Taking on the challenge of an Ironman distance race is a thrilling adventure. When it’s your first, the build up to race day leaves so many unknowns.
There is no doubt that during your training you have covered the distances and you have built your physical strength to its peak. Your mental strength will be the strongest it has ever been. But that still leaves room for nerves as race day approaches. You may still be asking yourself that question? How will I string together the swim, Ironman bike and run.
My first Ironman was Ironman Frankfurt in 2015. A race that takes place in early July. Whilst it is a mid-summer race, temperatures are rarely as brutal as they were on this particular race day. With northern Europe basking in a heatwave and temperatures hitting 38 degrees Celsius the atmosphere was more suited for a day at the beach instead of an Ironman Triathlon.
On the day before the race, I bumped into a fellow Belgian and somewhat faster and more experienced athlete Frederik Van Lierde. When I asked if he had any tips for a race in this weather his only advice was ‘take on all the food and drink you can’ and a sarcastic ‘you got lucky with the weather for your first race’. Something that was clearly also on the minds of the pro athletes.
The Frankfurt Ironman race is the European Championship race, this means all the big names are there. The course is known to be fast, but in this weather anything is possible.
In this 3 part series I will break down how I approached and managed the Ironman swim, the Ironman bike and the run on race day giving you tips from my race day experience.
The Ironman Bike Course
The Ironman Frankfurt bike course is described as flat and fast. The course leaves the Langener Waldsee where the swim takes place with a 13km ride into the city where the two loop course begins. The two loops take your through the countryside around Frankfurt and the local villages. Whilst the course is predominantly flat, their are a number of short but steep climbs with the climb in Bad Vilbel (aka Heartbreak Hill) being the most memorable. Heartbreak hill is lined with supporters in a Tour de France Alps stage atmosphere. With this climb coming towards the end of lap 2 this is the final test before heading back into Frankfurt for the transition to the run.
For mored information about the bike course head over the the Ironman.com
My Tips For Your Ironman Bike
1.Get On Your Bike
This may seem obvious! but…
I know it looks impressive when the pros run barefoot with their bike, their shoes already attached to their pedals. They swing their leg over and hop on the bike and off they fly attaching their shoes as they speed off.
It would be cool to look like a pro! The simple truth for many of us is that we don’t!
For most of us putting our cycling shoes on in transition and walking that funny cycling shoe walk till we get to the mount line works just fine. If you are in your first race aiming for a personal achievement the few extra seconds we lose wont make or break our race.
If you are going to try the running mount… practice.
As I left transition with my bike I came up behind a young gentleman who was attempting his running mount only he couldn’t get on. He swerved across the road a few times causing issues for those trying to pass him. Needless to say, he was the slowest out of T1 and also slowed my T1 exit as well as a number of other competitors. The only benefit is that he did add some comedy to my T1 exit video.
2.Settle Into Your Ironman Bike Ride
Don’t start too fast!
You may be happy to be out of the water and excited to be on the bike. Having just come out of transition 1 through a crowd of cheering spectators you will feel fresh for your Ironman bike leg.
Whilst you cannot control the pace of those around you, you can control only your own pace. For some the bike is their strongest discipline and they will be looking to make up time on the bike. Following those who pass you is often bad idea which you will pay for later.
Take the first 20-30 minutes to build up to your race pace regardless of what others around you are doing. Once the initial buzz has warn off and you have found your pace you are ready for the ride ahead.
3.Keep Your Distance
Drafting rules are not just for the pros.
I have seen amateur athletes receiving penalties for this. Admittedly this is not always easy with it frequently being busy with many competitors on the Ironman bike route but certainly ensure you know the rules and when on long stretches of road, make sure you do not tuck in behind the riders ahead.
Attend the race briefing prior to the race so you are familiar will all the race rules and specifics that may apply to your chosen race.
