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“See it before you do it.”  Visualization has been a key component of many successful triathletes’ preparation for key events, including both elites and age-groupers alike.  Visualizing your race before you actually do it can go a long ways towards easing your race-day nerves, because you’ve already gone through all the phases of the race in your head.  It can also go a long ways towards helping you cope with anxious moments during the race.  What will you do if your swim goggles fill up with water?  What will you do if you get a flat tire?  What will you do if you start feeling a cramp during the run?  Going through these different scenarios in your head before the race can help you automatically fix those problems — with as little stress as possible — in the event they manifest themselves during the race.

The last long rides and runs over the next two weekends are great times to visualize your race-day performance.  The majority of your visualization exercises should focus on seeing yourself swimming smoothly, or riding powerfully, or running effortlessly.  But spend at least a little time visualizing what you’ll do if things don’t go quite as planned, and then actually practice doing those things: stopping in the middle of an open water swim to clean out your goggles as quickly as possible, and then immediately get back into your swimming rhythm, or while riding at race pace, stop to “fix” a flat as quickly as possible and then resume riding at your race tempo.

Note:  Closing your eyes isn’t necessary to visualize your race.  In fact, if you’re going to do some visualization while you ride or run, please keep your eyes open!


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Mid-August Blahs

Right now, many of you are probably feeling like you are just slogging through the workouts — and just slogging through life in general.  You’re always tired, always hungry, but probably not so much of either one that you feel like stuffing yourself or like napping, not even after workouts.  And while you don’t have much trouble doing the workouts themselves, you don’t feel like your legs have much spring in them, and you might even feel like you’re noticeably slower on some days than you were a month or so ago.

This is perfectly normal feeling at this stage of our Ironman preparation.  It’s your body’s adjustment to  the increased training volume that we have been doing.  Feeling “blah” all the time is your body’s way of signaling that it has adjusted to the new regimen and has become more efficient at burning calories.  The trade-off is that you probably aren’t feeling as fast as you felt a month or so ago.  In fact, the training plan was set up so that you probably experience these”peaks” in your performance.  Feeling somewhat sluggish between the peaks is exactly how most people tend to feel — it’s referred to as the “plateau.”  You just need to push through it.  Feeling sluggish during the last three or four high-volume weeks is pretty much par-for-the-course in Ironman training.  It’s basically just a product of working out on already-tired legs.  So once we begin reducing the volume at the start of our taper (in about 12 days), your legs are going to start feeling a lot better and the speed is going to come back (even though it never really left).

The bottom line is that feeling sluggish right now is nothing to worry about.  Once the duration of the workouts becomes noticeably shorter, and the intensity increases slightly, your body is going to respond by feeling more energetic.  It might not happen immediately, but by September 7th, you should be feeling better than you’ve felt since our program started, and that’s when you know you’re ready to go!

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As we begin to lower the volume of both individual workouts and weekly mileage, there is a tendency to also reduce the intensity of the workouts.  In fact, you should be doing exactly the opposite.  As we move into the taper, most of your workouts should be at or faster than your anticipated Ironman race pace.  Granted, if everything goes well, you will be racing Ironman almost exclusively within your “aerobic” zones, but these last few weeks of swims, rides, and runs should all be completed at at least that speed.  Slightly faster training right before the race accomplishes two things:

  • It gives your muscles and aerobic system that final “edge” that will translate to feeling fast on race day, and
  • It helps prevent weight gain caused by not burning as many calories as during our higher-volume training periods.

As we increase the intensity, it becomes increasingly important to get plenty of rest.  That means truly resting on our scheduled rest days by staying off of your feet to the greatest extent possible.  It also becomes increasingly important to eat properly.  Whereas you can get away with a post-workout binge when we were doing 100 mile rides each week, it would be a mistake to do so after these shorter workouts, even though you might feel like you need to.  Lots of athletes put on 5 pounds or more during their taper, and while 2-3 pounds is normal and actually a good thing for your body in terms of preventing illness and fatigue-based injuries, bear in mind that every extra pound you carry on your body on race day is worth several extra watts on the bike and several extra minutes on the run.

