Your First Half Ironman: Race Tips & Pointers

author : acbadger
comments : 8

I’m not going to sugar coat my experience and tell you that it was a piece of cake, but I am going to attempt to give you some advice and useful information that I wish I had before participating.

This article is for all of you out there who are thinking about registering for your first Half Ironman Distance Triathlon.

What an experience. It is one you should not turn down!! I’m not going to sugar coat my experience and tell you that it was a piece of cake, but I am going to attempt to give you some advice and useful information that I wish I had before participating in this event.

First and foremost, training!! Most people, when they hear the word “training,” think of it as swimming, biking, running, strength training, practicing drills, etc. That would be true, but the one thing most of us neglect is our nutritional training!! Yes, we do need to focus on our nutrition so we have the energy to finish a race of such distance.

Pre Race:

#1 Be sure you are practicing with food that you intend to eat the morning before a race. Don’t try something new the night before or the morning of! Make sure you are having a small meal with some carbohydrates (1/2 whole wheat bagel), protein (1 TBS peanut butter) and maybe something a little extra for the caloric value (1/2 of a banana). This is my breakfast of choice before any endurance race. I also have a little bit of caffeine. Some people opt out of this, but I have 8 0z. of tea before heading out on the road.

#2 Train your body internally. This is a subject that I notice ONLY runners and triathletes talk about comfortably. We’re all in the same boat here. You need to train your body to use the bathroom before heading out on a long bike or run. Getting up an hour or so before a workout is the best thing you can do for yourself. You get time for your nutrition as well as a trip to the boys/girls room. Trust me, this is VERY important. Have you seen some of the lines at the port-a-potties??

#3 Learn about nutrition on the go. You MUST practice eating and hydrating during your workouts. It is very helpful to practice the timing of your nutrition (GU, Powerbar, etc.) before the actual event. The BEST place to take care of your nutrition is on the bike. It’s easier to access your food while you are seated on the bike and not jostling your body around on the run. Follow your hydration rules as well. 8 oz. every 30 to 40 minutes DURING exercise.


You also need to practice drinking on the run. You MUST hydrate during any run. An easy tip: When you grab a cup from the WONDERFUL volunteers handing them to you, #1 THANK THEM, and #2 squeeze the cup so you have made a spout of sorts. This way, the water will not splash all over your face and in your eyes. This also helps keep the water from going down the wrong tube. Choking while trying to run a race is not pleasant, and this is the easiest way to avoid that.

So, you’ve got the important nutritional information down, you’ve done your training and now it’s race day.

Get to the race venue early!! Rack your bike, but keep others in mind while you do so. Don’t take up too much space—just a little triathlon etiquette to consider. Place things in order of when you’ll need them. Make sure you have easy access to everything. Oh, and if you are participating in a race during the summer months, or anywhere down south, DO NOT forget the sunblock! There is nothing worse than a sunburn on top of sore muscles.

RELAX! Listen to music, stretch, chill out, enjoy the scenery! Take it all in. Walk to the water and plot in your mind where the buoys are for the swim. This will be good information to have in the back of your mind while swimming.

During the swim, relax!

This is probably the most technical of the three disciplines, but it’s also the one of least importance. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from other athletes while waiting on the beach for their swimming wave, “The swim doesn’t matter.” Well, there is some truth to that…however, it’s not all together true. The swim is an important part of the race, but use it as your warm up. Try to pull a little more than kick while swimming. Try to save your legs for the bike and run portion of your race. You’ll be glad you did.

Bike tips
Remember not to mount your bike until you are past the mounting line. DO NOT ride your bike out of transition—it’s a safety issue. Practice running/jogging with your bike! You’ll be glad you did on race day.

On the bike, relax your shoulders, even when climbing. Keep your focus on the road in front of you and go, go, go! When climbing hills, try to stay in the saddle as long as possible; you recruit more muscle fibers and burn more calories (expend more energy) out of the saddle, so even though it’s easier to climb out of the saddle, do what you can to stay in it!

