8/4/17

Excel at the half ironman distance with these tips



On Saturday, I will be racing my 3rd half Ironman distance triathlon of 2017. And 5 weeks later, I'll be wrapping up my triathlon racing season with the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Chattanooga, TN.

Although the distance has remained unchanged, athletes are covering the half ironman distance much faster/quicker than ever before. While the distance is not as long as that of an Ironman, I still respect the distance as covering 70.3 miles with the human body is no easy feat.

The half Ironman distance requires a lot of preparation. You must be committed to the training for there is no fake it until you make it or wing-it on race day. The training prepares you physically, mentally, emotionally and nutritionally as race day requires great skill, self-management and confidence.

Seeing that many athletes define athletic success as 1) A finish 2) Improvement in time, the true success in a half Ironman event comes from being great at not slowing down. Understanding that every race will be different, it is important to not go into the race with expectations or outcome goals but instead, embrace the challenge of overcoming obstacles, staying present and doing things well for 70.3 miles. 

As it relates to the race itself, here are a few of our suggestions as to how you can respect the half Ironman distance and excel on race day.

RACE WEEK
  • Training - sharpen, don't rest. While too much intensity can keep you from saving your best effort for race day, doing too little will leave you flat, stale and lethargic come race day. 
  • Making the week about your race - minimize stressors as much as possible
  • Mental focus/visualization - rehearse all scenarios
  • Sleep - with reduced training, don't compromise your sleep
  • Travel - arrive early so you are not rushed
  • Review course – don’t just focus on the weather, or one section of the course, or your competition

RACE MORNING
  • Pre-race meal – must be well-practiced. Don't just focus on the calories consumed but your food choices must work (ex. control blood sugar, keep you satisfied, digest easily, give you energy, etc.)
  • Arrive early to the race venue so you aren't rushed (suggest 90 min - 2 hours prior to your race start)
  • Routine - reduce nerves and anxieties by having a routine for yourself at the race venue
  • Warm-up - never ever neglect/skip your warm-up (on land and in the water)
  • Confidence - don't compare yourself to other athletes or think back to what you should have done better/more of. Believe in yourself. 
  • Trust yourself - no matter how you felt on race week, trust that your body will know what to do once you start the race

SWIM
  • 80% - don't go out too hard. If you focus on swimming 75-80% effort for the entire swim, you will swim your "fastest" effort with good mechanics, without slowing down to fatigue
  • Sight often - don't trust the feet of another athlete to keep you on course. Sight every 5-7 strokes (practice this in training so that it is familiar on race day)
  • Stay on course - focus on the turn buoys to help you complete the shortest distance possible. 

TRANSITION 1
  • Rehearse  - have a routine as to how you will transition from swim to bike, prior to exiting the swim
  • Stay calm - your highest heart rate of the race will likely be in T1. Try to lower the HR in transition and during the first 5-10 minutes on your bike
  • Make it quick and efficient - this is free speed. You don't have to be an elite athlete to have a fast transition. 
  • Understand your transition area - to avoid the chaos, anxiety and stress that occurs in transition, understand all of the specifics of your transition area so you can get in and out as quick as possible. Nothing good happens in the transition area 😏

BIKE

While pacing is important throughout your entire race, pacing on the bike is more important than you may think. There is great cost from going anaerobic or pushing too hard for even just a few minutes. While it's easy to have the mindset of "going hard" on the bike in order to gain time after a slow swim or to produce a faster bike split (or faster overall time), going too hard on the bike will fatigue your legs and will not give you the strength that you need to run as fast/well as you are capable of. Seeing that you will feel super strong and fast when you start the bike (thanks to taper), don't crush your personal best 20-minute time in the first 20 miles of the bike. The most important thing to remember is that you need to pace and fuel/hydration on the bike, in an effort to deliver yourself to the run, where you can then run well.
  • Understand your course - proper execution comes down to terrain management and understanding the details of your course.
  • Ride your bike well - being aero, sitting up and getting out of the saddle, along with varying your cadence are effective strategies to efficiently strong biking, which will also help you run well off the bike. 
  • Ride sustainably strong - ride as fast as possible with the least amount of work. There's no prize to crushing the bike and then suffering on the run. 
  • Fueling and hydration – this is a non-negotiable. If you can't fuel/hydrate for a given effort on the bike, don't expect to run well off the bike. Practice your nutrition in training so you have confidence with an easy-to-execute plan that will work on race day.
  • Race your own race - don't get caught-up in the pacing/racing plan of another athlete. Focus on yourself.
  • Stay in the moment - you will have highs and lows. Focus on the present moment and take care of yourself. 
  • Don’t chase metrics - racing is dynamic. You will perform your best if you listen to your body and adjust as you go. 

TRANSITION 2
  • Make it quick and efficient - ease up in the last few minutes of the bike and rehearse your transition prior to dismounting the bike. 
  • Walk and move out of transition - your run time does not start until you hit the timing mat outside of the transition area. Walk as you put on your hat, sunglasses, race belt, hydration belt, etc. 

RUN

This is where most triathletes validate how well or not well the race went. This is also the most dreaded, fearful and unknown part of the triathlon for many triathletes. Break the habit of always fearing the run. You must be confident going into your upcoming half Ironman. Hopefully your training has prepared you for the mechanical fatigue that you will experience on the run and you are familiar with not feeling good for a few miles when running off the bike, but eventually, that feeling does go away and you should be able to find your rhythm.
  • Forget the metrics - When you run well, you will not only enjoy the run but you will be able to do more with your body throughout all 13.1 miles. Don't chase a pace! 
  • Good form under fatigue - when you start to get really mentally and physically tired (around miles 7-13), focus on keeping good form and running with ease. 
  • Understand the layout of your course - not only will this help with pacing/execution but it will help with recognizing where the high and low moments may occur. 
  • Always listen to your body - take care of problems immediately when they happen. The goal is always to be able to restart running again so when there is a problem, address it quickly in order to get back to running. 
  • Stay up on nutrition/hydration – this is a non-negotionable and why you MUST practice nutrition in training, over and over and over and over again. 
  • Dig deep at the end – there's no benefit of digging deep and being mentally tough in the first 3 miles, if you resort to walking the last 10. Pace your own race and when you get to mile 10-12, you can then start pulling out your mental skills to help you dig deep until the finish. 
  • Walking is ok! - walk with a purpose. Walking is not failing, it is designed to help you run better between walking. No need to have a walk/run plan but walk before you really need to walk in order to reset form and to control breathing or to take in nutrition. 
While there are many tips to help you excel in the half Ironman distance, make sure you trust your training, stay in the moment, believe in yourself and be sure to thank your body.