There’s lots of trial and error involved when you’re attempting your first Ironman. These days there’s lots of advice floating around out there and it can get confusing at times. After over 20 years on the Ironman scene, I’ve seen some of the same mistakes made over and over again by first time Ironman triathletes.
Here are the top ten mistakes that I feel you should really try and avoid. Just possibly it will give you a better shot at achieving your Ironman goal.
Almost without fail, the first time Ironman will go into the race overtrained. The hardest thing to learn about your training, is when to rest. Its really difficult to convince some athletes that rest is an essential component of their Ironman preparation. Some will insist on training no matter how tired they are or how sore they are. They will completely forget to factor in the physical and mental effort they expend at work every day. Worse yet, as the big day approaches, they will start their taper far too late. They continue to pound out the mileage for fear they’ll lose the conditioning they worked so hard to achieve.
Here are a few tips: If you begin a workout, and just know its going to be a struggle–you just have no energy–stop the work-out and go home. You obviously need more rest. When it gets really bad, take an entire week-end and do “nothing” associated with Ironman training. Go away for a few days. You won’t lose a thing and will resume your training rested and refreshed. As far as tapering, your longest workout day should be “4 weeks” before race day. Begin your taper there.
(2) POOR DIET
It’s almost sad to see the effort some people put into their Ironman training only to stall their strength and endurance growth with an improper diet.
Avoid the junk food, eat a proper balance of complex carbs, protein and fat. Enhance a proper diet with vitamin supplements.
(3) IMPROPER FINAL WEEK PREPARATION
Its so easy to get caught up in the hype on Ironman week. Too much time is spent in restaurants eating food you don’t normally eat.
Far too many athletes will do the swim course several times or hammer out long bike rides or pound through ten mile runs in the blazing heat. None of this helps you. You must stay relaxed and get lots of rest that final week. Before you arrive at the venue, make sure you have a plan set out for the entire week, right up to race morning.
(4) IMPROPER PRE-RACE HYDRATION
Either athletes will drink too much or not enough leading up to the race. You should start hydrating several days before the race. The rule of thumb is, when urine is clear and copious, you are properly hydrated. Too much drinking will flush too many nutrients out of your system and could lead to hyponatremia. More is not better. “Don’t” drink too much on race morning. You don’t want fluid sloshing around in your stomach during the swim.
(5) IMPROPER RACE-EVE PREPARATION
The day before the race is crucial! You shouldn’t be doing much of anything. Rest is the order of the day. Stay out of the sun. Eat your final large meal early in the day. (I never ate after 4 p.m. on that last day). This gives your digestive system time to work. Do what you must do. For instance–bike check-in, pre-race meeting and then go back to your room and relax.
(6) POOR SWIM STRATEGY
It’s an Ironman tradition to have mass swim starts and I can’t see that changing anytime in the near future. Most races have upwards of 2000 starters in a congested swim area. To convince yourself that the best strategy is to follow the course markers is a recipe for disaster. To decide to wait a minute or so, and then follow the markers is still a disaster. When you look around, their will be hundreds of others waiting as well. Go in with a workable strategy. Avoid the crush. I have an excellent swim strategy on my website.
(7) MISTAKES IN TRANSITION
The last place you should be running, is in the transition area. If this is your first Ironman, there is absolutely nothing to be gained by it. It will drive your heart rate up. It will cause you to make mistakes. Take your time. In the chaos that surrounds you, keep in your own relaxed space.
(8) GOING OUT WAAAAY TOO FAST ON THE BIKE
Relax!! Don’t eat or drink for twenty minutes or so. Let your body adjust to the new demands you’re placing on it. Then begin to fuel up for the bike ahead and keep nutrition and fluid on an even keel for the entire bike ride. Spin at a nice relaxed pace for the first 40 km or so and then pick it up a little to the pace you feel you can maintain for the bulk of the ride.
(9) ABSOLUTELY NO RUN PLAN
Don’t just go out and wing it. Have a well-conceived run plan. Train months ahead for how you plan to handle the marathon. Its likely that not even 1% of first time Ironman hopefuls will run the entire marathon. So train for this. Do long run-walks in training. In other words, try a three hour training run like this.
Run for the first 30-45 minutes and then begin walking for two minutes and running for 12-15 minutes at a steady workable pace. Keep repeating this for the entire run. In effect, what you’re doing, is practicing walking the aid stations and running in between as much as possible. When you leave the bike-run transition try and get in as much mileage as you can before you begin walking.
(10) ABSOLUTELY NO EATING-DRINKING PLAN FOR THE RUN
As the marathon progress and your energy and endurance are being challenged to the max, the normal reaction is to try eating a bit of everything available at the aid stations. This is another disaster in the making. The last thing you need is cookies, fruit, coke, etc., etc. trashing your stomach. If you trained all year with gels and a certain type of replacement drink, then that’s what you should stick with. Don’t make the mistake of searching everywhere for a miracle cure. Is isn’t there. The Ironman hurts. That is the nature of the beast. Don’t let it get the best of you. Fight through it with an eating and drinking plan that you’ve thought out long before race day.
Everything I’ve mentioned here is covered and discussed on my “Ironstruck” website. I would be particularly concerned with having a proper diet and overall-race plan. Take the guess-work out of race-day. Know exactly what your swim plan will be. Proper diet and vitamin supplements are a must. Make sure your Ironman plans cover everything up to and including the race.