The First Timer’s Ironman Run

It was a privilege for me to talk at the First Timers Seminar hosted by the Ironman New Zealand management team.  We had a decent number of people attending, but also had a large number watching through Facebook Live.  Here’s a link to the ‘Ironman in New Zealand’ Facebook page where you can watch the video.

I was there to talk specifically about the run leg.  I was joined on the panel by fellow Triathlon Coach Andrew Mackay from Boost Coaching, who was talking about the swim leg, and Ben Marshall from Performance Bicycle Tuning , who was talking about the bike leg.

I have summarized my talk below.  These points are the ‘golden rules’, they are just things I feel are useful to keep in mind.  Please feel free to ask questions, comment or add any tips you may have.  They are in no particular order, just the order I spoke about on the night.

  • Have fun! – Don’t take things too seriously.  The day will be so much more enjoyable for you if you allow yourself to smile and laugh with other competitors or spectators.
  • Don’t focus too much on the distance – A marathon is a long way, but on race day if you shut the distance out of your mind and just think of it as a run off the bike, which finishes when you cross the line, then it doesn’t seem as daunting.
  • Break the run into achievable segments – As you pass through each segment you can focus on the next one, you will be surprised how quickly the run goes when you tackle it in little chunks.
  • Your fueling is vitally important – Just because you are on the run and you have fueled well on the bike it doesn’t mean you can let things slide.  You are still going to be running for somewhere between 50% to 100% of the duration of the bike (even more for some), so you still need to keep the tank topped up.  By now you will be taking on different things to your bike fuel, so make sure you have tried various things in training.  Even a few km’s from the finish you don’t want to neglect your fuel, I have seen many people struggle badly in the closing stages of the race.
  • You won’t know how you are going to feel so have a plan for various scenarios – It is very difficult to prepare for the way you are likely to feel in an Ironman run.  Not many of us have the time or energy to train for up to 8 hours before starting a training run.  You will find ways to simulate this through accumulating fatigue over a number of days.  Have a plan for various scenarios and learn what works for you and what doesn’t
  • Your mind is what will get to you to the finish – Your body may have had enough a few hours ago, but you know how much you have invested in this Ironman project, and what it means to you.  That should be motivation enough to just keep pushing.  You can build mental toughness by performing difficult and challenging sessions in training.
  • Don’t try to run the full distance in training – Trust me, if you have been able to run a couple of hours in training your body isn’t going to stop at that point on race day.  Don’t stress yourself about pushing over 2:30 in training.  Some might be able to do this, but they aren’t really benefiting themselves much more, in fact they may even be doing more damage.  If you are nervous about running for a long period of time then try Split Run Day’s, this is where you run in the morning and then run the same distance or duration in the evening.  It’s a great way to get your volume up without putting too much acute stress on your body.
  • Running a marathon before an Ironman isn’t a necessity – This seems to concern people a lot.  The training and recovery for a marathon is too great for you to be able to back up with a successful Triathlon season following.  Most marathons fall at a time when you really need to be focusing on increasing your cycling volume.  Leave the marathon goal for a year you aren’t doing an Ironman.
  • Avoid running on hard surfaces as much as possible – This is really important.  Don’t assume that because the Ironman is all on road that you must do all your training on that surface.  A lot of the top Ironman athletes around the world will do up to 80% of their weekly volume on soft surfaces, and only leaving tarmac runs for very special occasions (tempo sessions, race simulations etc).  Hard surfaces are a sure way to get an overuse injury, and an injury is a sure way to not achieve your race day goals.
  • Be realistic with what you are able to achieve in training – Just because your mates Coach has them doing 5 runs a week totaling 90km doesn’t mean you should be.  You have to stick what your body is capable of doing and learning how to get the most from these sessions.
  • Don’t be too ambitious when you start the run – I have never seen people run out of T2 at a rate of knots and hold it.  Even Cam Brown builds into the run, often people will try and run away from him but he has proven time after time that a slower start and a fast finish wins the race.  Treat the first 4km of the run as your slowest, and build into a manageable pace from there.

If you are planning for an Ironman this season and you are interested in our Coaching services visit the Foot Traffic Coaching website

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