Ironman advice

So I subscribe to many online ‘zines about triathlon. The one I got today from Trifuel is a really good one on racing for Ironman. I tried to transport myself to a year ago when I was starting on my training plan and thinking about what this article would have done for me. I don’t honestly think I would have known what it was talking about, but now that I’ve been through it I can really appreciate the advice given. So I thought I’d add the four keys that they talk about and add my comments. The whole article is here.

The Four Keys

by Rich Strauss (Crucible Fitness) and Patrick McCrann (Performance Training Systems)

1. Execution, not Fitness.
All you’ve done for 9 months is build a vehicle. Ironman racing is about how you DRIVE that vehicle, it is NOT about the vehicle. The majority of athletes on race day are fitness-focused (look at my T-shirt, look at my abs/veins/etc, look at how fast I can go in the first hour of the bike, etc.) As coaches we can make you stronger, but we can’t fix stoopid if you decide to race your own way.
I definitely took their advice before my race. I am glad that I did this one right.

2. The Line.
Nothing on race day really matters until you reach The Line on the run. The Line is the point at which continuing becomes very, very difficult. You define success as simply not slowing down at The Line. EVERYTHING before The Line is simply about creating conditions for success for when the Line comes to you.
I had no idea what The Line was before Ironman. After reading this article and looking back, I know what The Line is. For me, it was after the sun went down and I was running with a few people with our glowsticks dangling. I was carrying my purple Powerade bottle and suddenly it felt really really heavy. I thought that my arm was going to fall off if I kept carrying it, but I kept it because carrying it outweighed the thought of drinking anymore orange or yellow Gatorade.

Additional Kool-Aid flavored thoughts we’d like to put in your head regarding this point are:
a) A successful race = a good run. There is no such thing as a good bike followed by bad run, period. In our world, if you showed up with solid run fitness, had a “good” bike and a poor run, we will ALWAYS assume you boogered your bike pacing unless you are missing a limb or are in the ICU with an intestinal parasite.
ABSOLUTELY!!! I 100% agree with this and race every race with this in mind.

b) If you think you can ride faster than we’re telling you, prove it by running well off the bike first (preferrably not attempted for the first time on IM race day).
c) Ride your “should” bike split vs your “could” bike split. Your Could split is what you tell Timmy you could ride on a good day, when you’re out together for your Saturday ride. If you say you “could ride a 5:50,” your Should split is likely 6:00 and defined as the bike split that yields a good run (see above).
d) Don’t eat the paste. Ironman in general, but especially the bike leg, is at best a special ed class: you only have to show up with your C game to be at the head of the class. If you find yourself doing the opposite of everyone else, you’re doing the right thing. If Jimmy and everyone else is in the corner eating the paste, don’t join them! Sit down, do what we’re telling you, and don’t eat the paste! Lots of people passing you in the first 40 miles? That’s good, don’t eat the paste. Going backwards through the field on a hill? That’s good, don’t eat the paste.
Not eating the paste is really really hard to do when everyone around you is eating the paste and you’re thinking “Why can’t I eat the paste? Everyone looks like they’re doing so good by eating the paste.” However, I’m glad that I didn’t eat the paste. I’m glad I prepared myself to not eat the paste. My first memory of not eating the paste was in elementary school where we were being tested compared to national standards. We were doing a “long” run and everyone was sprinting right off the start. I ran at the back of the pack at a slow-and-steady pace and then I passed everyone. It was really hard to be at the back of the pack at the start, but it ended very well.

e) Think you made the mistake of riding too easy? You now have 26 miles to fix that mistake. Make the mistake of riding too hard? That mistake now has 26 miles to express itself, to the tune of X miles at 17-18′ walking pace vs X miles at 8-10′ running pace. Do the math. How is that bike split going to look as you are walking/shuffling the last 10 miles of the run?
Absolutely! Struggling for the run of any triathlon is my worst nightmare. I race every race so that I can finish the race by sprinting to the line. I sprinted at the end of my first triathlon 5 years ago and I sprinted the end of Ironman in August. It is the most satisfying feeling.

f) Every time you feel yourself about to get stupid, look at where you are. Are you at The Line? No. Then sit down, shut up, do what you’re told and don’t be stoopid. Please. 🙂
These guys are pretty harshly amusing.

3. The Box: all day long you are going to race inside a box defined by what you can control. Ask yourself “What do I need to do right NOW to create the conditions for success at The Line? Is what I’m doing right now counter to this goal? From what we’ve seen first hand on the IM courses this season, we believe you should ask yourself “Am I participating in some short-term tactical masturbation?” If yes, STOP!!

On the swim, the Box is the space your body occupies in the water: focus on your form and the rest will come. On the bike, the box is probably about one aid station long. On the run, the box begins as 2-3 aid stations long but often diminishes to “from here to the next lampost/manhole cover/mail box.” Regardless:
a) Keep the box as big as you can for as long as you can.
b) Keep in the box only the things you can control. Let go of the rest.
c) Exercise this decision-making process inside your box: Observe the situation, Orient yourself to a possible course of action, Decide on a course of action, Act (OODA Loop).
I don’t think I understand what the Box is.

4. The One Thing. If you swallowed the Kool-Aid we’re serving you here, you will show up at the Line, in your Box, ready to git’erdun and simply not slow down. But we’re not done yet. There is still some psychological stuff you need to address.

During the course of your race day, expect your body to have a conversation with your mind: “Look, Mind, you’ve had me out here slogging away for 132 miles. This is really starting to get old and very painful. You need to give me a good reason to keep going forward. If you can’t give me a good one, I’m gonna slow down and you can’t stop me!” Before the race, you need to ask yourself “Why am I doing Ironman?” In other words, you need to determine what is the One Thing that put you in this race? To finish in the daylight with a smile on your face? To run a 4:10? Whatever your One Thing is, be absolutely clear and rehearse your mind/body debate beforehand. But be warned: your body can be a helluva good negotiator at mile 18, especially if your mind hasn’t prepared its rebuttal arguments beforehand.
Absolutely! For me, I told myself “You have been waiting to do this race since you knew it exists. You absolutely can do this… you will BE AN IRONMAN.” That was what went through my mind when my body started to protest, but it helps that I had a great run.

Unity of purpose creates clarity of focus, yielding breakthrough performance.

2 thoughts on “Ironman advice

  • December 15, 2007 at 11:11 pm

    Good stuff.
    Thats worth revisiting often.

    I feel like I need to bring those ideas into my overall training plan.

  • December 16, 2007 at 4:36 pm

    I agree that it is useful not just for Ironman, but for all races. I think that the key is having specific, realistic goals, worst-case-scenario goals, and best-case-scenario goals, and remembering why we are involved in this crazy sport. My ultimate #1 goal for every race I do is to finish it… whether I crawl across the finish line or whether I’m sprinting. My #2 goal is to finish the race sprinting. 🙂


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: