Ironman Race Report 9:47

I wanted to put together a race report from my recent Ironman that I did hoping that it provides some value to those who are thinking of doing this race in the future. It may also prove useful to people doing another Ironman race, since many of the same principles and lessons apply to any race. Secondly, I hope it provides some useful insight into my preparation and training. The real work in succeeding at this distance happens long before the race begins. I love the iron distance because of all the variables at play and that come together on race day to determine your success or failure. Training, physiology, nutrition, gear, life balance, health, weight, body composition, mental outlook, stress and attitude all have to be peaking at the right time in order for you to have your best day.

Leading up to Ironman Arizona I was somewhat happy with my level of fitness. My swim was solid, my bike fitness was the best it’s been since 2007 and my run fitness was O.K. mostly due to my current weight/ body composition leading up to the race. Starting with my pre-race diet 7-10 days out, I eat a high fat diet with less than 200g carbohydrate per day. Based on my metabolic testing, this type of nutrition has the biggest role to play in my race-day fuel utilization (in terms of fat vs carb). I then eat about 500g of carbohydrate in the 24-30 hours before the race, which replenishes some glycogen without affecting my fat burning. This type of diet prep results in a burn rate for me of about 600 carbohydrate calories per hour at 220 watts on the bike (and about 480 fat calories per hour, for a total of about 1100 calories per hour). My biggest meal in terms of calories and carbohydrates takes place the second to last night before the race. The goal here is to eat something that is not normally part of your everyday day diet that you really enjoy. Although I don’t partake myself I will tell my athletes to indulge in their favorite dessert for a couple of reasons. 1.) You will still have time to clean out your diet the following day so you don’t feel crumby from eating a pile of sugar the night before. 2.) It will help you sleep!! Your most important night of sleep is not the night before but rather the second night out. Simply put overeating a little put’s you in a nice food comatose allowing you to sleep really well. And lastly it will make you feel good there is a lot of research that shows eating something you really enjoy 24 hours out from a major race/ sporting competition can increase your performance. For me this is fish tacos, veggie pizza and maybe a hamburger. The last thing you want is to enter a catabolic state on race day. Well, that’s my excuse anyway! The day before the race is the time to clean out your diet. It’s best to consume what you normally eat with one minor change. No fibrous foods after 12pm, you don’t want to have to make a porta potty stop during the race which can easily cost you five minutes. I will eat a really light dinner then it’s off to sleep. That night, as always, I slept terribly. It always happens and I’m used to it. It feels like I don’t sleep all night, and then plunge into a deep sleep just before my alarm goes off!

Alarm goes off at 4:30am and its go time. Immediately I pop up my heart starts to race and my palms start to get sweaty and my body knows it’s in for a long day. I’m not a fan of breakfast before a race, I’ve never been able to get my heart rate up during the swim when I have a full stomach. Now having said that that works for me and I would not recommend it to others. I have some clients that do better with a large breakfast so this is something you want to practice in the months leading up to the race. I will do a pretty extensive warm up before I even leave the hotel. I will do quite a bit of positional breathing exercises to get all my necessary swim, bike and run muscles turned on and ready to go. I will also do a nice swim band session as you will not get a chance to warm up before the start of the race. I will also go for a 10-15 minute run with a couple of hard 6 second sprints thrown in. I like to get to the transition and hour before the race as this allows me time to get my tires pumped up (100psi front 110psi back).

I will recheck all my gear bags and special needs bags and more importantly be there emotionally for my nine athletes that I coach who were also doing the race. I have a separate bag where I carry extra tubes, bike chains, spare parts anything that could possibly break or burst. There is nothing worse than having something go wrong with your bike right before your biggest and last race of the year. After everyone looks like there ready to go I head down to the swim start. Ironman has started to incorporate self-seeding in an effort to reduce swim deaths. In years paths you would have 3000 people all treading water and starting at the same time, this would cause a lot of chaos and people were getting swam over leading to drowning or having a heart attack. The professional men would go first 10 minutes late the pro women then another 10 minutes later the amateur field. I seeded myself in the middle of the 1 hour group. You will head down the stairs and literally dive into the water and then you’re off.

I like my swim intensity to be right around 80% effort for an Ironman distance swim. As always within the first 100-200 yards there is a lot of contact because you find yourself swimming over a lot of people who are slower swimmers and didn’t want to seed themselves correctly. My goal during the 2.4 mile swim was 1.) Don’t get kicked in the face and 2.) Don’t over swim the goal is an 8/10 the whole swim should feel easy peezzy. Swim Time 1 hour and 3 minutes

Transition #1 I hop out of the water and let the volunteers do all the work as far as stripping my wetsuit. I will then move as fast as I can through the changing tents and out onto the bike course. Transition time was a little over 2 minutes.

