The Ironman finish line is an unforgettable experience. After months of dedicated training, you'll have the opportunity to celebrate your commitment and soak in the moments on the red carpet. But as race day nears, you may be feeling nervous and have questions about the experience. TriDot coaches and Ironman finishers John Mayfield, Elizabeth James, and Jeff Raines all weigh-in as podcast host Andrew Harley asks questions about his first Ironman event. Gain insights into pre-race preparations, seeding yourself for the swim start, gear bags, sherpa duties, and more!
TriDot Podcast .054
What to Expect on Race Day: Answers and Advice for the Aspiring Ironman
Intro: This is the TriDot podcast. TriDot uses your training data and genetic profile, combined with predictive analytics and artificial intelligence to optimize your training, giving you better results in less time with fewer injuries. Our podcast is here to educate, inspire, and entertain. We’ll talk all things triathlon with expert coaches and special guests. Join the conversation and let’s improve together.
Andrew Harley: Straight up at the top of the show I have a quick confession. This episode in its entirety--it's really for me. It's been widely talked about on the show that I am the only one at the table during these conversations that has not completed an Ironman. I have been prepping for a while now to toe the line at Ironman Texas. And the closer I get to my first Ironman race day the more questions I think of in relation to being a rookie, a novice, a newbie at that distance. So today I am peppering our coaches with all of my aspiring Ironman questions, and if you guys, our listeners, just so happen to benefit from this, well, then that's just a bonus. Just kidding, of course. You will benefit. I think. I hope. But, again, this one’s for me, so I don’t care. Okay! Joining us for this conversation is Coach John Mayfield. A successful Ironman athlete himself, John leads TriDot’s athlete services, ambassador, and coaching programs. He has coached hundreds of athletes ranging from first timers to Kona Qualifiers and professional triathletes. John has been using TriDot since 2010 and coaching with TriDot since 2012. John, how's it going today? Ready to talk Ironman?
John Mayfield: I am always ready to talk Ironman.
Andrew: That’s the spirit. Next up is pro triathlete and coach Elizabeth James. Elizabeth came to the sport from a soccer background and quickly rose through the triathlon ranks using TriDot--from a beginner to top age-grouper to a professional triathlete. She is a Kona & Boston Marathon Qualifier who has coached triathletes with TriDot since 2014. Elizabeth, thanks for joining us!
Elizabeth James: I am so excited! Ironman is my favorite race experience, so being able to devote an episode to answering questions that are going to be helpful to others as they prepare for their full distance event is truly an honor.
Andrew: No, no. Not helpful to others. Helpful to me. Me alone. Next Up is Coach Jeff Raines. Jeff has a Master of Science in Exercise Physiology and was a successful D1 Collegiate Runner. He’s qualified for the Boston Marathon multiple times and has raced over 120 triathlons from competitive sprints to full distance Ironman. Jeff has been coaching runners and triathletes since 2009. Jeff Raines, are you ready to answer my questions?
Jeff Raines: Yes, sir. Andrew, I can’t wait for this episode for you, but I also can’t wait to be at your finish line, man, of your first full Ironman at Ironman Texas. I cannot wait to be there and hear those words, “Andrew, you are an Ironman!”
Andrew: Aw, thanks, Jeff. See, guys, this is the energy I’m talking about. Focused on me. So far between the three of you it’s a race, and Jeff Raines is winning this podcast so far.
John: That’s nothing new.
Andrew: I’m Andrew the average triathlete. Voice of the people and captain of the middle of the pack. As always we’re going to roll through our warm-up question, settle in for our Ironman main set topic, and then wind things down with the cool-down. Lots of good stuff. Let’s get to it!
Warm up theme: Time to warm up! Let’s get moving.
