31st October 2017.There's no question about it: The Iron Man triathlon is one of the toughest sporting events in the whole world. It takes the mindset of the marathon runner to an extreme, and it is all about pushing your body to its absolute limits across all three events. To prepare, it takes months of structured training and a laser-like focus on the end goal: just making it across the finish line at the end of the day. Now, the time is almost here ? you can practically hear the starting gun when you look at the calendar and see that your race day is on the horizon. Perhaps you've even already started your training taper, winding down to be in peak condition. All that training helps to prepare your body for many of the challenges it will face during the race, but how should you approach the actual event? You don't want just to show up and start going at 100% effort with no game plan. That's a recipe for disaster, and it could spoil your months of hard work if you have to tap out early. With that in mind, it's essential to develop a good sense of what you should do to make the most of your race day. Here are some important tips and tricks to keep you comfortable and focused.
Start the day off easy but be sure to prepare
It's normal to feel nervous the night before race day, but make sure that you keep to an early bedtime and get plenty of rest. You're going to need it tomorrow! Wake up early so you have time to prepare and get yourself into the mental headspace that will set the stage for success. Take a shower that is warm but not too hot and enjoy the chance to relax. Eat a healthy but very light breakfast. Veteran Iron Man participants often go with a meal of about 400 calories in the morning. Remember, you'll refuel during your bike ride, and you don't want to try to start the swim on an empty stomach. Try some stretches to limber up before you head out the door. Once you've prepared your body for the day, gather your kit together, get dressed, and start thinking about your game plan.
Develop a system of self-checks to keep your systems "green"
One of the biggest mistakes first-time runners and even some veteran Iron Man participants make is also one of the most basic: ignoring what your body wants to tell you. There is always a certain degree of "pushing through it" in these competitions, of course. You'll struggle to take another step or go through another swimming stroke, but you'll know that you're just facing a mental barrier rather than total fatigue. Don't fall into that trap when you could actually be feeling unwell. To help prevent your stubborn desire to keep going from winning out, develop a system of questions to ask yourself every so often during the race. For example, every 10 or 20 minutes, ask yourself how your stomach feels, how your muscles are doing, and where you're at mentally. Check your heart rate and how you're doing with your pace. If you feel like you need to make an adjustment, do so! Talking to yourself during the race can help you to identify issues before they become problems.
Focus on smooth, efficient transitions to avoid lost time
Hopefully, you took time during your training to practice transitions ? cycling right after swimming or running right after you hop off the bike. If so, then you should be well prepared for one of the toughest parts of the race. As you transition between parts of the event, focus on smooth movements and wasting as little time as possible. Once you're out of the water, for example, put on your sunglasses, then situate your helmet, grab water and energy gels, and then jump on the bike as you get to the start of the course. As you transition into the run, focus on doing your self-checks, getting into the right shoes, and finding your pace. Don't get distracted and don't start worrying about your progress: the only thing that matters is going forward.
Pace yourself at every step of the way ? especially the run
Maintaining a consistent, steady pace is crucial to finishing the race without falling out in the middle of the course. The temptation to go as fast as you can often is very strong. It is a race after all, right? However, in the original spirit of the competition, just making it through to the end is the goal. Save your speed work and rapid pace goals for shorter races that you can train for specifically. In the Iron Man competition, slow and steady really does "win" the race. Once you reach the run portion of the race, the pace becomes the most important aspect of all. The finish line lies at the end of your run, but you've already expended a ton of energy. Keep it at a level where you feel comfortable and just continue to drill through each mile.
Don't overdo it on the bike
Once you get out of the water, it is easy to feel like you've been wasting time. Swimming is slow, after all, especially if you faced difficult conditions. As you transition to the cycling stage, beware of the urge to go as hard as possible. Instead of rushing to get to your maximum effort, remember to conserve energy and stay on pace. Otherwise, when you finally hop off the bike, you'll realise you must face a marathon-length run on weak legs and with no energy reserves! A power meter attached to your bicycle can help mitigate this problem. When you realise you're outputting too much power, you can scale back and refocus your efforts on proper pacing. You'll still reach the finish line ? and there's no reason to risk hurting yourself for a chance at a top spot.
You can only run your race, not anyone else's
You won't be the only person on the course, that's for sure ? and for some participants, that can be a mental challenge. You will no doubt see people going faster and looking more composed than you feel. Don't let that affect your game plan. If you start watching how someone else is running the race, you can lose focus on the crucial parts of controlling your progress. You can even begin to discourage yourself if you feel like you're failing to keep up with another participant. When you start to feel your focus drift to another runner, remind yourself that it's all about you today. Put your eyes forward, focus on where you're going, and think about yourself crossing the finish line ? not that other person.
Keep a secret stash of motivational material in your mind
What happens when you hit the wall and feel like your only choice is to quit? Unless your body is telling you it's time to stop or you're injured, don't give in to the temptation. That's easier said than done, though, so wait for this moment to think about something important. Are you doing the run for a charity, or to honour a commitment to yourself? Is there someone waiting for you at the finish line? Use your best motivational methods only when you feel like you're almost ready to throw in the towel. When you can focus your thoughts on whyyou're running, you won't think about the difficulty of taking each stride. That can give you the extra fuel you need to find your way to the finish.
Get ready to race!
Though you may find yourself wondering throughout the day why you signed up for an Iron Man race in the first place, the elation you will feel as you cross the finish line will make it all worthwhile. To get there, though, you have a lot of hard work ahead of you. With these tips in your back pocket, you can better prepare to face the challenges of race day. Whether you need to remind yourself to run your race and no one else's, or you look for ways to save time during the transitions, do what it takes to stay in the running. Remember: just finishing the Iron Man is a victory worth celebrating. Follow @SportNessUK