Monday, September 5, 2011

Ironman Canada 2011: Lessons of a First-time Ironman Finisher

I recently took part in what was going to be the culmination of my triathlon career: Ironman Canada 2011 in Penticton, BC. While finishing was the primary goal, here is how I believe I could have had a better experience, reduced the pain and potentially improved my time by 30 mins+ ...

  • Preparation: Maintain best practices such as testing the wetsuit, bike and running gear as soon as you arrive at your destination. Things do shift around when travelling, bike handling might change and some small items might get lost.
  • Fast swimmers: If you're planning to swim under 1.10, move to the front to minimize the "washing machine" effect.
  • Slow Swimmers: Swim defensively as being kicked or elbowed is highely likely. Ideally, draft off a swimmer with a similar pace.
  • Passing on the bike: To minimize the risk of crashing or being penalized for drafting, I would recommend passing when speeds are low: immediately out of transition, during uphills, at aid stations. Avoid passing in downhills and/or windy spots.
  • Hydrating on the bike:  If you're planning to pick up bottled water and drinks, make sure you are okay to throw away your initial set of waterbottles.
  • Picking your line: a number of athletes had mechanical issues, most of which were flats. A great way to avoid them is to pick a clean line and avoid dirty shoulders.
  • Hydrating on the run: Unfortunately, you will always start your run at the hottest time of the day. If the temperature becomes an issue, try to lower your core temperature low by using cold sponges and ice. I also learned that salt intake must increase as temperature climbs. Unfortunately, I ran out of Salt Capsules 10 miles in and have to eat a lot of salty pretzels and potassium to make the cramps go away. While they are a good substitute, they made my stomach feel full, which is never a good thing when running. Do not hesitate to walk for 30-60 seconds to avoid stomach issues and cramping.
  • Transition: My transitions were longer given that I elected to use fully padded cycle shorts for the bike and switch to compression running shorts. Look around for any miscellaneous items on the ground before setting off. My T2 could have been faster had I poured fresh water on my face going in. The sweat and salt mixture temporarily blinded me while trying to locate my running gear.
Any triathlete capable of a Half Iron distance should consider the Ironman distance. While it takes far more preparation and commitment, it is my most rewarding sports experience to date!

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