Andrew: From Ironman to the Challenge Family and every lesser known but equally awesome race production company in between--there are so many amazing races each year all over the world. For some folks that bucket list race is their hometown Ironman. For others it's a destination race, and for many it's Kona or bust. For our warm-up question today, “What is that “bucket list” race that you dream of racing but just haven't had the opportunity to do quite yet?” Now, I never go first on these, and since this episode is all about me, I’m going to start. My bucket list race is Challenge Roth. I’ve always wanted to do Challenge Roth. I have some German heritage. My grandmother is German. I don’t know...when I look at the course there and the event and they’ve got the climb up the hill that’s just very Tour de France style with the crowds...it just seems like a race that is other worldly. There’s no experience like it. I’ve always wanted to fly to Germany and do that race. If I ever do a second Ironman after Ironman Texas, it’ll be because John Mayfield or someone else has talked me into flying over to Germany to do Challenge Roth. So that’s mine. John, you and I have both talked about how that’s an interest to us. Is that your bucket list race or is there another one?
John: So when you do your second Ironman…
Jeff: I was just about to say that.
John: It may or not be Challenge Roth, but it’ll be out there. I think for me...since this episode is all about you...my bucket list is to do Challenge Roth with you. How about that? And my best friend just recently moved to Germany and he’s an Ironman athlete, so it would be a great opportunity to get to race with my buddy Luca again.
Andrew: Yeah, Luca who was featured on episode 31 of the podcast: From Space Man to Ironman. You can’t just say one of your best friends moved to Germany and leave out the fact that it’s a NASA Astronaut.
John: He’s actually an ESA Astronaut and that’s why he’s back in Germany.
Andrew: Ooh, you’re right. Thank you for the correction there. He’s a baller. So, yep. If you sign up for Challenge Roth looks like John and I might be coming to Germany one of these days for John’s seventh and my second and Luca’s third, fourth, fifth, sixth. Bucket lists will be filled eventually. Elizabeth James, you’ve done Kona so I know you can’t say that or else you would. So beyond that, what’s your bucket list, top-of-the-table, you want to go out there race and do it?
Elizabeth: So I had this answer anyway, but now that we’re buttering you up I feel like it’s even more appropriate.
Andrew: Challenge Roth?
Andrew: The whole staff is going to go?
Elizabeth: There we go. Staff trip!
Andrew: Jeff’s paying for my trip?
Jeff: Whoa, whoa, whoa. I love you, buddy, but…
John: Podcast recording at Challenge Roth.
Elizabeth: There we go. I was actually going to say Greece. Be this all to either your credit or your fault, but you’ve described this race in such amazing detail that is now on my list.
Andrew: I am good at describing things. I have to give myself a pat on the back for that. But no, seriously, an amazing trip. A beautiful people--the Grecians--and a beautiful race course and vacation and experience. Please go do it and bring me back some of the Greek food because I still dream of it to this day. Jeff Raines, top of the list. What’s your bucket list race?
Jeff: Kona and 70.3 Worlds are too easy. If I do ever get to go to Kona it would just be enjoy it. The hard part is getting there. Bucket list...you don’t necessarily care about the finish time, you just enjoy it. Kind of the same idea would be New Zealand for me. Something out of the country, I think. Just such a beautiful, beautiful destination that if I did pick that and commit I would want to finish it. Just enjoy the day out there. Another one Andrew could provide some local knowledge.
John: Another one Andrew could provide some local knowledge.
Andrew: Another one I have done. Again, not an Ironman. I did the half that day. The same day the full was happening. Just a great race. My favorite swim course in Taupo, New Zealand. So, yeah, when you guys go do those, let me know and I can actually provide you with some tips on how to navigate those courses and those race experiences. So I can finally repay the favor of giving you guys a little insight as you guys give me and our athletes insight every single episode. Glad to repay the favor one day when you guys get to go do your bucket list races. Guys, we’re going to throw this question out on social media. We want to hear from you. What is your bucket list race? If it’s Kona--hey, that’s okay. If it’s Challenge Roth you can go fly over and do it with John and I. Or if you’re already one of our German athletes, you’re already there for us waiting to greet us at the airport and go do the race with us. But wherever you are in the world, let us know. What is that race that you are just...if you had the opportunity you would in a heartbeat choose to go and knock it out?
