With only forty eight days to Ironman UK, it is now important to prepare and rehearse fully for the big day, so here are a few tips to help.
Bike nutrition plan – Whenever you’re out on the long rides rehearse your nutrition plan. The general rule is to consume between sixty and eighty grams of carbs (200 – 400 calories) in your body an hour. The best way is little and often, so set an alarm/alert on your watch or bicycle computer to go off every twenty minutes, reminding you to eat. As you get closer to T2, come off the solid food in favour of liquids or gels. It will take time for your body to adapt, particularly after four hours of cycling, but remember that you’re fuelling for the marathon afterwards. There is no one size fits all solution, so find out what works for you and practise, practise, practise.
Don’t make up and risk injuries – If you feel you haven’t done enough training don’t make up and risk injuries at this stage. Remember to keep to the 10% rule in terms of mileage with consolidating every fourth or fifth week for two weeks. If you have any niggles, hold back and treat them, and if possible have a preventive sports massage once a month.
Recovery nutrition after Training – Always have a quality nutrition drink within twenty minutes of each training session, and then eat small amounts of protein based food throughout the day – I aim for 30- 40g protein based snacks throughout the day which seems to have an impact on my recovery. Very simply – I carb up before and protein down afterwards.
Ironman breakfast – Begin each long training morning with the breakfast you intend to have on the morning of the Ironman. Again this will allow the body to adapt and it won’t be a shock to it on the morning of the race. It will also help trigger a toilet routine before you head off. You should practise eating at the same time you plan to on race day. If that’s three hours before the swim, make sure you’re used to getting up very early to eat before going back to bed again.
Ironman kit – Start wearing the kit you will be using on Ironman day for all three disciplines in all weathers. This is particularly important if you’ve been training in cycling shorts but plan to race in triathlon shorts – the pad on the latter is much thinner (to help you run in them), and you ought to get used to how it feels on the bike before the big day. Alternatively, if comfort is a priority, put a pair of cycling shorts over your tri short for the bike leg and then take them off before setting off for the run.
Anchoring – Have a way of calming yourself down when you begin to feel anxious. For example, if I feel anxious in the open water I anchor myself by imagining I am on holiday swimming and chilling out with my mates. In other words I swim as if I am on holiday which paradoxically allows me to swim smoother and faster.
Warming up routine – Have a dry land warming up routine before getting in the water. This will open up your capillaries and get the blood flowing allowing you to get into a smoother swimming rhythm so much quicker. This might include some star jumps to warm up all four limbs, or perhaps some resistance band work at home to get the arms going.
Mantra – As the saying goes, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” There will be challenging parts on the day both physically and mentally. For me, this is normally at the eighty mile mark of the bike and the ten mile mark of the marathon. Having your own unique mantra will help you get past them, and before you know it you’ll be back on course. However, remember that when you do feel you are hitting a mentally tough part of the event, you ought to check that you are sticking to your fuelling plan. Often, this can be part of the reason you are flagging.
Chunk everything – I can only cope with any challenging long distance event by chunking. For example, for me the Ironman event is broken down like this – two laps of a 1.2 mile swim, three thirty five mile laps of cycling with a seven mile finish and finally a 5 x 5 mile buffet run with just over a mile to the finish line.
Check out the course – If possible get to the venue course for a swim, cycle and run even if it’s only for part of the distance. With living in Bolton I am very fortunate and have done the Ironman UK course hundreds of times. In fact my bike can do the Ironman cycle by itself now.
Have a race plan and stick to it, but also have a plan B – By now you will have a good idea of the times you should be hitting for the swim, bike and run, so don’t get caught up on the day by racing those around you. They have their plan and you have yours. Remember, the person passing you on the bike may be the person you will be passing on the run. Also, have a plan B in case something does not go to plan. For example, if it’s a very windy day which results in your average speed dropping significantly don’t worry, as this will be happening to everyone (having a power meter helps reassure you but they are expensive). Also, if it’s a hot day you will have to drink more, so be prepared to adapt your nutrition plan. Having your special needs bags dotted around the course helps with a plan B, as you can add those extras that you may need in emergencies or just to have a nutrition treat.
Practise T1 and T2 – Spend time practising getting out of the water and changing into your bike gear before mounting and cycling off. Also, practice getting off your bike and into your running gear before hitting the run. You don’t want to be heading out of T1 without your helmet and then rushing back to find it has been packed onto the transport lorry.
Bike Check – Have your bike fully checked over and serviced three or four weeks before the event by someone you trust. The focus should be on the quality of the tyres, spokes and gears.
Mentally rehearse the day – Every now and then mentally rehearse the day in as much detail as possible and finish the rehearsal with seeing yourself crossing the finish line. As you imagine yourself approaching and crossing the finishing line hang onto that feeling of excitement, as it will help to get you through the tough training sessions and the big day.
Checklist – Have a checklist of what you will need to have for the day and have all your gear set out a couple of days before the event. Then, when it’s time to pack everything into each of the appropriate red, blue and white Ironman bags, you’re not panicking because you have to quickly find that race belt you stored away in a safe place five weeks ago.
Nothing new – I know you will have been told this thousands of times but don’t try out anything new on the day of the event such as a new shoes, nutrition, top etc.
Getting to and from the event – Have a transport plan for getting to the event well before the start. Remember you may have to be dropped off and walk a distance to your bike. If the start time is 6.00 am I like to get to my bike for no later than 5.00 am with a toilet break at about 5.30 am. It is as if time speeds up by ten from when to begin to walk to the start to when you are in the water. Also, have transport sorted for after the event, especially if you have to collect and take everything home with you on the night including your bike.
Don’t forget the sun cream! Even if the day looks overcast you will be getting a lot of sun on your neck, so slap it on before you set off to the start. Make sure it’s waterproof so it survives the swim.
Post Ironman recovery plan – For a speedy recovery it’s important to get moving and have an active recovery plan such as short walks, (very gentle) spinning on the turbo, recreational swimming, light yoga etc.
Keep motivated – After such a lot of months, weeks, days, hours training for this one event you may find you have a gaping gap and feel the blues. However, if you have a couple of fun event planned in August and September it will help. I would always try to add the Salford triathlon in August and a sportive bike ride in September to keep me motivated.
Take an active break – At the end of the season around October take four to eight weeks off to do other activities such as walking, badminton, squash etc and put the Garmin away as well. Trust me – you will begin the new season fresh and motivated.