With all the hours put into exercise (“just a quick 15-miler today!); all the preparatory reading (“according to the training bible I should have slept 9 hours last night, not 8 and a half!); and all the high-tech equipment (“I simply can’t do without the GSC 10 cadence sensor on my new Garmin 910XT!”), you’d think that Ironman triathletes know what they are doing.
Many of them do, of course, and training for a big race is nothing if not a serious learning process. At the same time, I realised in Cozumel that your first Ironman is an experiment in which you are the Lycra-clad lab rat, as it were. Not just the training but the whole long-distance race experience itself was new to me.
In retrospect I clearly did a lot of things right and a lot of things wrong during race week. Here are a few hints on things I got more-or-less right, I think, for any triathletes out there thinking of taking on an Ironman in 2013:
1. Avoid the race hotel with its repetitive all-you-can-eat buffets and noisy guests. The hotel might be close to the start line and the expo, but with a bit of research it seems possible to find a decent rental property or bed and breakfast close-by that will be much more relaxing and provide a lot more flexibility (and might even be owned by a man called “Nacho”). In Cozumel, Nacho’s beach-house was cheap and cheerful and we cooked exactly what we wanted all week. Plus post-race, the bath-jacuzzi was truly the stuff of dreams.
2. Stay out of the water until the very last minute on race day, unless you want to set the pace. The ocean was choppy and currents against us were strong in Cozumel; plus it was one mass start- rather than waves- so some athletes were treading water for at least five minutes, which seemed like a pointless waste of energy to me. Instead, I spent my time focusing on applying sun-cream- unassisted and without success- to the middle of my back, and then hopped in about 20 seconds before the horn sounded.
3. Continually re-check your bike, particularly if you’ve transported and re-assembled it yourself. I set off a little eagerly and almost pulled my aerobars out of their sockets, for example, despite what I felt were endless “once-overs” of my bike beforehand. This was a relatively quick fix, thankfully, but could have been worse- one athlete I spoke to afterwards had packed two spare inner-tubes but got his third puncture about a mile from the bike finish and had to run in bike shoes into the transition area from there.
4. Take nutrition seriously. In the week leading up to the race and on the day itself, I was religious about my protein, calorie, sodium and potassium intake (“Three-quarters of a banana for me please, a whole one will totally throw my body off!”). While I don’t have a comparative experience against which to judge my Ironman, I’m convinced that good nutrition was the key to my body holding up throughout the race (well, that and the thought of the post-race Jacuzzi at Casa Nacho, of course).
5. Don’t travel the day after the race, if at all possible. This sounds intuitive, but is worth emphasising. Post-Ironman, I had ice-packs attached to my knees almost continually and was walking like a zombie for two days. We flew home on the third, by which time I was just about willing to pack up my bike and carry my luggage through the airport. The Ironman is a massive achievement- and once it’s over you’ll feel like at least a couple of days to relax and enjoy it.