Main set theme: On to the main set. Going in 3…2…1…
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Andrew: You can race all the distances, you can listen to all the podcasts, and you can attend all the TriDot Race Recon Webinars and still there are just some Ironman lessons that won't quite sink in until you are out there on the course experiencing it for yourself. So today I’ve gathered as many of our coaches as I could to impart their own Ironman wisdom into those of us, myself particularly, who are approaching our first Ironman race. Or maybe you’re out there and you’ve done a few, but you’re looking to learn a little more from the TriDot expertise. We’re talking Ironman Race Day today! And that’s always an exciting topic. Guys, let’s start pre-race. What does an athlete like myself need to know about the travel and the check-in for an Ironman? Maybe we’ve navigated this at half Ironman. Maybe we’ve navigated this at a smaller, shorter race. But when we’re talking Ironman, is there any other consideration that we need to be aware of?
John: So with Ironman there’s a lot to do and a lot to experience. My recommendation is to travel and arrive as early as is feasible for you. So something to know is the vast majority of races you have to have checked in by two days out. So if it’s a Saturday race you have to check in by Thursday and Friday for a Sunday race. So we’ve actually heard from athletes in doing these race recon webinars that we’ve talked about this. Those webinars are like 4 weeks out, 5 weeks out from race day and we’ve had athletes contact us and say, “What do you mean I have to check in two days? My flight arrives the evening before the race.” It’s like, “You’ve gotta change your flights.”
Andrew: That’s not quite going to work.
John: That’s actually been quite rewarding. We literally have saved people’s races because otherwise they would’ve shown up the day before the race.
Andrew: Good thing they tuned in to the race recon webinar with John Mayfield.
John: They will not let you check in. We’ve unfortunately seen that with athletes on-site before. You have to abide by those check-ins. So obviously you want to make sure you’re there within the check-in window. But, again, as I mentioned, there’s a lot of stuff to do. And there’s also a lot of really cool, really fun stuff to experience. So it’s one of those things that Ironman is really about that whole journey. For most people it’s like a year. That’s how I think about my Ironman races. It’s a year event that culminates on race day, but it really builds and crescendos in those days leading into it. That’s really where a lot of those fond memories are are in those days where I’m on-site and I’m getting to see everything. I’m checking out the event and everything that goes into that. But also it’s a little bit of an insurance policy. So there’s a lot of things to consider, a lot of things to bring and to pack. The more time you have, the more time you have if anything goes wrong. So if you forgot something. If something maybe happened to your bike in transport. You want to know that four days out as opposed to two days out. If you have to find a store to get something. It’s better to have that two or three days out as opposed to the day before. So the more time you have, the more time you have to address anything, get acclimated to the city, take in the city, and also relax. It’s a very stressful week for everyone, so if you can do all those things over four days as opposed to two days, it’s a little more time to sleep in, catch a nap, relax, and really enjoy the experience.
Andrew: So when we’re thinking about….we get there early enough and we’ve got things to do to get ready for the race. Typically we have a friend or a family member. You have a race sherpa helping you with those pre-race festivities. For all of my 70.3s, my wife, Morgan, has been an absolute champ as far as a pre-race sherpa. With Ironman being such an all-day event, does it take more support than just a solo sherpa? Is an athlete going to be at a disadvantage if they don’t have adequate support going into the race?
Jeff: Absolutely you’ve got to have that support. First of all, I like what John said just a second ago that….I would actually first take a step back and recommend that before you even sign up for an Ironman that you get that commitment from the whole family in knowing that you need that support. Not just on race day, but all year long. I like what John said about it--it’s pretty much a year process. A lot of these races you have to sign up for 9 to 12 months out if you want a spot. Letting everyone know what it all entails and having them know what those expectations are. Continuing in for race week and race weekend, the more sherpa help you can get the better. But I would say at least one if not more would be my answer. But no matter what, expectations need to be set so those sherpas--they can have fun, it’s a vacation for them. They can go visit the wineries and all of that, but the priority needs to be the athlete and they need to understand that. It’s an exhausting day. Your mind goes to some weird places. So having those sherpa promises are exponentially hoped for and expected more by the racer. So having that actual support crew...what they can do to help you is: they can carry your bags; they can help you save energy that race week and race weekend; they can run errands for you; they can go buy a couple extra Gatorades or bananas here and there; they can get your bike gear out of T3. After the race going back into transition a third and fourth time, they can get your gear out. The last thing you want to do is walk another half mile, get your bike and carry a heavy backpack, right?
Andrew: The last thing I want to see after riding 112 miles is my bike.
Jeff: We were joking that you treat your bike so well except on race day. With UCAN and pee all over it. Those sherpas can set extra alarms. They can keep the car running if it’s extra cold out. They can check out of the hotel. Of course the morale on the course that we’ve talked about. Just the fact knowing you have a support crew back home tracking you. “I’ve got those 10-12 people I know are back home tracking me and watching me. I can’t slow down. I’ve got to stick to the plan.”
Andrew: I’ve totally thought that before at the half Ironman. Coming through splits, knowing there’s people watching and cheering. I’ve totally thought about those people, yeah.
Jeff: One of the biggest things is having those sherpas get those priceless photos. Five to ten years later you’re going to remember the course and some of those memories, but actually having the sherpa take pictures along the way is priceless.
Andrew: Yeah, that’s something I definitely try to do for athletes when we’re at the races. I’ve got my camera and I try to grab as many TriDot athletes as I can on camera to get them some free photos.
Jeff: My current Facebook profile picture is a picture you took at Waco 70.3.
Andrew: You’re freaking welcome. So is there anything different about the pre-race prep? Whether it’s a sprint, an Olympic, a half, we’re all used to thinking through organizing your gear and settling into the transition and checking in the bike. Is there anything different when we get to the Ironman level about that process?
Elizabeth: There is, yes. In shorter distance events such as a sprint or an olympic distance race, athletes are very accustomed to bringing their bike with them on race morning. However, on Ironman events--and we see this on the 70.3 as well as the full--an athlete will need to check in their bike on the day prior to racing. One more thing that’s a little more unique to the full distance events is the transition area is bikes only. So when athletes may be accustomed to setting up that transition area in the morning of the race, they will not do that for the full. Instead, during athlete check in they will be given bags to place their bike and run gear into. Then the day before the race they will pack up all their bike gear, all their run gear into those bags and drop them off at the transition area. Everything with gear bags here is something that we go into in great detail on those race recon webinars. So if you’re looking for more information about what to put in the bags, how to pack them, how they’re utilized on race day, when you’ll have access to them, I point people back to the webinar for their upcoming event.
Andrew: Typically heading into a race we all try to get the best night’s sleep that we can in between nerves and anxiousness and thinking about the early morning alarm clock you’re already setting. You’re usually not going to get as much sleep before a race as normal. I think that being a good sleeper--being someone who can fall asleep really easily--is a spiritual gift that I just don’t have that some people do have. So being somebody who is a fairly restless sleeper anyway, I never sleep well the night before a race. Before a sprint or an olympic, it’s not a huge deal. I try to sleep well in the week leading into it, but the night of is a crapshoot anyway. So when I think of Ironman it’s just such an all day long event that you want to make sure you’re getting as much rest going into it as possible. So what are maybe, John, those last-minute tips for trying to fall asleep and getting the most restful night as you can going into race day?
John: That’s one of the most million dollar questions at Ironman that I don’t have the answer to.
Andrew: Would you take drugs, John?
John: I would not recommend drugs.
Andrew: And I’m talking Benadryl, people. Come on.
John: That is a question we get, you know, sleep aids the night before. Anecdotally, I would not want that in my body the next day. Do maybe what you’re used to. I would even be cautious with things like melatonin, that sort of thing, even if you take it on a regular basis. Me, personally, I wouldn’t want any lingering effects of that the next day. Obviously you want to be at peak. So what I always recommend...and I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum. I sleep pretty well, as a rule. I can fall asleep anywhere I can close my eyes, I can fall asleep. But the night before the race, there’s a whole lot of things running through your mind to think about, to worry. So what I always tell people is don’t plan to sleep well the night before the race. If I’m wrong, fantastic. But 99% of the time I’m going to be right in this. You’re not going to sleep well before a race whether it’s your first time or your hundredth time. The vast majority of people are not going to sleep well the night before the race. One: it’s okay. There have been lots of fantastic races after a really bad night’s sleep. So lots of PRs, lots of Kona qualifications, lots of Ironman finishes the day after a really bad night of sleep. So there’s not necessarily a correlation. So you can sleep bad and still have a great race. So don’t get worked up or worried about that. Oftentimes that’s counterproductive. It’s like, “I’ve gotta go to sleep. I’ve gotta go to sleep.” You’re never going to go to sleep.
