I want to be the best Ironman I can be.
I've been thinking a fair bit about preparation for my Ironman races and how to make sure that my training and equipment are up to spec, and that I'm in the right place mentally as the big day draws near.
I've done more training than I've ever done in my life this year, but I'm finding it hard to visualise the change from training weeks to race day. I find myself thinking "Wow, only 5 weeks to Wimbleball!" (only with more naughty words), and apart from knowing that I should taper in the last week or two I don't have a plan for this period.
I know there's more to think about than just training, and I am also aware that with busy work weeks (as they all invariably are) the time just flies by. I don't want last-minute-itis to be a feature of any of my Ironman races this year. I'm a sucker for doing these things too late - like most people, I wing it a lot more than I'd like to admit to anyone including myself. For example, I'm racing Stowe Olympic distance triathlon tomorrow and I know my bike isn't in tip-top shape mechanically, I know that if I get a puncture I'm basically screwed as I can't get any of my hand-pumps into the valve recess on my race wheels, I only put my front derailleur back on last night and only tested it by cycling to the end of the road and back! Add to that, I haven't read the race pack, and I don't know how hilly the bike course is, plus I'm spending most of today on a train, and you'll see that I'm fairly unprepared. I definitely can't be doing this for the big races. When I went to Wimbleball a couple of weeks ago I ended up packing almost every bit of triathlon kit I own - far too much stuff! I didn't know what the weather was going to be like, I didn't check, and I didn't have a plan.
I need a plan.
I've decided to split the 4 weeks out from race day into two fortnight periods, and use them to make sure I'm ready. I've named them, and put them in my calendar. Therefore, it's with great pleasure I introduce "The preparation zone" and "The focus zone" (I know the names are crap, it doesn't matter!).
During these periods there are tasks I want to complete, decisions to be made, and behaviours to encourage (or discourage!). Try to get as much sorted out int he 2-4 week period as possible, and then by the time race day comes the number of decisions to be made should be virtually zero, leaving all mental strength to remembering and following the race strategy. From what I've heard so far, by the time you get 30km through an Ironman marathon you can barely remember your name, never mind make reasoned and logical decisions!
I'm sure this list will evolve over time, but here's my starter for ten.
The preparation zone (2-4 weeks out from race day - majority of decisions are made in this period)
- Lock in every training session into training diary
- Identify any technique areas that need attention and make sure those sessions are also booked in (including mechanical techniques such as changing tyres)
- Prioritise sleep - minimum 7 hours sleep every night (sleep is training!)
- Simulate race day nutrition - any GI distress?
- Be clear on how much I need to eat and drink, and when
- Set up an ironman transition practice session, including separate transition bags and bike mount/dismount
- Make a kit list of everything I need to take for the race and any time I'm away (nutrition, clothing, kit, tools, entertainment, luxuries)
- Make course-specific decisions - bike/wheels, bike gearing, run shoes?
- Fully clean and service my bike, replace any components that are worn or faulty (e.g. tyres, brake pads, cables, chain and cassette)
- Make sure I have spares of key components
- Check race kit and replace anything that's worn or faulty (e.g. goggles, cleats, heart rate monitor strap)
- Confirm travel and accommodation (tickets, reservations, any associated paperwork) - print out confirmations and phone ahead to confirm bookings, if i'm driving are there any special instructions for parking?
- Write down the itinerary for the weekend - where do I have to be, and when? Include travel, departure and arrival times, registration, compulsory briefings, getting up time, bed time, etc.
- Write out the race strategy (transition bag(s) contents, plan for each discipline, problem scenarios and recovery actions, nutrition, torrential rain, heatwave, etc) - what's happened in previous Ironman races around the world that's taken everyone by surprise? (e.g. the race distance is changed, the water is too cold or rough and the swim is dropped?)
- Download and discuss the bike course and run course routes - will there be the opportunity to ride or run the course ahead of the race?
- Find and watch race footage from previous years - note any good/poor decisions and advice/comments from the pros on the course
- Check there's a plan for the cats!
- Download and save the bike and run courses onto Garmin Connect and my GPS.
- Phone anyone I know who is coming to support me - make sure they're sorted, and arrange somewhere to meet them
- Make every training session, and make every training session good (what's the objective? what does success look like for this session?)
- Maximum one "cheat meal" per week (pizza, meal out, etc)
- Completely cut out junk snacks during the working day
- Think about and focus on my goals for the day and for each discipline (the race plan will allow me to deliver my goals)
The focus zone (0-2 weeks out form race day - focus, follow the plan)
- Book in every training session into training diary - make sure I understand my taper strategy
- Prioritise sleep - minimum 8 hours sleep, every night (sleep is training!)
- Visualise key periods - swim warmup, swim start, transitions, fuelling, crossing the finish line
- Print out and read the race pack cover to cover
- Talk through and verify the race day plan and trip itinerary
- What's the weather forecast - which weather-coping plan is looking likely?
- Before packing, check everything I'm taking off against the list
- Verify kit as soon as I reach the destination - while there's still time to buy any emergency last minute items!
- Based on weather, which race day plan is looking likely?
- Check Facebook/etc regularly for pre-race announcements - any changes? Mark them up on the race pack
- No cheat meals
- Completely cut out junk snacks during the working day
- Avoid negative conversations about the course, training load, or the day
- Relax, and enjoy the day
If I get this right, it won't seem like long before I'm crossing the line, and hearing Mike Reilly and his immortal words… "You! Are! An! Ironmaaaaaaaaaaaaaannnn!" (I met him at IM Wales last year in our hotel bar, I didn't realise he was such a legend!).