Lessons Learned From Finishing My First IRONMAN

Lessons Learned From Finishing My First IRONMAN

As I look back on my training and finishing my first IRONMAN, there were plenty of lessons learned along the way. This article details those lessons, and include how I could’ve shaved time off my race. In addition, many IRONMAN finishers told me they dealt with similar things leading up to, during and completing their 140.6 races. This article will also be helpful for those taking on a Half Ironman 70.3 or any endurance race.

Read More: Preparing For Your First Triathlon

Practice and Perfect Your Nutrition Before You Get to the Starting Line: I spent months working on what nutrition wouldn’t make my stomach hurt, or make me get tired of something after hours on the bike and run. My combination was a lighter flavored GU gel (Tastefully Nude) and some GU Stroopwafels, plus if they offered it on the course, chicken broth, pretzels and chips. 

At this race, they had GU Roctane, which can immediately give me stomach issues, so I carried plenty of nutrition on the bike and run. They also had Gatorade Endurance, which I trained drinking while riding and running. Some racers had their own pre-mix solutions, and had additional mix and bottles in their bike and run special needs bags. Everyone is different, so try different things prior to the race.

Don’t Do Anything New Before the Race: Whether it’s new hydration, nutrition (a gel offered on the course you haven’t had), running shoes, tri kit, gear, etc., don’t do it if you haven’t spent a few weeks training with it. Nutrition you haven’t had could lead to gastrointestinal (GI) issues. New shoes not properly broken in could cause blisters. Stick with what you have, and if you need new shoes, get them a few weeks prior to the race.

Stay Organized with Your IRONMAN Bags for Transition and Special Needs: Unlike a sprint or Olympic triathlon, where you put your swim, bike and run gear on a towel below your racked back, IRONMAN gives you 5 bags: One for morning clothes (put this in and hand it to a friend or loved one, or let the race hold it), Bike bag, Run bag, and 2 special needs bags. Stay organized with what goes where, and the special needs bags are for halfway through the bike and run, and you won’t get it back, unlike the other three. Fill those bags with goodies, notes of encouragement, extra nutrition, sunscreen, etc.

Read More: How To Put On A Wetsuit

Have Your Wetsuit Ready if They Haven’t Declared it Wetsuit Legal: A vast majority of triathlons around the world are wetsuit legal, but in Florida, that’s not always the case. They advised us to bring our wetsuits down with us before the race, so we’re not scrambling to get it. About 30-45 minutes before the start, they declared it wetsuit legal, and everyone started putting it on. And of course, you’ve been practicing putting on and taking off your wetsuit during training.

Use as Much Body Glide as Possible Prior to Putting on the Wetsuit: I used quite a lot of Body Glide around areas where I tend to chafe, such as neck, wrists, ankles, etc. But I still had a bit of chafing on the back of my neck.

Read More: How To Take Off A Wetsuit In 30 Seconds

Eat More Bananas Before the Race and During the Bike and Run Leg: Near the end of my second swim loop, I began kicking a little bit to loosen up my legs to get out and run to Transition 1. My left calf felt like it was cramping up, so I stopped, but not before my right calf actually ‘seized up.’ I thought I had a calf muscle spasm – charley horse – but it went away. Even in the cool weather, I was still sweating, and potassium has always helped keep me from cramping and ultimately having to slow down my overall pace. The lesson I learned was to eat bananas on the bike course, but I didn’t the first half. By the second half, they were gone. This would’ve set me up better for the run, which I’ll explain below.

Consider Putting Glasses and Inhalers in Your Bike Bag: I spent an extra minute or two running to a table where my glasses and asthma inhaler were. I could’ve managed to run to the conference room where transition 1 was without either, and saved myself a little time. Remember, your transition times are part of your total race time.

Manage Time at the Aid Stations, and Bike & Run Special Needs Areas: Around the midpoint, there was an area with the Bike special needs bag. I stashed a small snack I couldn’t carry, and other packed other items. There was also some port-o-lets. I stopped to quickly use the bathroom, then I rode 100 feet to get my special needs bag and eat my snack, plus stretch. There wasn’t water or gatorade, and I was running low, so I rode around the corner and a couple more miles to a water stop. I believe those 3 stops cost me 10-15 minutes on the bike course. Top off my Gatorade and water at an earlier stop to save time.

Drink a Little Less Gatorade and Water with Cold Weather (But Don’t Skip It): This won’t apply to everyone, so make sure you train properly with your nutrition, and talk to a doctor. With the cold temperatures, I didn’t want to skip nutrition, especially water and Gatorade. I’m used to training in high heat and humidity in South Florida, and drinking a lot of fluids. I only use the bathroom once during 5 to 7 hour bike rides. Unfortunately, by the time I hit mile 7 of the run, I was using the bathroom almost every rest stop until I cut back on fluid intake. I believe this also added 10-15 minutes to my finishing time.

Eat Bananas Early in the Run: In addition to using the port-o-let’s frequently because I was over-hydrated – which wasn’t a bad thing – by the 13.1 marker, I had to start walking due to my legs cramping. A guy I saw on the bike told me to eat bananas, so I started doing just that, small pieces to make it easy to digest. After walking and running slowly for 5 miles, I was able to hold a good pace from miles 18-22 until I hit a wall that no amount of potassium was going to help. The good news is, those 4 miles I ran without walking kept me ahead of the 10:15 pm cutoff time around mile 19.5, and it kept me about 50-55 minutes from the final cutoff time of 12:15 am.

Read More: 5 Running Tips For Triathletes

Focus on What You Can Control, and Don’t Freak Out: The only thing you can control is yourself and the nutrition you carry with you. You can’t control the weather, the race, or anyone participating in it, or those working and volunteering. As the Race Director often reminded us in videos and messages, focus on YOU, and if something goes wrong, don’t freak out. And certainly DO NOT yell at those around you, or the volunteers.

Have an Attitude of Gratitude, and Be Kind to Volunteers, Racers and Spectators: I am always waving and thanking everyone during all races. I especially thank volunteers and first responders, because they’re out there helping us the most. And the spectators will keep you going all day and into the night.

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