Andrew: Because you’re concentrating on falling asleep.
John: Exactly. So my recommendation is to get enough sleep when you can. So in the final days and in the week leading up to race day, bank as much sleep as you can. There is a cumulative effect of getting extra sleep. Maybe it’s getting in bed an hour earlier or sleeping in a little bit. Your training load is going to be down a little bit. So maybe it’s not getting up as early to get in those training sessions.
Andrew: If you feel a little nap-ish at 3 o’clock in the afternoon you can take a nap.
John: Absolutely. If you get to the race site three or four days before the race there’s going to be opportunities to sneak in some naps. Those are going to be opportunities that are going to pay off on race day and offset any effects of a bad night’s sleep the night before the race.
Andrew: Naps are totally my love language. So I’m going to take that to heart. Ironman events have largely moved to a rolling start where athletes self-seed typically based on their expected finish time. Are there any considerations, Jeff, that we should make on where to seed ourselves and when to actually officially start our race?
Jeff: Of course. I’d say there are many considerations. Start off by getting there early. Get in line. Some people are kind of stingy. They got there really early and the person that shows up five minutes before the gun goes off, unprepared, they don’t want them cutting in line and all that. So get there early, get in line. Keep stretching, keep moving. Another big tidbit here is don’t waste your warm-up. Stay moving, stay warmed up. Don’t stay on your feet the entire time. If you get there early, don’t just stand there statically. Keep moving. Get off your feet. Stretch as much as you can. I would seed yourself to where you can have access to your sherpa. Maybe, possibly get a last-minute snack or hand off some tubing bands, flip-flops, jacket, something like that if you need that last minute sherpa morale there. Maybe get toward an area where you can have access to them, as well. Know if you’re going to use the morning clothes drop off and if that venue has that for you provided. Where is it and all of that good stuff. So for Ironman they will probably have you self-seed yourself inside of about a 10 minute window range. So you may seed inside, say, let’s say the hour ten to hour twenty. That is your projected swim finish time range. So they’ll have you self corral in that area, but inside of that ten minute window, do you get the front of the line, the middle, the back? So where inside that ten minute window do you plan on being? Most people tend...I will say this...to get in a wave that’s 5 to 10 minutes probably too fast for them. I’ve seen it at most races--even if it’s sprint, olympic all the way up to Ironman--I find the majority of the people in that swim wave probably should’ve been back a little in a slower wave. As a coach, I would say get in your realistic projected finish time. Whatever you think you’re going to swim 2.4 miles in, get in that 10 minute window. So, as a coach, self seed in that. If you want to get a little bit up to the front, that’s fine. I understand that these athletes that move up a group or two when maybe they shouldn’t. I understand that they want to get in the water sooner. They want to get their day going earlier. “The anticipation is killing me!” Maybe it’s going to be hot in the afternoon and they want to spend 10 or 15 minutes less...
Andrew: Maybe they’re hoping to catch a draft off some faster athletes.
Jeff: Yeah, there’s a ton of different things. As an athlete I get that. That is appealing. I would say use your discretion. Be prepared, though, to get bumped no matter where you’re at. No matter what wave you get in, be ready, be prepared to find yourself swimming upon slower swimmers ahead of you and also be prepared to be passed or bumped by faster swimmers coming up behind you. So that 10 minute window isn’t going to negate any of that. It’s going to happen.
Andrew: So talk about that--2.4 miles is a long way to swim. With that increased mileage comes the increased potential for something to go wrong during the swim. Whether it’s foggy goggles, physical contact, getting your goggles knocked off, or even some muscle cramping and twitching. How can we best handle swim course adversity in such a crowded field?
