Pacing – I remember a quote from Mark Allen, he said “At Ironman, the race begins at mile 18 of the run” Now, for us mere mortals the race is about pacing; when in doubt slow down. It is such a long day! If you are like most people and don’t have all day to train, eat, sleep, massage and then eat again; you have to make the training work for you and still have a work life, family life and not to mention social life. When you are racing Sprint and Olympic distance triathlons you can pretty much go all out for the race; it hurts like hell but you know it’s not going to last for very long and you can take the intensity and pain that those distances require. When racing Ironman it’s a completely different animal. In fact, many professional triathletes and elite ametures are accused of being loners due to the volume and solitude that training for an Ironman requires when done properly. So, how does one know what the right pace is for them and how to set up the training to maximize success on race day?
The swim is literally the warm up of the day. Even a well trained and fast swimmer who is attempting to qualify for Kona would not go all out on the swim knowing what lies ahead. There’s no such thing as a spiked heart rate in your Ironman plan on race day. Easier said than done when you are surrounded by 2500 other nut jobs screaming, hooting and hollering as if they are on the set of Braveheart causing your heart rate to sky rocket and adrenaline pumping in to your bloodstream. LOL You have to stay relaxed, calm, focused and quiet. Once you start the race, get in to your flow as soon as possible. Again, this flow happens to be way lower than your maximum effort. You will not win the race in the swim, but you could lose it there. Slow down, stay relaxed and avoid aggressive swimmers looking for some drama. Think about it, what good is a fist fight going to do you, especially a broken nose, before you exit the water. Hopefully, your heart rate will be extremely low and your emotions will be steady and your body will feel good knowing that you have paced it right and you’ve got a good day ahead.
Now, on to the bike. The bike leg is probably the most important when it comes to Ironman race day. You have to know yourself. You have to know what is excessive cycling for your skills and fitness level. Assuming you survive T1 and haven’t crashed trying to pull off a flying mount, your main goal is to get away as smoothly and efficiently as possible and on to the course. Obviously, you must train according to the terrain at the race you are competing in. Otherwise, it will be very difficult competing on a course that is not suited to the types of training you have done. I will talk about nutrition in another segment, but truly it is critical. In regards to pacing, you MUST stay under your max effort on the bike at all times. When in doubt, slow down. The way you ride in your group back home is not how you should ride at Ironman. The intensity and pace you hold on your hill climbs and intervals at home is NOT how you should pace at Ironman. The pace and the exertion level that you hold for time trials back home is NOT what you should be attempting to hold at Ironman. So, very much like the swim your effort should be smooth, consistent, steady, measured, thoughtful and painless. Certainly, your goal should be to negative split this ride. Meaning three hours on the first loop, 2:59 on the second. If you do this you will be one of 10 people on the planet that have done it, LOL. Not many people have the patience or the discipline to make it happen; including myself. However; this should be your goal and if you succeed even somewhat close for instance 3 hours and 3:05 you have done very very well. Some of the signs of going to hard on the Ironman bike course is heavy or excessive breathing, heart rate or power meter numbers higher than you’ve seen in training or worse, you’re slowing to a crawl. The bottom line is that you have to wait. You have to wait for the bike to end, you cannot rush the race. Certainly not on the bike. If you are unable to hold a conversation comfortably with yourself or a nearby competitor you are simply going to hard. Please slow down for better results.
Next up, the marathon. If you have never run a good marathon during an Ironman it is most likely due to fact that you have gone too hard on the bike and suffered the consequences. And remember, a good marathon means approximately 30 minutes slower than you could have run a straight marathon event that day. And, let’s assume that you did well and that you were patient on the bike, now what? The plan stays the same. No rushing out of transition area to catch your buddy or spouse, SLOW DOWN! You have to discover and assess what damage has occurred and where is your body in this moment. What does it need? What should you do? And, running the first three miles at your 5K race pace is not very friendly to a body that has serious needs. So; back off on the pace for the first 5 miles and establish where your current nutritional needs are and what body parts need to recover. If you take the time to do this, it means that you are more likely to succeed and finish the race on your terms. If you neglect this the day will punish you by shutting your body down and that’s just no fun. So, be reasonable, as reasonable as one can be after having been moving for 8 – 10 hours so far and attend to your body’s request by feeding it and letting it run at a pace that is 2 minutes slower per mile until you feel like a runner again. Assuming you feel good and are wondering where you should pick up the pace, well, you may have heard this saying “the 20 mile mark is the half way point in the marathon”. So you really shouldn’t be picking up anything and get yourself through mile 20, 22, 24 and then maybe begin to pick it up. Because if you have ever experienced an Ironman cramp , giggle giggle, it is quite debilitating and can take you down, literally. Be wise and maintain your pace until you are absolutely sure that you will be able to hold this pace right through the finish line. In summary; give yourself a gift and allow your body’s pace to unfold with the day. Which in other words means to start slow and finish fast.