54 Truths I've Learned From Competing In 54 Ironmans
With the Ironman Kona World Championships coming up in October, I will be attempting to complete my 55th long-distance Ironman race. Ironman competitions consist of a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a marathon 26.2-mile (42.2 km) run, raced in that order and without stopping. Ironman is one of the most challenging one-day sporting events in the world.
I love the Ironman events because although it's extremely challenging, mentally and physically, I am on a team with my family, friends, supporters and colleagues, who have all worked hard to get me where I am today. I use that support system to fuel my fire and completely immerse myself in the task ahead. Completing three different sports, one after the other, keeps my mind active and my focus unwavering, and it's as much about those faces at the finish line!
Here are 54 things I've learned about racing and motivation over the course of my Ironman career:
1. Do NOT try anything new on race day!
Use and do what you did in your training. New shoes = new blisters. New foods = don’t even go there. I drink Red Bull in training and during races to keep consistency, and it works best to keep me energized and focused.
2. Confidence is built through training and experience.
Nothing beats feeling confident on race day, believe in yourself!
3. Something will inevitably go wrong during the race.
Control what you CAN control. Focus on everything that will go RIGHT and remember to keep calm and carry on!
4. Create a list of things you need to bring to your triathlon race.
Go through this multiple times before you leave; nothing is worse than traveling to a race and running around trying to find gear.
5. Make sure your bike is built up and checked out by a trusted mechanic.
6. Study the weather leading up to the race; be prepared for the extremes and all types of elements.
7. Keep your mind and body in as little duress as possible in the days leading up to the race.
8. Minimize eating salads before a race.
High-fiber veggies can create gastrointestinal discomfort, especially during biking or running. Plus they don't provide sufficient carbs for energy.
9. You will have a tough time sleeping the night before a race.
Don’t worry, it's normal since your body will be exuding adrenaline.
10. You pre-game meal should be simple.
Don't eat anything outside of your ordinary diet — I love chicken, sweet potato and/or a fried rice dish with a protein.
11. Keep it simple on race day.
All the preparation has been done and now it is time to execute.
12. You will have butterflies in your stomach.
Being nervous means you CARE and you have put in the training time
13. It is best not to 'panic train.'
Don't cram training in the week before the event; this should happen months in advance.
14. Scout out the bathroom situation before race day.
15. Always wear sunscreen.
Having sunburn on the bike and/or run is not enjoyable and can detour the body from its desired homeostasis state.
16. Swallowing salt water is NEVER ideal.
Try to focus on controlled breathing so that the salt water doesn't creep in.
17. Open water swimming is different than pool swimming so it is best to try to practice swim in an open water setting leading up to a race.
18. Putting on and taking off a wetsuit is a workout!
Make sure you allocate enough time to properly get it on before your race start time.
19. Bring a lubricant to put around your neck and ankle areas so that the wetsuit doesn't rub the skin.
20. Study the course.
Time can be saved by simply swimming, biking and/or running on the correct line.
21. Know how far you will need to run from the swim to the bike, in bare feet.
Transitions are a key component of a triathlon and can make all the difference in terms of focus and time.
22. Prepare to be pummeled at the start.
Yet remember to stay calm and controlled.
23. A pair of goggles can make or break a swim.
Use a pair that you are used to wearing in training and that are comfortable — that is so key!
24. If it is hot, forgo putting on your swim cap until the last moment.
25. If it is cold, keep the swim cap on to trap the heat.
26. Practice swim to bike and bike to run transitions before race day.
27. Ease into hydration and nutrition on the bike.
Let your body settle in before consuming too much at once while you are breathing heavily!
28. Turns out that 112 miles is a long way to ride.
Track your speed to make sure you're not going too fast...or too slow!
29. Keep a straw in front of your face on the bike to remind you to drink.
I recommend the XLAB Torpedo — it's a life saver.
30. Practice and train eating and drinking on your bike, so it feels natural on race day.
31. Follow the rules of the course on the bike.
32. Know how to change a bike tire and if possible, practice under duress to simulate race conditions.
33. Take your time in the bike-to-run transition to put socks on.
It is better to be somewhat comfortable than have raw, cut up feet!
34. Avoid starting the run portion at too quick of a pace.
Keep it controlled and focus on form.
35. Treat each aid station on the course as a rolling buffet.
Eat and drink to keep going strong and fueled!
36. Do everything you can to not miss the aid stations.
Replenishing liquids is of utmost importance.
37. Engage with your fellow racers and encourage them when possible.
Camaraderie is king! You are all trying to reach the same goal and feeling the pain — together!
38. Wear sunglasses and a visor as protection from the sun.
Pick ones that you have worn and trained in before so that you know they are comfortable.
39. Thoroughly test your running shoes before the race so you are not blindsided by unexpected foot discomforts.
40. Nutrition is uniquely individual through an Ironman race.
I start with blocks on the bike and then gels on the run. I do not mix and match, but everyone is different so practice in your training.
41. You will go to dark places on the course.
The highs are high, the lows are understandably low. Remember what is important to you — and what inspired you — in these raw, subtle moments of discomfort to help propel you to the finish line.
42. Get comfortable being uncomfortable in your training so you can pull through these moments when you're racing.
43. Every niggle, injury, bad preparation or insufficiency will rear its ugly head on the run.
The power of positivity is essential to keep you in a proper mindset to prevail!
44. A DNF (did not finish) is not the end of the world.
Be smart, listen to your body and live to fight another day.
45. Enjoy the finishing chute.
Be in the moment because a lot of sweat and tears has gone into the journey.
46. Your family and friends don't care if you're sweaty or smelly — give them a hug!
47. It is not a sign of weakness to collapse across the finish line or have to go to the medical tent.
It means you gave it EVERYTHING you had on the day!
48. If at all possible, do not drive yourself to your accommodations after the race
49. It is OK to splurge with your eating and drinking after race.
Five Guys hamburgers and McDonalds fries are acceptable!
50. After this initial bad food splurge, get right back on eating and drinking correctly to aid in recovery.
51. You will not sleep very soundly after an Ironman.
Your body is often still on adrenaline; a little natural melatonin can help.
52. Your body and mind are in a world of turmoil after an Ironman.
Accept that you will be sore and it will take a bit of time to properly recover and revamp!
53. Never let success get to your head or let failure get to your heart.
54. Enjoy the moment, embrace the journey, learn from your mistakes, grow from the process.
There is always another Ironman just around the corner!
Photo courtesy of the author