It turns out, Ironman is a lot like childbirth. The pain gets forgotten. The hours of labour seem abstract: could it have taken that long? And no matter what you’ve done to prepare for the baby, when it finally shows up you realize you’re not ready.
A friend asked me what advice I would give to anyone doing this for the first time. Now that I have some distance from the race, I feel like I can think about it more clearly.
So, here goes, in no particular order:
- Pace yourself. In a race this long, pacing is of prime importance. You have to know how hard you can push and still have some gas left in the tank for later. If you don’t do this, you will suffer.
- Unless you enjoy 3.8km of chaos, swim on the edge of the pack. Yes, you’ll swim a bit farther, but it will be peaceful and pleasant, and the trade-off is (in my opinion) worth it. You want to come out of the water feeling like you didn’t do anything—not like you’ve just been chewed up by a thousand propellers.
- Dehydration is a problem that is totally preventable. Drink on the bike. Drink more than you think you need to, especially if it’s hot out. I’ve had heat stroke before and it is incapacitating. Don’t make this mistake.
- Train your headspace. Mental training for the Ironman is easily as important as physical training. You need to be comfortable in your head for a long, long time. You need to develop ways of coping with this race: how to talk to yourself, what NOT to think about. I practiced this a lot, and I’m glad.
- Bring Band-aids & Tylenol. Does this require more explanation? No, it does not.
- Bank sleep the week before the race. A friend told me to do this. He said I would thank him for it. I am thanking him. You probably won’t sleep much on the night before the race, so make sure you’ve slept well the previous week.
- Give up on a projected time. Another friend told me to do this, and it was great advice. Having a projected finish time adds unnecessary pressure, and there’s already enough of that.
- Be wary of special needs. Carry the essentials and don’t count on getting your special needs bag. At least one person in the race did not get theirs. It happens. If half your nutrition is in there, you’re hooped.
- Don’t dawdle before the swim. I mentioned this in my previous blog post. The morning happens quickly. Get your transition stuff organized, get your wetsuit on, and don’t waste time. I did, and it caused a lot of needless panic.
- Don’t worry about things that are out of your control, but prepare for what you can. Check the weather forecast; give yourself clothing choices in your transition bags; know how to change a flat.
- Ride the course. Ride the course. Ride the course. It’s that important.
No matter how prepared you are, something unexpected might (and probably will) happen. As a swimming friend told me: you’re never ready for Ironman. I believe this is the truest thing one can say about this race.
Ironman is like childbirth in another way, too: the post-partum blues.
When the day is over, you’re going to feel sad, and a little lost. You’ve spent upwards of a year organizing your entire life around training for this race. You’ve been thinking about it, reading about it, talking to other athletes about it. . . and now it’s done.
There comes a time when you have to stop re-watching the race video obsessively (what?), stop looking at your photos, and MOVE ON.
Really, the only solution is to sign up for another one.
(And people wonder how I ended up with four kids).