If you are about to race to race your first Ironman or maybe just need some reminders on race day tips, here are the best tips that I have come up with in my 16 years of racing! They are by no means scientifically based or proven tips nor are they in any specific order. Just my own personal summary!
Start your visualizations well before race day. Imagine every moment of your day, starting with body marking and ending with the finish line. What do you see, what do you smell, what do you hear, how do you feel? Imagine best case situations as well as little things that could possibly go wrong and how you will handle them calmly and in a green/yellow/red light situation. (Green light is the problem and the feeling of panic/yellow light is slow down and assess what you need to do/red light is re-gain composure, fix the problem and move on.)
Day before the race. Before you drop your gear bags, decorate your bags with colorful duct tape, markers or ribbon. ALL bags look identical. Make yours visible to You. When you check your gear bags and bike, get in and out as quick as possible. You need to be off your feet and you don’t need to be around all of the nervous energy. When you drop your bags off at your assigned location, be sure you know in which direction you will be coming in from the swim to bike bag area, as well as the bike to run bag area. Walk this off several times so you know exactly where to go. When you are nearing your swim or bike bag, make eye contact with a volunteer and start yelling your number out, so they can help find your bag. On race morning, come back to your bags to make sure they were not moved or shifted after your dropped them off. Sometimes, the volunteers will straighten and re-organize the bags after drop-off. Your bag may have gotten shifted a bit. After drop-off, go back to your condo or hotel and spend the rest of the day in a quiet, relaxed state.
At the swim start, you are going to be nervous and a little scared. Just remember, whether it is their first of 50th IM, every single person standing around you, is feeling the exact same way. Take a deep breath, look around you, take in the sunrise and feel grateful and blessed for the journey you are about to embark on.
Reassess goals on the fly. It rarely turns out to be the day you planned! You have imagined this day for months and maybe years, however, there are very few times when the stars align, and someone gets that perfect day on an IM course. Something unexpected usually happens. This is the beauty and mystery of IM racing. You never know what “unexpected thing” WILL happen. It is the athletes who “go with the flow” and adapt on the course that make it to the finish line. Coming in on the swim or the bike with a slower than expected time, dropping one of your gels, cramping on the bike, or having a mechanical are all real situations. It does not mean you have to throw in the towel. Readjust your expectations and keep moving forward.
Break the entire day into small segments. Break each discipline into small segments. It is not a 2.4-mile swim. It is either get from one buoy to the next or get through one loop and then the second loop. The bike is not 112 miles. It is aid station to aid station, 4 bike rides of 28 miles each or 2 rides of 56 miles each. The run is 26 one-mile jogs, 26 aid stations, 2 half marathons, and so on.
Methodical Execution for transitions. They count towards your finish time! Be smart with them. As soon as you are nearing the end of the swim and bike, starting picturing EXACTLY what you need to do and in what order. When you get near the swim bag (and then bike bag) area, find a volunteer, make eye contact and start yelling out your bag number. Do not put things in your bags that will allow decision making. Keep it to EXACTLY what you need and no more. (Methodical Execution.) Use the volunteers for help. That is what they are there for and it will expedite your time. After the swim, take your wetsuit, goggles and swim cap and place them on the floor near your chair, get your bike gear on and have the volunteer bag everything up for you as you make your way out. The bike to run transition can be a bit rougher than the swim to bike. Again, use the volunteers help. You may cramp when you bend over to change from bike to run shoes, you are going to be tired, take the help! Again, if you have a volunteer helping, have them help you bag your stuff. PUT SUNSCREN ON!!!! This is one thing that is non-negotiable! I don’t change clothes during IM, but one thing I like to spend an extra 5 or 10 sec on, is a quick wipe down with what I call, “Bath In A Bag.” In my gear bags, I place a wet washcloth w a bit of a smell good soap or lotion on it and do a FAST wipe down of face/arms/legs. It makes me feel fresh, gets the salt water and bike road debris off. It is a nice feel good treat.
No matter how good you feel, or how bad you feel, that feeling will not last. Ironman is a series of physical and emotional ups and downs ALL DAY LONG! You will have your highest highs and lowest lows. During those lows, keep telling yourself this feeling is temporary and as soon as I turn the next corner, I will feel better. During the highs, embrace them. Be happy and proud that your body is capable of doing such an amazing feat. At times, the feeling of a “low” coming on is a sign of an impending bonk. Take a gel and a drink. You might just need calories.
Play mind games to get your through the marathon. Pretend each time you pass under a street light it is beaming energy down to you. Reel people in (I am going to catch up to that person in the orange, now I am going to try to catch the person in red.) Dedicate a mile or two to different friends or family members and give them a thought during that particular mile. Look forward to each aid station and what you will eat and drink on that next mile. Think of the aid stations as a bit of entertainment to look forward to. If you are still running at sunset, take in the beauty of the moment. I have even gone as far as pretending I was on one of those airport people movers and no matter, what I could not stop moving forward. I kept repeating, “Keep Moving Forward At All Costs.” Another race, I had a really mean girl in my head taunting me and telling me if I didn’t move faster, she was going to be waiting around the corner to kick my ass. Hey…whatever it takes, right? Finally, reflect on all the sacrifices you made in your life to get to this day and let that push you forward more than anything!
Thank your volunteers and Sherpas! It is a really long day for them as well. Show them appreciation for being there!
THE FINISH LINE! Straighten your hat, bib and put a big smile on your face because you made it! Enjoy the finish line. This is what you worked for! Do not rush through it, unless you are about to break a time goal! High Five the kids who are holding their hands out to you. (Ok, that was in Pre-Covid days!) Also, if there is a person just ahead of you in the finish line, unless you are about to break that time goal or grab a spot to Kona, give that person their moment in the spot light. They deserve a finish line photo without you in it.
Finally, remember that your physical strength and health is a gift. Not everyone has this gift. Being able to train and race is something you “get” to do. It is a gift given to YOU.
This post was written by Coach, Jackie Miller.