Elizabeth: Well Ironman has done a really great job of organizing the swim starts and the swim course to lessen some of that physical contact between athletes. You still have a large group of people, many of them that are very nervous, all headed in the same direction. So I think knowing that you’re going to encounter some physical contact in the swim segment, planning for that, preparing for it with some practice sessions that include swimming in close proximity to other swimmers can really increase your comfort and confidence in those situations. To the other things that you pointed out--the foggy goggles, muscle cramping or, honestly, anything else that causes you to stop momentarily in the swim to remedy that situation--I think acknowledging that is also very important. I’ve had my goggles knocked off my head, my calves have cramped up, my goggles fog up, I’ve had an anxiety attack in the water. You name it, I’ve been through all of those scenarios.
Andrew: I was trying to think of those scenarios, whether it was a sprint or an olympic, I’ve encountered all of those at some point. On a short race you quickly try to fix it and it doesn’t affect you too, too much. During Ironman, people get out there in the Ironman lake, ocean, whatever it is, it’s such a long swim. It raises the stakes mentally, so to speak.
Elizabeth: For all of those, what I would say is I’ve encountered those situations and I’ve also gotten through all of them. You may need a little time to regroup. You may need to move over to the side of the swim course. Gosh, I remember in Ironman Chattanooga after getting my head dunked under water a couple times, I knew I was going to lose the draft of the people in front of me so I opted to move out to the side of the swim course a little bit and bring my heart rate back down before rejoining the whole group. That was a great strategy for me. Just remembering that nobody is trying to be malicious. We’re all just trying to get out of the water, and if you need a little space to regroup then join back in, that’s fine. A big shout-out to the swim course support. They are there to help you. You can stop. You can rest on a paddle board or kayak. You can hang on and wait out that calf cramp or readjust your goggles. You can take a little more time. If taking a little bit more time to settle yourself down, fix the situation that you encountered is going to allow you to have a good swim and get out of the water, then fantastic--do that. If you find yourself in a situation like that, flag down one of the volunteers. It’s likely they’ve already identified you and they’re going to be there to help you.
Andrew: To a certain extent, the transition at a sprint and an olympic and an Ironman aren’t all that different. Sure, the distance that we’re about to bike changes significantly, but we’re largely still doing the same things to prep for the bike course. One difference I do want to ask about, though, is that chamois cream and suncream. At the half distance Ironman and below I’ve never taken the time to apply either, but with the duration of an Ironman bike leg, it seems like it would be wise to do both of those things. What is the best way to apply these helpful creams in transition?
Jeff: Like everything else, test in training. Every long session that you’re doing, incorporate this into that so you’ll know exactly what you need and whatever works best for you. So the race rehearsals are fantastic opportunities for this. That’s exactly why we do these race rehearsals so that we can test everything. It’s primarily things like pacing and hydration and nutrition, but we also want to test gear to know where is chaffing? Where is sun exposure? To know exactly how to plan for race day so that you’re not finding this out on race day. You have a plan and you know exactly what you need to do to set yourself up for success. If you don’t, you’re obviously setting yourself up failure. If you’re going to get out there and bake in the sun. If you’re going to get out there and have chaffing and uncomfortable in your kit, that is not going to be conducive to enjoying the day. It’s just another thing to be cognizant of. Those long days, especially, aren’t just about going out and logging hours or miles. Those are opportunities to think about race day and put yourself in that race day situation and learn from every one of those situations, every one of those training sessions. It’s an opportunity to test what goes right. Put that in your bank. If something doesn’t work well, then next week, next long sessions, next short session, try something else, and validate it. If it works well...that’s why we do two race rehearsals prior to race day. So that we test, and whatever is imperfect we can fix in the second. Whatever is right we want to validate that to make sure the first one wasn’t a fluke. Every training session is an opportunity to dial this in. Know what works for you. Know what you like and what you don’t like. Come race day you’ll know exactly what you need.
