Ironman-to-bes: by now you know how to follow your training plan, what your legs feel after the longest ride of your life, and which activities you are and aren’t capable of on Saturday nights (for the love of crap, stop RSVPing to parties you know you won’t bother to get out of the shower and dressed for). Through some painful trial and error, you may also know which workouts you can skip or cut short without pissing off your coach. Yaay!
You know a lot of things, namely about your body. You also may have had some hard times on training days or races this summer –you rode in the heat, cold, wind, and/or rain, or for way too long in the Computrainer studio. You may have bonked or puked or “survived” only because you found a bottle of Coke. You may have had an unskippable workout and a major time constraint on the same day, so gone to great lengths to do it all. That took some mental toughness as well as physical. Now you know you have those tools.
OK people, if your coaches or Ironfriends are worth their salt, they’ve already told you all this. If they haven’t, there are books and blogs to help pump you up. Here’s a great one my friend Stephanie wrote the other day, about having faith in yourself and your training, and enjoying the day. We’re on the eve of “Christmas for triathletes in the Midwest,” aka Ironman Wisconsin, and I’m finding myself doling out advice and well-wishes for people headed there and to Ironman Tahoe (“don’t die!”) and Kona (“don’t die!”). Of course I want you to smile and have a great time out there, but I see a need to get down to brass tacks. In the name of not throwing away all of your hard work this summer, I would like to stress a few things:
First, it’s taper time:
- They may seem like a joke after what you’ve been through this summer, but NO, none of those skippable workouts are in the two weeks leading up to your race. GET EM DONE.*
- You are INSANE right now and basically not capable of making good decisions for yourself. YES people are serious when they say that you should wrap yourself in bubble wrap.
- Don’t ride your bike during rush hour.
- Don’t attempt an ambitious-on-your-best-day bunny hop over a curb after 120 miles.*
- Don’t take up a new sport with all your free time and energy.
- The bubble wrap goes for your brain, too, so don’t deviate from the patterns you’ve established over the last several months.
- Continue to be regimented and diligent in your time management, sleep, and diet.*
- Stay focused at work and at home. You’re over-the-top obnoxious right now, whether you know it or not, so don’t test patience.*
- If anything or anyone makes you feel like you’re not capable of achieving your best goals, IGNORE them IMMEDIATELY.*Bubble wrap yourself from harmful elements in your life and headspace.
*I’ve done all of this.
I am not an expert by any means –I’m not a coach or a psychiatrist or an exercise physiologist—but as an athlete I’ve learned a lot of these lessons the hard way, by REALLY SCREWING UP on all fronts, and all leading up to the biggest races days of my life.
Next, because you are FUCKING INSANE right now, you need to make as many decisions as you can as early as you can. That means thinking ahead and packing what YOU need, not what you heard other people sometimes use or have found handy. This is a RACE and you’re not MacGyver, so don’t try to revamp your hydration system, oh for instance. Simple is good, and simple is what you’ve already practiced. Sorry, aero-demons, if “simple” means round bottles and bento boxes. Whether you realize you’re prepared or not, you know what works for you. So take your day step by step and figure out what you need. People doing Kona… I get that it’s a bigger deal than your qualifying race, but as I told a friend the other day, it’s an Ironman. Same distance, same logistics. It’s not like you’re suddenly scaling Everest and need all new gear.
That said, I’ve participated in Ironman, and I’ve raced Ironman. I’ve stressed and made lists and alternatively been lazy and forgot to prepare. Here’s a non-comprehensive list of what I was sure to pack, but it should be noted that I don’t personally change out of my tri kit all day. If you plan to wear cycling or run-specific gear, your bags will look different:
Morning clothes bag: contains exactly what I was wearing the morning of, as well as whatever I might want to have with me immediately after the race: a HAT to cover up my helmet-cum-visor bedraggled dunk tank hairdo. The most comfortable running shorts (with the built-in undergarment) I own. A warm top or other weather-appropriate outerwear so you don’t have to wear a silver blanket all night. Etc.
T1: Helmet and cycling shoes, obviously. Any pocket-sized nutrition you don’t want to swim with in your jersey. If your Ironman requires a cycling number… I swam with mine on a race belt already rolled under my wetsuit. If the mere thought makes you chafe, pack it in T1. I’ve left my sunglasses on my bike in the past, which has been an occasional mistake. Up to you whether to pack them or place them on your bike and put them on your face after you’ve already headed off.
Bike Special Needs: Aside from the standard round 2 of nutrition (I carry all my calories with me, then supplement with whatever water I grab along the way), and a spare flat kit should one be necessary, I can definitively say the #1 lifesaver I’ve included here was a mini can of Coke. In 2011 I discovered I was basically incapable of biking more than 90 miles without a hot caramely injection. At IMOO that year I included one in my special needs bag. I popped it open as soon as possible and swallowed an Aleve (ALEVE! That was in my bento box, along with Imodium, just in case). I credit that combo for my ability to stay down in aero despite a pounding headache and a killer headwind. I remained in the lead on the bike course until a full 20+ miles later.
T2: this transition is easy to make fast, if you know how. Forget about how your legs feel: do a jig into the changing room/tent and get your socks and running shoes on, hand off your helmet and cycling shoes. EVERYTHING else, EVERYTHING can be in your hand as you run out the door. Race number? If you don’t already have your race belt on, have this clipped together and put it on overhead. Visor in hand, Garmin in hand. You can put your Garmin (or chosen HR watch) on once you get running. You’re probably running too fast, anyway, so slow down and buckle it on. If you’re carrying more than this (a fuel belt, gel flask, etc) …I don’t know. Get situated and know you need a free hand so you’re not juggling out of T2.
Run Special Needs: I packed dry socks and a sample-size of talcum powder at my first Ironman and was SO. HAPPY: It was a relatively hot day and I was pouring gallons of water over my head at each aid station, to say nothing of all the ice going down my bra. ALL of the runoff went into my shoes, resulting in some decidedly raisin-like toes and the beginnings of terrible blisters. I wasn’t racing that day, so the 2 minutes it took me to change out socks and soak up the moisture in my insoles was well worth it.
That’s it! Keep it simple. Keep it to what you KNOW. A lot of people like to talk about packing a special treat in their on-course bags, or a change of clothes. Personally, I’ve never stopped for a bagel in the middle of my long run, or felt the need to change my shirt, so I don’t bring that stuff along for the ride. They take mighty good care of you at the aid stations, so I challenge any notion that there’s not “what you need” out there.
I’ve also had the question of “what to pack in your Tri Bike Transport bag” (you can send a small bag along with your bike for an additional fee). Take advantage of this for the additional $35. Easy answer: everything. Everything you dread having to explain at the ticket counter or TSA. Canisters of nutrition powder, gel sachets, heavy shit, bike tools, water bottles and spare cages, your pedals IF YOU CAN SPARE THEM, your aero helmet, your bikini (since you won’t need it until you get to Kailua-Kona).
OK I have to post this in a hurried fashion, so sorry for the lack of formatting and pictures. I’m in Vegas right now for the 70.3. I’m very sorry to miss spectating/participating/volunteering at IMOO for the first time since 2007, but it’s a ton of (hot HOT HOT) fun here, too. I promise to track everyone, and if anyone has last minute questions I can help with, contact me!