For the bike my target power was 220 watts this is the amount of power that I can apply to my bike pedals for 112 miles and still be able to run a decent marathon. I knew that I needed to get in around 550 calories per hour in order to have enough fuel to run well also. For the bike I take Gatorade endurance that they have at the aid stations and I dilute this with half water and consume about 30oz per hour. I will also eat a couple of picky bars as these have very little sugar in them, I will also try and keep caffeine to an absolute minimum. Again this works for me and hydration/ food needs to be figured out individually in the months leading up to the race. The bike was pretty uneventful essentially I passed a lot of people screaming on your left for five hours. Bike Time: 5 hours and 2 minutes Bike speed 22.25 miles per hour.

It’s a very good sign when you arrive in Transition 2 and there is almost nobody there. I think there was one other guy in the tent. The great thing is that there are a lot of bored volunteers who all jump in to help. So I had 5 guys helping me get ready for the run. One guy on each shoe, another guy sorting out my run bottle and another guy getting my number belt and sunglasses ready.  Thanks – you guys were awesome!

I talked earlier about my body composition not being the greatest. I wanted to include a picture of myself 3 days out from the race to show people that I am a far cry from being a naturally built endurance athlete.

I came into this race at 6’3 188 pounds most of my competitors at the front end of these races are about 30- 40lbs lighter that I am. In fact the winner of my age group had a weight of 140 lbs. I have a very muscular upper body thanks to my college football/powerlifting days that I cannot get rid of. And when it comes to running weight is everything and I was a little heavier than I like to race for this distance. First, looking fit and actually being fit are two different things. I have coached some athletes who looked like they could be on the cover of a fitness magazine but could barely run an 8 minute mile or swim 500m without being completely gassed. How you look on the outside means very little because being fit is what’s happening on the inside and I’m a perfect testament that you should never judge a book by its cover.

The biggest mistake people make in regards to the marathon is that they never actually get to run it. I’ve seen of a couple different statistics but they all end up with 80-90% of the field walking/shuffling the marathon because they over biked. The Marathon especially the last 13 miles is when the race actually starts! Now my bike could not have gone any better I kept my average power at 214 watts (6 watts below my target pace) and I didn’t throw too many 300-400 watt efforts trying to pass groups of riders. As I headed out on the run my legs felt solid and I had to really work to slow my pace down during the first two miles. I was running 7:30 min/mile pace with ease but going in my run fitness put me right on pace for a 3:34-3:37 marathon time so my goal was to hold just above an eight minute mile pace. I like to take a very minimalist approach with run nutrition. I will treat the bike like a buffet and then go on a diet during the run. I’ll hydrate with about 20-24oz of half water/half Gatorade and hour during the run. Hotter/Humid temperatures I can easily consume 30+ oz. At the halfway point of the run my split was 1:44 so I was holding just under an eight minute mile pace. I was right on target and my legs felt great. My secret weapon when things get really difficult which is usually around miles 18-20 is to eat some chocolate or in my case a snickers bar and I’ll explain why.

First in order to get the full effect of this you need to be eating a sugar free diet beforehand. In fact the last time I ate a snicker’s bar was last year at Ironman Lake Tahoe. I don’t care how fit you are you’re going to be feeling pretty crumby at this time of the day. So why not hit yourself with a completely legal drug that will give you a monster dopamine release in your brain. Essentially after eating a bite my brain lit up like a Christmas tree and I went from feeling horrible to instantly picking up my run pace by 15 seconds a mile.

The last three to four miles I will also drink some coke to help wash it all down. It’s amazing how much this mentally changes your outlook it’s like slipping into a warm bath. Also at this time of the race junk food is all I can get down without throwing up and that is because our body process sugar extremely fast. It also reminds me how easy you can get hooked on this stuff. That night and even the next day I was getting some really big sugar cravings, it took about three days for the urge to dissipate. The last mile my legs are screaming and I feel like I’m running really fast until I look at my watch and I'm barely holding an 8:30 pace with my legs crying out. As I cross the finishing line you can’t help but get a little emotional this being my tenth full distance race the feeling really never gets old especially when you go sub 10. There’s nothing quite like it! Run: 3 hours 35 minutes

Finishing Time: 9 hours and 47 minutes

Jordan Nichols