that many others do will still attack the first 400 hard. This ultimately leads to a large mass of people slowing down once they reach their point of exhaustion. If you (the more consistent and endurance based swimmer) get stuck behind these people you are going to swim into a brick wall and be slowed down. So its important to go out hard and try to get ahead of them so when they hit their “wall” you will be ahead of them and your swim will not be affected. So thats part 1, go out hard and get yourself into position. Once your past the boathouse and I advise you to aim towards the boathouse at the beginning, maybe not directly but split the difference between the turn around buoy and the boat house and shoot for that. The reason I say this is because if you aim to get right on the rope that holds the buoys right off the bat you are going to be fighting your fellow swimmers the whole time and its better to just start by angling out a little bit and then as you get closer to the turn around buoy you again angle right towards the buoy and take that turn dead on so when you pass the buoy it is basically parallel to you. This will help you stay out of the traffic and ensure you get a good start. But lets get back to the boat house section for a second. I would advise you at this point to get comfortable and find you race endurance pace and just go with it. Go with that steady but fast pace for the whole first lap and most of the second lap. When you get out of the water after the first lap many people will be walking to the other side, DON’T freaking walk (unless your dizzy) because at that point your not going to gain anything from a 3 second rest, instead jog over to the other side and do a couple dolphin dives and get on with it! You now only have 1 more lap to go before the IM swim is over. Onto the the third part of the swim. You’ve swam approx 1.75 laps now, you should see the Golden Arrow hotel on your right, its the one with the beach front. Once you’ve hit this apoint, approx 400 yards from the finish it is GO TIME, start picking up the pace and putting a little distance between you and your fellow swimmers. Now is the time to push the pace and make it hurt a little, not a lot but a little. Then once you see the church and the toboggan slide on your right its really time to hammer those last few yards before your on the beach. And thats it, the swim will be a blur, it will be the shortest swim your have done all year, (at least I would bet that it will feel like that for you, it sure did for me). For perspective purposes I swam it in 1:03 in 2010.
T1: Your now out of the water, you should immediately have your wetsuit stripped by the strippers and then continue on the fake grass mats, just follow the path, their will be soooo many people cheering that you will be carried by their energy all the way to the transition tents. Use this energy, feed of it, because you will need it on those desolate roads ahead. Ok, so here is how to execute the T1. 1. Get your suit stripped 2. Immediately head to the t1 bag area and start yelling your number when you are close as the helpers will be there to help you find your bag (however you should already know where it is since you left it there yourself that morning, its important to remember where your bags and bike are as they will help you focus on where you need to go during transition). So once your close to the bags yell your number to ensure you find your stuff. Grab your bag and continue right on into the changing tent. This is where you get into your bike gear. I first advise you to immediately put on your helmet so you don’t forget, then your glasses, then your shoes, then try to sneak a gel in as you run to your bike. This is a great time to start getting nutrition in if you can manage it. Also if you can get some cream on your bits and pieces you may save yourself a lot of grief later on in the day. So do you have that? Get back, sit down, helmet on, glasses on, shoes on, whatever else you need to do, stuff everything extra in your T1 bag and just leave it right on the ground, the volunteers will take care of the rest, then get to your damn bike and pop a gel if you can. Volunteers will be getting your bike ready for the most part so head to where you racked it. Start yelling your number again and someone will get your bike for you. But always remember exactly where your bike is because if you come out of the water in a huge pack their might just not be enough volunteers for everyone.
