Essential Sports Nutrition


IM Kona Race Week - Mistake #4


Racing an Ironman triathlon is dynamic as there are so many variables that affect your performance. Some are within your control and others are out of your control. No matter how hard you trained, you will never feel fully prepared for everything that happens on race day. And in Kona, the unpredictable nature of the wind and heat make for an intimidating racing experience.

Going into the race with expectations and assumptions of how the day will go is just fine if that approach brings you confidence and excitement. But remind yourself that a great race day performance requires flexibility and adaptability.

With a spreadsheet, metric-obsessed mindset, it's easy to fail to reach athletic excellence on race day. Although it's the approach of many athletes, you can't go into an Ironman and expect your body to go on auto cruise for 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of cycling and 26.2 miles of running by trying to hit certain paces/watts/speeds for 140.6 miles. The body wasn't designed to function like this. Additionally, from a physiological perspective, you can not hold the same effort, watts or pace for 140.6 miles - if you can, you are likely underperforming. To perform at your potential, you have to adjust as you go, through the high and low moments, hot, very hot, windy and very windy moments and by listening to your body as it relates to energy, fuel, hydration and mental focus. 

The goal of any Ironman athlete is to be great at not slowing down. In an effort to be great at not slowing down, you have to be constantly in-tune with your body signals. For many athletes, metrics are used to control a given output to avoid under/over racing. But a metric focused, spreadsheet approached racing plan typically hinders performance because it's very difficult to take care of yourself in the moment, when the mind is obsessed about hitting (or not hitting) a certain number. And when you can't follow your spreadsheet, you feel defeated.

As an athlete, you need to put all of your attention and focus into the present moment. A spreadsheet does not help you control everything that you will experience on race day. 

In any competitive situation (like the Ironman World Championship), a spreadsheet doesn't let you "race". When your brain gets caught up in non-constructive thinking (ex. thinking about the swim when you are on the bike or the bike when you are on the run) or if you start thinking that you are not meeting your expectations of what you think you should be doing, this mental chatter in your head can make it difficult to maintain focus and perspective. As an example, if you exit the water in Kona and see a time slower than what you anticipated, you may tell yourself that you are having a bad race. Same goes for the bike - if it's windy and you see a speed that is slower than what you have ever done before, you will struggle to stay focused with self-defeating thoughts.

It's important to make good decisions in the moment on race day - a spreadsheet can not do this for you. As an Ironman athlete, you must remain alert, focused and present, while constantly listening to your body and taking care of yourself. Because most athletes will struggle to meet metric goals on race day in Kona due to the unpredictable nature of the island, you may find yourself with great anxiety frustration and a sense of failure if you have a pacing and nutrition plan that you just can't keep up with on race day. 

I encourage you to go into the Ironman World Championship with a nutrition and pacing plan that reflects what is familiar to you and what you trained your body to do on race day. However, with this plan comes the understanding that you may need to adjust. You must adapt, stay processed-driven and focused throughout the entire race. If you can do this, you will find yourself having the best race performance possible by your body based on how well you managed what you were given on race day.