If anyone is considering expanding their horizons and getting into doing an Ironman distance or ½ Ironman distance race, there are many tips and tricks that can help in having a pleasant experience and will also help in fulfilling their goals of finishing or setting a PR. I will list some of the tips that come from experience of doing these races of the years. Most of these tips come from learning the hard way, so maybe I can save some people a little trouble.
Most Ironman races are not in your backyard so travel is going to be a necessity. Loading up all your gear and bike and stuffing it into a box that seemingly was built to only hold a tricycle is often a hefty task and can get overwhelming. Just the simple dismantling of the bike alone to get it in the travel case is often an obstacle for many. Not something you want to add to your stress level before a race. However, there are ways around doing it all yourself. Most people do not know that it is possible to take your bike to a local bike shop and have them package it for you and ship it to the race site as well. Most likely, if you contact the race director, you can get the listing of the host hotel and they will have a bike shop on-site that will not only receive it but put it together for a small fee for the mechanics. This is a hassle free way to go people. Not only do you get your bike put together by a trained professional they make sure it is tuned up and everything is working properly. The only thing you have to worry about is getting it there on time in advance of the race. UPS is a good way of tracking your bike if you’re flying or traveling around in the continental united states. If you travel to Canada you may want to change to a different carrier simply because UPS Canada does not have insurance and if anything happens to your bike you are SOL in more ways than one.
Usually by race time most people will know all their nutritional needs for the day and will have a plan going into it of what they will eat and drink. Typically, I like to have a very light breakfast on race day, maybe a piece of dry toast and an apple or banana and some orange juice. This only to get you rolling nothing heavy that will sit in your stomach and make you hit the port-o-potty so many times you will break the hinge of the door.
T1/T2/Special Needs Bags
Most Ironman races will have a bag system for each transition. You load up a T1 bag with “swim to bike” stuff and load up a T2 bag with “bike to run” stuff. There is a “special needs” bag that you can put anything you want to eat at the midpoint of the bike ride. I typically do not use the special needs bag for nutrition simply because I don’t want to stop for it. However, it can be used as a race saver. I simply put some extra CO2 canisters and an old training tire and some tubes in it just in case I may need more than what I can carry with me. This can be a race saver. Usually after the race these items get donated depending if I feel like going to find my numbered bag in a pile of 1800 others. In my transition bags I like to put fresh clothes in each bag for the sake of having dry ones. Fresh socks coming off of the bike is a god sent.
A wetsuit swim can be described as a spectacle of seals slashing around in the surf. Most people do not realize that a wetsuit can chaff you in MANY undesirable locations on your body. These chaffs can irritate and burn all day. Bodyglide is a stick form roll on that you apply directly to you skin to prevent such chaffing. I can’t preach enough about this stuff - it really helps. Typical locations to apply it are around the lower leg to help you get out of your wetsuit when time comes for peeling it. On the back of the neck is a spot known as the “wetsuit kiss”. Apply large amounts here because the collar of the wetsuit will rub your neck completely raw if you let it. Under arms and the crotch are others that need it just as important as the back of the neck for the same reasons. Saltwater swims are more abrasive than lake swims so apply as much as possible for salt water chaffing.
When you are coming out of the water and are in T1, I suggest you let the volunteers put sunblock on you. They do it very fast and let me tell you if you do not YOU WILL BURN! This can cause your core temperature to go up and headaches and stomach problems can be attributed to sunburn. It is a small thing to have that may save your day.
A good nutritional system on the bike is using the “super fuel” system. Take one or two water bottles and super concentrate it with salt tablets and mix so when getting a “hand up” the only thing needed is water. Poor the water into the front aero bottle and mix in a small ratio of “super fuel” to make a drink until the next “hand up”. This is handy in that if you get caught in between aide stations in a dehydrated state you have a highly concentrated mix that can help you out fast if you need it. This also keeps you away from having to drink something provided by the race that you are unfamiliar with and may upset your stomach.
Timing when you drink and eat can help you not get under or over hydrated. You will need to train very carefully to figure this one out. Race day you can use your timer on your watch so it repetitively counts down a certain amount of time and the alarm goes off and automatically starts counting again to the next alarm. I use a 15 minute count down. This allows me to drink every 15 minutes on the bike and I can divide it up into 5 minute intervals on the run. You will need to find out your timeframe during your training for proper nutrition.
Most likely when you get to the marathon you start to feel the day getting to be very long and this is the most critical time to focus on getting to the finish line. The days workout starts to compound and it might be time to give yourself a treat. On the marathon the volunteers in the aid stations will have two very important items. DRINK THE COKE! Straight shot of solid carbs and tastes heavenly also because most likely you have been drinking Gatorade until your blue in the face. The volunteers will also offer warm chicken broth. TAKE SOME CHICKEN BROTH! It is heavenly as well. I am not a chicken broth eater at all but when I am on the last 4 miles of Ironman I am a chicken broth eating fool. The salty taste is something a little different as well and will give you a boost to the finish line.
Glow Sticks or Reflective Tape
If you have a great day and you have dealt with all your inner demons and get to the finish line you may have picked up or been given some reflective tape or glow stick due to it possibly being dark when you finish. A quick tip is to ditch the glow stick and reflective tape somewhere before you get to the finish line. It is amazing how that stuff can ruin a finish line photograph. That stuff lights up like a star when the photographer snaps your finish line photo. You will get you photo and all you will see is a star burst with legs.
I hope these tips get you to the finish line someday. These are all tips developed from bad experiences and can help the first time Ironman look like a seasoned veteran and may save you some time as well. Because when you cross the finish line the flash of the camera is when the life of an Ironman begins!
Jim Dillion4 Time Ironman FinisherTriathlete for 16 years
4 Time Ironman Finisher
Triathlete for 16 years