Alright, you’ve got your bike, get mounted over the line,clip in and start rolling down the hill. Right from the start you are on a decent downhill. So don’t try anything stupid, get yourself together, test the brakes and BE CAREFUL. Whatever you do, don’t start mashing. The hill comes to a T in the road at the bottom and you are going to head left before taking a quick right which will lead you towards the ski jumps. The big take away here is to go slow on the downhill so you don’t wipe out on the turn at the bottom of the hill, once you make those turns and are on the main loop you should start getting yourself situation and get some nutrition in. Take a gel, drink some water/endurance, and get rolling. Remember the bike course is 112 miles and those last 5-10 miles are tough so take it conservative. You are going to have so much energy coming out of town and its easy to fire all your bullets right at the start. However, the cool thing about LP is that once you pass the ski jumps you immediately start climbing. In one respect this can help hold you back and race smart but on the other if you attack the hill and get ticked off when people (old women) start passing you…well you might just ruin your day right from the start. REMEMBER, this race begins in earnest at around miles 80-85 of the bike. So until then keep yourself in check. You want your legs to feel the same at mile 1 as they do at mile 80 (well just about the same, hehe). I would say then when in doubt in the early stages of the race back off. If you are questioning yourself about whether you should push the intensity or keep it mellow early on, always choose the mellow option. The real game begins at mile 80-85. If you make it to mile 85 and your still feeling fresh this is when you can start laying down the law. Not Arnold Schwarzenegger style in Commando but you can start pushing the pace a bit. Get into town and start spinning the legs out on mirror lake drive before you hit transition. Heading into T2 you are going to go up and around the highschool and drop back down around the other side to the spot where you began the bike ride. Just before you dismount you will be coming down a fairly steep hill so it is really important to slow down and make sure you dismount safely. NO FLYING DISMOUNTS UNLESS YOUR ARE IN THE TOP 10 OVERALL! I can see no purpose for this. In my opinion the only outcome from this could be that you fall flat on your face and make an ass of yourself, fall and hurt yourself, or worse hurt your $8,000 bike and wheels. Alright then, at this point if you’ve played the game the whole day you should be set up to run well in LP. Your going to want to remember to be eating something about every 45 and drinking at least every 15 minutes. Really you can take in as much fluid as you want (water, endurance, etc..) because the worst thing your going to do is have to pee and since its an IM event you have a free pass to turn into a 1 year old and pee yourself at will. But I like to focus on every 15 minutes getting a good gulp of endurance drink while I sit up and stretch real quick…in LP the stretching part isn’t that crucial since you are going to be out of your seat so much on the climbs, however on a course like IMFL remembering to get up and stretch the upper body can be a crucial piece to the puzzle since it will help your stay somewhat flexible up top for the run…..So you’ve hydrated, you’ve ate, you have stayed relatively fresh..your in great shape. And oh yeah, if you are using a garmin watch for the bike and run, and the watch has been on the bike the whole time, make sure when you are coasting in over the last parts of the bike that you take the garmin(or other brand) watch off so you have it for the marathon. That’s actually a really good tip, I have forgotten mine in a race before and if you counting on it as a pace guide, or purely as a security blanket you will really miss the darn piece of technology.
T2: After you dismount safely a nice volunteer is going to snag your bike from you. No, they aren’t going to run off with it, they are doing your a huge favor by just getting rid of the thing for you. Believe me I bet the majority of athletes when they get off the bike just want the damn thing out of their sight! BRING ON THE RUN! So they will take the bike and rack it for you. Your job becomes getting through T2 as quick as possible. So as soon as they take the bike you need to start booking it through the transition area into the changing tents. Don’t bother taking your helmet off and as long as its not to muddy or nasty I would just leave your cleats on run with them. As you get close to the Transition area remember to shout your number out so that the volunteers can help find your bag for you. Once you get your bag head immediately into the tent, locate a seat, and change quickly. Helmet off and by your feet, cycling shoes off, put visor/hat on, put socks on, put shoes on, grab nutrition and stuff in pocket, my personal suggestion – throw some butt butter or some type of lubricant down below to avoid chaffing, stuff everything in the bag, make sure the garmin is in run mode if your using it, TAKE OFF!! But take off easily, don’t blow out of T2 crazy fast. Your going to come out of the tent hang a right and begin making your way towards the Sunoco gas station.
TO BE CONTINUED: The next part will include a detailed analysis of the run segment with how I think it can be best executed with some retrospective provided by myself from my own experiences. I will end this by saying that the RUN is by far the most important thing. If I can say one thing about the bike-run sections in general its that when in doubt go easier. If this is your first time doing an IM and you want to ensure a good day if you think you are going to hard on the bike, even just a little, I would say back off a little bit and save it for the run. Its a very hard thing to do, with time I think that athletes develop their internal barometers to determine exactly how much effort they are putting out and what they have left in their tank but I know for me I am not there yet and most people racing their first IM aren’t either since its a completely different monster than many others races. So for now keep that in the back of your mind “when in doubt back it off”. All the hard work is done in training, their are no miracles. If you go into this thing with a plan and the right mindset you will have an excellent day and know you really executed. Which is great motivation towards the next one.
So for now I am off to the pool for a little bit. The last piece of this article will be coming shortly. I hope you all enjoy reading this, and please don’t think anything I have said is written in stone because its not. But maybe it will help get you thinking!
I’ll be up in Placid on Memorial Day Week and the third weekend in June and on Race Weekend. Please feel free to drop me a line if you’ll be around!