Originally written for: http://firstironmantri.com/2/post/2016/10/dos-and-donts-for-your-first-ironman.html
Gordon Wright is in a unique place to serve up advice for first-timers to the 140.6 distance. He’s pulled off his own first (IMAZ 2015), but also works at up to six IMs per year activating the sponsorships for Beachbody Performance. If you see him at the finish line for YOUR first IM, he’ll be handing you a cold protein drink and congratulating you on your accomplishment, so say Hi.
Here are his best suggestions, based on what he’s seen, and did himself:
- Have a support system — My wife and a dear friend were there for me at IMAZ, and I can tell you that I wouldn’t have finished without them. After running out of gas at mile 12 of the marathon, I had to pretty much walk it in…and given the unexpectedly cold, rainy conditions, it was a tossup as to whether I’d get to the finish line or just crumple to the ground in a hypothermic mess. They not only gave immense emotional support, they also fetched me gloves, a hat, a long-sleeve shirt and even a rain coat for the last four miles. Outside assistance? Yes, guilty as charged – and it is a disqualifying offense — but when the conditions were that bad, and you’re running a 14:15 Ironman, it was worth accepting outside help in order to cross the finish line. If you plan ahead well enough and utilize your drop bags, you probably won’t need outside assistance, but enthusiastic support is still critically important.
- Plan and TEST your hydration & nutrition — No knock on Gatorade, but at about mile 65 of the bike, I couldn’t get any more of it down and even developed a mouth ulcer. I switched to water, but had no salt pills, so my body got a bit thrown off. It didn’t really account for my mediocre time – that had more to do with lack of training volume – but if you’re going to rely on the on-course offerings, make sure you do that for a couple of extended training sessions. OR, stash three bottles of your favored hydration source in your bike special needs bag.
- Show up for the pre-race briefing – If you have lingering questions about how exactly any of this goes off, don’t fret. The pre-race briefings (there are usually two per day over the three days of each expo) are wonderfully comprehensive. They go over general rules and policies first, then cover the swim, bike and run legs in order. The briefings take about 45 minutes, and all your questions (What do I do with these five bags?) should be answered. Take notes to reassure yourself, and if you have additional questions, they’ll answer them after the formal briefing.
- Show up early, for everything – At IMLOU, I saw people registering at 4:59pm on Saturday, one minute before they shut things down. So many people waited until the last minute to drop their bikes that there was a 300-yard line trying to get into the TA. Don’t be that person. Get to each key task (registration check-in, pre-race briefing, bike drop) early, and get it out of the way so you can relax.
- Rest – Speaking of relaxing, do it aggressively. By all means, spend some time in the Merchandise tent. Get a massage. Pick up some product from sponsors. All that and the briefings are right there at the Expo. But really, you should be spending as much time as possible lying down, with your feet up, chilling. You’re not on vacation; you’re not there to sight-see. You’re there to race and your body is your only weapon. Treat it like a treasure.
- Rely on weather reports – For IMAZ, the forecast called for sunny skies and 72-degree temps. What we got was 56 degrees and five hours of rain. If you’re driving to your first IM, you have a rolling closet. USE IT to bring … everything, neatly organized. Do you have two thicknesses of arm warmers? Cool, bring them both and choose once you get to the race. Will you need a long-sleeve shirt to run? Who knows? Bring one. Even if you’re flying to your race, you’ll have luggage and a bike case, so there’s no excuse not to be prepared. Unless you’re me.
- Exercise (too much) – “But my taper calls for a five mile shakeout run and a 30-mile shakeout ride.” Yeah, I hear you. But really, are you going to gain any fitness in the last three days before your race? No. Can you – beset by nerves and anxiety – go too hard on your shake-out run and blast your legs? Yes, you can. I went for a nice, slow ride covering a fair amount of the bike loop and while it might have helped calm me down a bit, my power numbers were too high and I likely tired myself out right when I should have been relaxing. IF you must run, swim or ride once you’re on-site, be utterly vigilant and err on the side of chillaxing.
- Worry – So much of your first IM is a blur. I had a pretty high degree of anxiety prior to the race, and even shuffling forward in line to jump into the water felt unreal. Relax – it’s totally normal. Utilize your positive thinking and just know that everything will turn out fine. Once you start racing, all your anxiety dissipates, and you’ll do just fine, I promise.
- Get Hung Up on Time Goals – I had a gold-star goal (12:45) and a backup goal (anything in the 13s), and after a 1:27 swim and 6:15 bike, was running solidly toward a sub-13 hour time. Then, an anvil fell on my head. I was able to process things pretty evenly and didn’t get down on myself, even when people were DNFing all around me. Would you rather be an IRONMAN, or a DNF? You have 17 hours, usually, to get to the finish line, so even if all your time goals go POOF because of an injury flare-up, a mechanical, or bad weather, just keep your head down, be kind to yourself, and get to the finish line.
Expect Anything At The Finish Line – I mean this literally, and emotionally. IRONMAN does a great job of taking care of its racers, but when I finished, there was no food at the food tent. Really, who cares? Have your support system ready with snacks, or go out for a late burger and beer. What matters is that you are an IRONMAN, and you get that finisher’s tee-shirt. Emotionally, you could cry, you could be like a zombie, or you could leap across the finishing line screaming like a banshee. You can never tell. Just let yourself experience whatever emotions rear their heads, and expect a wide array of emotions AFTER the race, for a week or two. It’s common to feel some mild depression after a major race, but it’s just as likely you’ll feel a lingering sense of accomplishment. Processing an IRONMAN is a complex emotional exercise, so just let it happen. And if you do cross that finish line, congratulations: YOU! ARE! AN IRONMANNNNN!!