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Ironman Transitions

Although Ironman is essentially just a longer version of other triathlons you’ve done, one thing is significantly different from any other triathlon: the transitions.  Whereas most triathlon transition areas are of the self-serve variety — meaning that you and you alone are responsible for racking you bike, setting up your transition area, and doing everything in T1 and T2 yourself — Ironman transitions are fully catered affairs.  While this provides a distinct advantage during the race since you really don’t have to think about anything — or do anything — on your own, it does require a bit more advanced planning.

First, during registration on Thursday or Friday, you’ll receive 6 bags in which you’ll need to store your cylcing, running, and post-race gear (the fourth bag is to put your clothes and pre-race items — you’ll drop it off on the way down to the swim, and the fifth and six bags are for your bike and run special needs items — you’ll drop those off near the finish area on race morning).  Everything that you need for the bike — including your cycling shoes and helmet — needs to go in the T1 bag.  Similarly, everything you need for the run goes in the T2 bag.  You’ll drop off both of these bags on Saturday, and although you’ll have the chance to access them Sunday morning before the start, you should think carefully about what you need to put in each bag because if something you need isn’t in there, you’re not going to be able to get a replacement.

One distinct advantage of this system of transitions is that if you desire, you can do a complete outfit change in both T1 and T2 (the transition areas are in conference rooms inside of Monona Terrace, and are gender-specific).  Another big advantage is that you will have a volunteer who finds your bag, brings it to you and helps you change (to whatever extent you want help).  However, as you put together your transition bags and plan your race kit for each event, keep the following in mind:

(1) Don’t forget to wear something underneath your wetsuit.  Yes, you can do a full change in T1 so there is no need to wear your cycling gear in the swim if you don’t want to, but volunteers strip off  your wetsuit as soon as you exit the water.  So if you’re not wearing anything underneath, the 200 yard run up the helix and into the transition area is going to be one of the longest runs of your life.

(2) You’ll have to put your shoes and helmet in your T1 bag, but you can put any nutrition you need on your bike before the start, so there is no need to put gels or water bottles in your T1 bag unless it’s something like a fuel-belt that you’ll actually be wearing on your person.

(3) Pay special attention what gear your putting in what bag.  The bags are clearly labeled and color-coded, but every year some panicked athlete puts his running gear in his T1 bag, and usually is the last person to exit T1 because the volunteers won’t search for his “wrong” bag until everyone else is taken care of.

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Now that we’ve discussed the importance of racing a smart, patient race, and taking care of the equipment that you’ll be using, it’s time to address one of the only other factors that might keep you from crossing the finish line: your health.

This last three-week block of high-mileage (and sometimes high-intensity) training are important to giving your muscles and cardiovascular system that final edge that can make you as fit as possible on race day.  However, this last training block has also taken a toll on your body, and much of your body’s energy that hasn’t gone into our workouts has been dedicated to rebuilding and repairing your muscles.  That means your are potentially more susceptible to getting sick or getting injured.  For that reason, it’s very important that you make sure you’re giving your body everything it needs to stay healthy over the last four weeks.

  • Eat a well-balanced diet that includes plenty of protein.  Protein has been proven as an important component in post-workout recovery.  It’s also important for building and maintaining muscle fibers, and many sources of protein are also good sources of vitamins and minerals that are difficult to find in other foods (iron, for example).
  • Take a supplement.  No matter how well (or how much) you’re eating, you simply can’t ingest all of the vitamins and other nutrients your body is using during workouts.  A supplement can help fill this void, but some supplements are much easier for your body to use than others.  See the Endurance House staff to get recommendations on what might work best for you.
  • Take care of any nagging injuries.  If there is something that has bothered you sporadically during training, get it taken care of now so you don’t have to worry about whether it will pop up again during Ironman itself.
  • Get a sports massage.  At the end of next week, it would be a good idea to schedule a sports massage.  This can help flush many of the toxins in your muscles — particularly the large muscle groups in your legs — that have built up over the course of our training.  You will most likely be pretty sore after a properly-done massage, so you should schedule this on an easy day or after your workout on the day before a day off.  The first week of our taper period (week 10 of Block IV) is a great time for such a massage.

