Congratulations on signing up for your first Ironman 70.3. I bet that you felt a rush of blood when you finally pressed the submit button, probably followed by a wave of doubts and hesitation? Don’t worry, each and every one of us has been there before, and I can guarantee you that everyone remembers their first half-iron distance race like it was yesterday.
I have scribbled together a few main points below to help you on your way to completing your first 70.3. The biggest thing to understand is that a half-ironman is a much more complex race than an Olympic (standard) distance race, there can be room for some errors (albeit small), but the margin for mistakes is extremely limited if not managed correctly. Please keep reading for my guide to surviving your first long course race!
- Get your mindset right. This isn’t an Olympic distance race – it is a true test of endurance. 113km of endurance. Give that distance the respect it deserves – but don’t fear it!
- Plan your nutrition. You could be out on course for up to seven and a half hours. The body will typically use 600-700 calories per hour – and if you don’t find a way to manage this, you will grind to a halt.
- Visualise the race and have a goal. Talk to people who have done the course before, and learn the intricacies. Even better, if you live nearby, ride and run the course to familiarise yourself. Come up with a realistic time that you would like to achieve, then plan your race to hit those times. Personally, I have a ‘content with, happy with, ecstatic with’ set of times – but these I usually keep between myself, my coach, and my wife.
- This is a big one… Do not try anything new on race day! Make sure everything that you are planning to use during the race has been trialled previously. Triathlon expos are excellent for that sort of stuff – all the latest and greatest gadgets on show – but you are just building in a bigger chance for things to go wrong.
- Stick to the plan. If you have goal times in mind, work to them, don’t try to beat other people – otherwise you will burn yourself out and your plan will go out the window.
- Don’t go out too hard. 1.9km is a long way. Invariably the adrenaline will kick in and you will overexert yourself, however the earlier you can catch yourself doing this the earlier you can settle in to a maintainable rhythm.
- Find a trail of bubbles. This will be someone swimming in front of you. Two reasons why – they will be sighting on your behalf (so you can reduce the number of times you have to lift your head out of the water), and by drafting in the water you can reduce your effort required by up to 25%
- Practice, practice, practice. Sighting, open water swimming, and swimming in a wetsuit are all huge components of a 70.3; however they are very difficult to practice in a pool. Open water experience is absolutely gold.
- Stick to your plan and don’t go out too hard. Base it on heart rate or watts but not something as variable as speed – even a slight wind can throw this out the window. As per the overall section, if you try and race other competitors, you will burn yourself out. Save all that extra energy for the run!
- Dial in your hydration/nutrition and practice drinking/eating on the bike. Set up a schedule on how to get your nutrition in, and stick to it. Make sure you have practiced this previously so you can have it as accurate as possible!
- Practice your bike handling skills, especially for technical courses. A lot of athletes really slow down whilst cornering, which wipes off too much speed. Keep it smooth, keep it fast!
- Plan for things to go wrong. Practice changing tyres (both tubular and clincher), and some basic mechanical skills such as releasing brakes and putting a dropped chain back on.
- Visualise the run and break it up into portions. I like to break it into three chunks of 7km – the first 7km is to settle the body into a rhythm and deal with the adrenaline of finishing the bike, making sure you don’t go out too hard. The next 7km is the ‘grind’, where you embrace the rhythm, check your ego and see how the body is holding up. The last 7km is party time – all that energy you have saved up over the bike is going to pay dividends here. Drop the hammer and charge your way on home!
- Don’t neglect your nutrition/hydration. I switch to coke as soon as I am off the bike (because I have already taken on enough nutrition through the ride). Look at the aid station layout and plan on how you are going to manage getting enough water/electrolyte/coke into the body. Practice this at home.
- On a hot day, always grab ice. I throw it down the front of my suit to keep everything cool. Douse yourself with water as well. Never forget to drink!
- Practice these! Too many athletes lose time through slow and sloppy transitions. Ideally, you won’t spend any more than 60 seconds per transition (depending on location etc). Trial and error is such a key point here. Learn to go through your transitions to the point that you can do it with your eyes closed.
- Take five minutes before your race to visualise your transition ‘flow’ and your entry/exit points, even walk them if you have to. This will be vital for your transitions, when you have salt water in your eyes, and everything is blurry!
There you go, a quick brief on my big tips for first timers. The single biggest point that I can give, though, is a simple one; enjoy the hell out of it, and never forget to smile!!!
See you out there, give me a wave as you fly past.