4.Eat and Hydrate
On Ironman day it was 38 degrees C. Staying hydrated is key in any race, but especially when it is hot. Not being a fan of gels I opted for Powerbar Power Gel Shots. I have a sweet every 20 minutes and and I drink at the same time. With my bento box full of sweets and and the xLab torpedo on my handlebar as my main drink source, I have easy access and no excuses. For additional hydration I have two additional bottle cages behind my saddle.
Due to the heat I took on two bottles at every aid stations, one water and one energy drink bottle. I used the energy drink to fill up my handle bar torpedo bottler and the water bottle to pour over my head and body to keep cool. Keeping the water served no purpose as it would warm up very fast.
Remember to get rid of the bottles in a designated area to avoid polluting the landscape you are racing in, which will also incur penalty points.
You will be on the bike for a long time. I know many people stay in their trisuit through out the race but why not get fresh.
I wore a swim skin with only my tri shorts under. When I came to transition 1 I had a cycling top in my T1 back. This was slightly looser fitting than my tri-top which had caused my some underarm chafing in shorter races. I also changed out of the cycling top into a fresh running top in T2. Which on a hot day, feels amazing! It’s the small things that count.
Also be smart with your helmet choice. Whilst I know we are all looking to be efficient, there are some things to be taken into consideration depending on race day weather. As we were racing in extreme heat I opted for a regular cycling helmet as opposed to an aero helmet. Aero helmets tend to have less ventilation which is not what you want on a hot day. Aero helmets can start to act like a kettle with it’s ingredients slowing building up to a boil!
When we reached the latter half of the Ironman bike route I saw many cyclists sitting under bridges in the shade with helmets off trying to cool down. Whilst I may have lost a little bit of aero efficiency I was able to stay on my bike.
You will also see in the pro field that some athletes opt for slightly more vented helmets in race such as Kona with this same reason.
6.Break It Down
The 180km on the bike is a seriously long ride, even without the marathon after.
Break the ride into familiar length pieces that are easily identifiable. You may be familiar with a particular 10-20km stretch of road that you have been training on. Play that ride back in your mind on repeat. You will know every stretch of it and you can celebrate with every intermediate ‘finish’ line.
Avoid the calculation such as 60km complete so 120km to go. When you get into your last kilometres of the race this may be motivating but if you have hit a mental or physical tough spot this will not give you any motivation but may instead drive you deeper into a negative mindset.
7.Get Some Rest
This might sound like odd advice.
When I hit the last 20 km I found it was a good idea to start thinking about the run. I switched my focus to spinning more freely (apart from the climb up heartbreak hill where I had very little choice) and allowing my legs to rest a little. I used the down hills and some of the flats just to keep movement in the legs whilst not grinding on the pedals.
Chances are you will be eager to get off the bike but and therefore it may be tempting to push hard to get it over and done. This will feel like a good idea until you get off the bike and need to start running.
8.Don’t Hang Around in Transition
This may have had something to do with the heat, but I saw quite a few people getting comfortable in transition 2.
On a hot race day it can be particularly tempting to sit and breathe and give your legs a brief moment of rest. One of my clearest memories were the post Ironman bike faces (including mine I am sure). Athletes in the transition tent with that look that begged… ‘please don’t make me go back out there’.
Especially in a hot race it can be tough to force yourself to get moving again. I found it to be best too comfortable. Keep it short and start moving even if it means a gentle walk to rest your legs a little longer.
I got out of T2 relatively quick and then walked roughly the first 200m till the first aid station. The main reasons were to acclimatise to the temperature without the wind from the bike. The sun seems more intense when you are on foot and to hydrate and eat some goodies I had in my transition bag. The first aid station was stocked with ice so once I had filled my cap and shirt I was ready to think about running.
Jeroen is a keen runner and triathlete. With over 10 years of experience training and participating in races, simply for the joy of sport he has turned to sharing his experience through the articles he writes. As a founder at Loop Social Sport Jeroen has focused his passion on creating a community of like minded individuals who not only train together but also motivate newcomers to take up sport, whether in person or via this blog.