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Tune Ups

Just like we’ll be spending the next four weeks fine-tuning our bodies in preparation for Ironman, now is also the time when you should be fine-tuning your equipment to make sure that everything is in working order and to minimize the chances of your equipment letting you down on race day.

  • Inspect your wetsuit.  Make sure that you repair any small tears that may have developed over the course of the season.  See the staff at Endurance House regarding repair kits, if you find a hole that needs a patch.
  • Do your goggles leak?  If so, now is the time to try out a different pair that won’t cause you problems during the swim.  There is nothing more frustrating than goggles that won’t seal during the Ironman swim — especially since stopping to fix them in a sea of 2,000 other swimmers is virtually impossible.
  • Get your local bike shop to give your bike a thorough inspection and tune-up.  The perfect time to do this would be during the last two weeks of August, at the same time that you put on a new pair of tires.  Note:  You should make an appointment for a tune-up during that period sometime relatively soon, as there is always a mad rush at area bike shops for tune-ups in the week before Ironman.  A well-tuned and well-cleaned and lubricated bike is important not only for piece-of-mind during the Ironman itself, but eliminating unnecessary friction caused by poorly-aligned gears or excess dirt and grease in your drive chain increases your pedaling efficiency and results in more power being transferred to the road.  A clean bike is a fast bike.
  • Make sure your cleats have enough life in them to keep a strong grip in your pedals — if they are getting worn, now is a good time to change them.  At the very least, you should make sure the screws keeping your cleats on your cycling shoes are tightened and that the cleats are still properly aligned.  Also, keep in mind that the run from the T1 change rooms to your bike can be as long as about 200 yards, depending on where your bike is racked, and you’ll do this run in your cycling shoes as you have to have all your cycling gear on as you leave the changing room.
  • How many miles do your running shoes have on them?  If it’s more than 200, you should probably purchase a new pair to wear during the Ironman.  The support and cushioning in most running shoes break down substantially after about 300 miles, and mile 15 of the Ironman marathon is a bad time to realize you’re running on boards.

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About four weeks before every Ironman competition is the time when many athletes start worrying about the race.  This kind of nervousness is natural and something every athlete goes through.  After all, you’ve invested a lot in this race and you want everything to go as well as possible.  While you can worry about your own preparedness (although those of you who have stuck with the program are more than ready from a physical standpoint), or about your equipment, or your race plan, the areas that many people seem the most concerned with are beyone your control, and therefore not worth worrying about.

The Weather.  As you know, September 7th in Southern Wisconsin could bring anything from scorching temperatures and high winds (2005) to crisp temperatures and cold rain (2006) to perfect racing conditions (2007).  It really doesn’t matter.  You’re doing an Ironman, and whether it’s hot, or cold, or windy, or wet, everyone faces the same conditions, and everyone is in it together.  Rather than worrying about what Mother Nature may bring on race day, just make sure you have an appropriate plan for each weather contingency.  If it’s hot, realize you’ll probably need to ingest more calories, water, and electrolytes than normal.  If it’s cold, you’re going to need to wear more than just your Endurance House race kit on the bike.  Plan for the worst.  Hope for the best.  But don’t waste any energy worrying about what you can’t control.

The Swim Conditions.  Right around this time of year, triathlon-related discussion forums are full of posts wondering whether the swim will be wetsuit-legal (wetsuits are allowed as long as the water temperature is under 79 degrees).  No matter what happens in the next four weeks, the water temperature in Lake Monona on September 7 will be measured in a way to make certain the swim is wetsuit-legal.  Along those same lines, there is very, very minimal chance that the swim will be cancelled.  Even after a stormy night, it’s unlikely that wave conditions on Lake Monona will be rough enough to warrant cancellation of the swim.  Moreover, algae bloom and weed conditions will have subsided greatly by the end of August, so you should put that concern out of you mind as well.

The bottom line is that you need to have a plan for adverse weather conditions, but there is no point in spending any energy on worrying about what the weather that day — or the swim conditions — will be like.

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