Master your gears. There is nothing worse than not knowing your bike and how to downshift or gear up! If you don’t know how to gear down, you could easily jam your gears and end up walking your bike up the hill! Practice, practice, practice!

Dismount! You’ll hear that as you get closer to T2. You must dismount at the mounting/dismounting line and run your bike back into transition. This also takes practice, especially if you are looking to cut a few seconds off of your time.



Running essentials
T2 is crucial here. It’s your last chance to grab a sip or two of water before going out on the long run. Yes, there will be water/aid stations, but as I experienced, they can run dry…so make sure that you have taken in a little extra water before you head out on the road. You’ll also want to throw on a hat/visor and/or sunglasses. Did you know that squinting expends extra energy?? Well, amazingly enough, it does. You want to save all the energy you possibly can—it takes two seconds to throw on a hat, and it will be worth your while.

Pace yourself. Don’t go out too fast. Start slower and if you have extra energy at the finish…turn it on!! Just be sure you are rationing your energy! You’ll need every ounce you can get. Trust me!

When running uphill, focus on the top. Don’t drop your head. Keep your focus and keep that airway open. You’ll appreciate every ounce of oxygen you can take in during the race.

HYDRATE!! Stay cool! You’ll want to toss ice cubes in your tri suit to keep your body temperature down. The temperature at the Florida Challenge Half Ironman reached 93 with a heat index of 105!! Stay cool, stay hydrated. Your body will thank you. When hydrating, DO NOT DRINK ONLY WATER. If you need to, alternate aid stations…first water, second Gatorade, third water, etc., etc. You need to replenish your electrolytes. Too much water can flush the sodium from your body causing severe illness and even death (hyponatremia). Water is great, but the sport drinks can be essential.

FUEL YOURSELF!! There is a reason there are cookies, GU, donuts, etc. at the aid stations. You are burning CRAZY calories during these endurance events and if you plan on getting across the finish line, you need to supply your body with replacement fuel! The BEST place to fuel yourself is on the bike, but sometimes that is not enough. Grab a GU on the run, take a bite or two of a cookie, and make sure you are keeping your body energized by giving it the fuel it needs to get you through your event.

Don’t rely TOO much on mile markers. Use them as a guide, but don’t depend on them to always be accurate. I learned this the hard way as well. Race directors and volunteers do an outstanding job organizing, scheduling, and planning for these big events. They go out the day/night before the event and mark all of the miles, set up the aid stations, put up signs, etc.. However, there are some wise guys out there who have no association with the race at all who will go and vandalize the course or change mile markers.
When I got to mile 10 on the course, I was thrilled. Only a 5K left, I could do this with my eyes closed! Well, I wish I had my eyes closed when I came upon ANOTHER mile 10 marker!! This second mile 10 marker was the correct one and now I had to talk myself into an extra mile I thought I had already done!! A few of us on the course laughed and tried to make jokes about seeing two mile 10 markers…but at that stage in the game, sometimes all you have is your mental toughness, and when someone starts playing around with that, it gets frustrating. So, just be aware that strange things can happen on the race course that you can’t plan for. But knowing there’s that possibility will make you a stronger triathlete.

Finish with a smile!! Even if you are exhausted and even if you are hurting so badly you don’t think you could smile, SMILE! You did it! You achieved a HUGE accomplishment!! You should take a little time, even if it’s just a few seconds to smile, relish in the fact that you are a triathlete and be PROUD!!!



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date: January 3, 2007


Four Sprint Triathlons and 2 Olympic Distance Triathlons. Several marathons and Boston qualified. Because of my new found love of these sports, I got my Personal Training Certification and USAT Level I Coaching Certification so I could help others attain their goals!


Four Sprint Triathlons and 2 Olympic Distance Triathlons. Several marathons and Boston qualified. Because of my new found love of these sports, I got my Personal Training Certification and USAT Level I Coaching Certification so I could help others attain their goals!

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