A FINISHER’S GUIDE
Anyone wishing to successfully complete a long distance race for the first time should consider that the event is simply a lesson in good self-management.
First up, you need to get plotting:
- Pick a suitable event. MetaMan Bintan it is!
For your first iron distance, it is often best to pick one that is not too far away and has a similar climate to home. The sheer distance of the race going to be a big shock to the system so it’s best to limit the shocks. Seek to control the controllable factors.
- Once you have chosen your event, get your entry organised early. It’s also good for motivation to have that special date with destiny sorted from the get go.
- In developing your programme, actively hunt for advice: listen to the advice of experienced triathletes/coaches, read articles but, above all, use your common sense. What works for other people won’t necessarily work for you.
- Be realistic: there’s no point setting a plan that you cannot complete due to time-restraints/fatigue. You’re looking to build a solid base, building up to be able to go 2.5-3 hrs on foot in training and riding at least 80 miles comfortably on another day. If you can do this, you’ll have the fitness to finish if the mind is willing.
BUT, BEWARE OF:
- Hyperbole: Typically any talk of ‘a normal training week’ is actually the biggest, hardest week that a person has ever done. Take the advice you hear with a pinch of salt.
- Burnout and injury: both of which often inevitably arise from doing too much, too hard, too soon. Triathlon, and long distance in particular, is a game of consistency and patience. Remember, it’s far better to be 10% undertrained than 1% overtrained.
3.8k is a long way, but it only makes up a small portion of an iron distance race. The sole aim of the swim is to get round as comfortably as possible, with little energy expenditure.
To do this:
- Get comfortable with swimming 3k near-continuously as early in your training programme as possible, and practice in the open water.
- During the event itself, take the opportunity to start slowly in clear water towards the back or at the side of the main pack. This will avoid the oft-dreaded ‘washing machine’ effect.
- Make sure you are warm: don’t get in the water early, especially if it is a cold-water swim.
- In a cold climate, ensure you have a decent wetsuit and have used it plenty of times before. Vaseline/baby oil around the neck particularly if it is a salt-water swim (any rubs tend to be worse)
- You may wish to wear a couple of swimming caps if it’s cold: a large portion of heat is lost through your head.
The bike can be the hardest as it’s so long and in the middle: the ‘black hole’ whereby there is no end in sight, so it can be mentally taxing.
- Get used to spending time in the saddle. You’ll find a new sense of perspective. A 2 hr bike ride will seem REALLY short if you are used to 4 hrs!
- Make sure your plan includes a handful of 80 mile rides. You may want to do a couple of 100 mile efforts but if you just want to complete, you’ll gain almost as much physiological benefit from a slightly shorter ride.
- Comfort is crucial: there is no point having a super-aero position if your back seizes up. Think about heightening your handlebars to lessen any extreme angle.
- The boredom factor is a biggie. 6-8 hours is a long time to be doing anything repetitive. Seek to break the course down into manageable chunks. Be prepared to just focus on getting to the next aid station, then the next.A wise (Iron)man once said: “At 80 miles you would do anything to get off your bike, even running a marathon seems a good idea!”
You’ll be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but the prospect of a full marathon is very daunting, even with the training behind you and the swim and bike complete.
- Make sure you are comfortable. You may wish to take a minute to change into fresh kit.
- For most Ironman finishers the run is far from a ‘run’, more a jog/shuffle/walk (hopefully no crawling), so don’t expect miracles. Just take your time, talk to people, soak in the surroundings.
- Be strict with your nutrition. Little and often!
- Aim to get to 20 miles feeling ok. If you’re not feeling ok, stop, stretch, walk. There will be bad patches along the way, but these do pass if you have done everything right.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Your head is the most important piece of kit you have. It decides whether you can stay motivated and positive, plus (revelation alert), it contains your mouth, which is the pathway to ensuring you have enough fuel. Key points:
- Iron distance races have many times been described as The Big Eating Contest. You have to eat! If you can’t/don’t, finish you won’t.
- Get used to using the same nutrition the event is using. Keep drinking throughout the bike and run. Set your watch to beep every 15 minutes and take a mouthful of energy drink at every alarm. Eat something every 30 mins on the bike and as often as possible on the run (it will have to be little amounts/liquid during the run because of the extra strain on the stomach).
- Start the race with two full drink bottles on your bike and slow down and restock regularly at the aid stations.
- As well as the usual gels and drinks, take something nice to nibble on now and again: you’ll be thankful for a bit of ‘real food’.
All in all, if the mind is willing, the body will follow. A good deal of dedicated training is required to complete such an endurance feat but managing nutrition and pacing within your limits will go an awfully long way to ensuring you achieve what you set out to.