5 Things to Do Before My First Ironman

I always knew that I would take my time before embarking on a quest to complete a full Ironman. In the midst of my 4th season, I look back at my history and feel that I’ve built a good base of volume and races that should allow me to aim for the next step up in my triathlon journey. As such, the gauntlet is thrown for 2013.

Being in France, the choice is rather obvious. Though certainly not the easiest of the bunch, the Nice Ironman is legendary here in the country and is the only choice I can make. With opportunities to see the course before the race and being able to draw on the knowledge of several friends who have done well in the race, I can put the odds on my side.

And with the support of my wife and family, what better way to spend your tenth wedding anniversary than in Southern France…

And so where I lack in ability or training, I usually make up in planning. Preparing for races has been a strong point of mine over the years and this is certainly no different. Here are five main things I must do before my first Ironman.

Find an Osteopath

With four seasons of training under my belt, it is clear to me that staying injury free is the number one criteria for success in endurance racing. Those times that I have managed to stay injury free for long periods of time are clearly the periods of time that have generated the most gains in performance. Of course, experience is my best weapon against injuries. The ability to recognize good pain vs. bad pain, to identify warning signs, to avoid overtraining and to build proper rest and recovery in my training are tools that I’ve built each season – often the hard way – and that will be very important as I embark in this big journey.

But beyond experience, I’ve learned that in training, it is best to prevent injuries rather than deal with them. As such, I have decided to identify an Osteopath that can accompany me for the next twelve months in my journey. Over the years practicing the sports, I’ve grown convinced that I have a hip balance issue which has led to knee, hip and ankle problems. These problem areas flare up routinely and impact my training. I have also grown convinced that in endurance sport (and life in general I might add) treating symptoms only will only lead to failure. It is important to look at the athlete as a whole and accompany him/her through a specific journey.

Europe seems to be much better at holistic medicine approaches and Doctors of Osteopathy are much more common here. I have found one specializing in sports and who has already accompanied athletes through the Nice Ironman. I’ve spoken with him before and I know that he’ll be a key piece of my journey. We have talked and a regular appointment once a month with added sessions based on specific needs should be sufficient but his philosophy is that monthly prevention sessions can be much more effective than bi-weekly sessions to recover from a strain. I tend to agree…

Identify the broad building blocks training before the specifics

Selecting a big goal this early in the season gives plenty of time to select a solid training plan. With almost a year before the big event, there will be several large blocks of training. My coach and I have talked a bit about this and it’ll be important to build these big blocks together to address my specific areas of progress at the right time.

A big swim block during the winter will be in order this year

Specific training plans are good and important but they often fail to address an athlete’s specific areas of improvement. For me, there are two key areas of improvements that I need to focus on in order to successfully complete the Nice Ironman.

The first is running. Although, race data and averages would indicate that bike is a weaker discipline than run, I tend to disagree. During my races, I seem to be able to hold back on the bike better than other racers which enable me to get into the run much fresher. As such, I’m not a better runner but perhaps I may be better at race execution. Nevertheless, running is my number one area of improvement in order to build good endurance, but more specifically, speed in the off-season.

The second is climbing. Although I am by no means a bad cyclist and can lead a good group when it’s flat, climbing is not my thing. Combined with a heavier weight, I am not made for climbing. Nevertheless, despite strong improvements this year, this is still an area that can clearly be worked on. With strength work in the winter and climbs in the spring, I clearly have to work on my climbing skills.

As we look at the broad philosophy of the training plan, it will be to have large blocks aimed at improving these two key areas. Once the large blocks are agreed upon and designed based on the seasons, travel, holidays, training camps, lead-up races, etc… the weekly specifics will be built into the plans.

In order to build these plans, I am working with a local coach here in France who also is a professional triathlete and has taken athletes to the last Olympic Games in London. In addition to his expertise, I do have quite a critical mind and continue to seek regular advice from my network including the folks at Roman Endurance who are a key part of my training, preparation and race planning.

Identify a nutrition plan

Nutrition is a pretty big unknown to me for the distance. 12 to 13 hours of racing can be quite different than 5 to 5h30 from a nutrition standpoint. Having completed several 70.3 I was able to tell first hand how nutrition wrecked my race at Aix-En-Provence and how it was perfectly dialed in for Mallorca.

With that said, I am far from being convinced that gels and liquids will be sufficient for my race. When my stomach feels empty on long rides, I get quite an uncomfortable feeling. I also recall at the Kinetic half feeling slightly panicked when I felt hungry. I seemed to have the energy required through gels and liquids, but I still felt hungry and I’m not sure that this is a feeling I’d be able to sustain on race day.

As someone who has a particularly hard time skipping meals and who gets extremely cranky when I’m hungry, this is really an area that I have to figure out before race day and it is of course necessary to experiment with solid or semi-solid foods before the race.

Thankfully, I have a strong network of friends and coaches who have done full Ironman distances and who can provide great advices.

Carefully select my gear

The choice of gear is not that evident. Nice is a climbing course but not necessarily one with particularly steep grades. As such, it isn’t obvious what gear combination to pick.

To start, do I choose my Time-Trial bike or my road bike? The climbs not being very steep and the fact that there are some rolling roads, one could go either with a TT bike or with a Road bike fitted with extensions. Road bikes tend to be a bit lighter than TT bike and handle better, but they won’t move as fast on straights due to the aero position. The question then may very well come down to how steep are the downhills, how sharp are the turns and what is the weight difference between my bike.

As much as I love my Time Trial bike with my 808s, the combination may not be the best fit for Nice.

The wheelset isn’t an easy decision. My two options for the moment are the set of Zipp 808 CC that I have or the Mavic Ksirium Elite with are about 250 grams lighter. Ideally a set of 404s would be the best for this kind of course, but funds are tight and that’s going to end up being a rather difficult decision.

Of course, there are other minor but important choices. For the cassette, I am told that a 12-25 should be sufficient, but is there something to be said for a 12-27 just for added security the day of the race? That’s certainly something that I’ll have to carefully choose. For the helmet, the choice may go either way with respect to aero vs. non-aero with considerations of weight and heat.

For the rest of the choices, they are fairly easy. The day will be hot on the run, the swim will require a wetsuit, no big surprise there.

Plan the logistics well ahead of time

For the French and Nice, their annual Ironman race is legendary and draws huge crowds. 2,500 athletes, 80,000 spectators, sold out hotels, busy airports can make last minute logistics difficult. Considering we’ll also be celebrating our ten year anniversary with my wife, I’m not sure that a last minute plan is the right one. On top of that, I’ve had mild experiences in Aix and Mallorca from poor hotel choices and bad sleep. As a result, planning ahead for how I’ll get there and picking a good location close to the center of the action will remove lots of headaches for me on those few days leading up to the race.

I have a unique advantage in that half my teammates have already done the race so I have lots of sources to pull from in order to build the ideal logistics. This should be a no brainer but it’s an important detail for me in order to reduce the stress of the race. I’ve found that I race much better when the days leading up to the race are relaxed.

That’s really about it. Of course the are many important things to consider but with the experience that I have built and the great support system around me, I’m confident I’ll have a fantastic race.

The journey continues…

The Nice IRONMAN Start…