Andrew: My assumption is that applying some chamois cream...I use the chamois brand, the little stick, the roll-on stick. Regardless of what you’re using, what your go-to is, is that best saved for transition? Can any of that be done before the swim start even? Will it remain on there? What’s timing-wise the best way to approach that?
John: Again, it probably is going to be an individual thing. I’ve, fortunately, gotten to where I have a kit and a routine that I’ve largely eradicated most of that, which is fantastic. I have been in those situations where I used to wear a kit where it looked like I had had open heart surgery because the zipper down the jersey would rub and basically cut me from throat to belly. So I would carry that. Even in my special needs bag--and I still do this--the little small travel size vaseline. That’s a great special needs bag thing just in case there’s anything out there.
Andrew: I hadn’t thought of that.
John: You never know what’s going to happen on race day. If in that first loop you feel something coming on--maybe the kit is rubbing, or your toes…
Andrew: Gotta save your nips, John. Save your nips.
Jeff: Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
John: Exactly. That’s one of those cheap things that’s a dollar or two at the store. Throw it in your special needs bag. If you need it it’s the best two dollars you ever spent. Other than that it’s a two dollar insurance policy.
Andrew: Since you brought up the special needs bag, I do have a question there. The bike course and run course, that’s where we have the special needs station available where we can place things ahead of time. Folks will do extra nutrition. They’ll do bike flat kits. They’ll do vaseline, apparently, in case body parts need it. In these bags, is it beneficial to take the time to stop, to reload at special needs? Is it something we should all plan on doing or is it better to carry everything we need and only use special needs as an emergency stop?
Elizabeth: So when we’re talking about special needs, I think a lot of this comes down to athlete preference and then is also based off of an athlete’s race day nutrition plan. Just as John and Raines were mentioning, I would absolutely recommend packing a special needs bag with some of those items that are “in case of emergency,” but that you hope you don’t have to use them, but they’re there in case you do. So things like that Pepto Bismol or Vaseline, an extra tire tube, a CO2 cartridge. Hopefully you need none of those, but if you do then they’re there, they’re available. That’s going to make sure that you have an enjoyable remainder of the bike course or run course, whatever you need to pick that up on. If you don’t need to make a stop in terms of nutrition, then great. Hopefully the bag is something that you wouldn’t need to pick up. Athletes that use the race course nutrition may not need to make a stop there. But what I will frequently see and what I have done in the past, is that athletes will put a restock of their personal race day nutrition in their special needs bag. That’s a great thing to utilize because then you don’t have to carry everything with you on the bike. So even if you could carry all of that with you, do you really want to add that much extra weight to the bike?
Andrew: With that many bottles, whether it’s UCAN…
Elizabeth: You don’t want your jersey pockets stuffed to the brim with all the extra bars you’re going to eat. It might be more beneficial…
Andrew: To stop for a minute.
Elizabeth: Yeah. To not have all that weight you’re going to carry on the bike for 112 miles.
Andrew: So for folks that plan on stopping--again, this is out of ignorance of a race that has a special needs station--do I need to stop, dismount my bike, go find my bag on a rack somewhere? Or there are volunteers there seeing your number and grabbing your bag for you? Or is that different race to race?
John: It’s a little different at every race. Typically the bags are on the ground, sorted by number. Something we talk about in the webinars is doing something to that bag to make it identifiable that’s going to allow you to see it because there will be several thousand bags that all look the same. My recommendation there is some sort of novelty duct tape that you can get at Walmart or CVS that doesn’t interfere with other bags or anything like that, but it just separates yours a little bit.
Andrew: Which, John, you yourself use Houston Texans tape, right? So right before Ironman Texas 2020 got Corona-ed that’s actually something I was shopping for. I was looking for Miami Dolphins duct tape. I found some places that had it, but they were always sold out. So, anyway, I was literally shopping for, “John told me to get specialty duct tape. What duct tape? Aqua and orange is definitely noticeable!”
John: Exactly. The special needs stops are generally very well manned with volunteers that are there to help. You call out your number, they’re asking your number, they’re looking for your number. It’s posted on your bike. They’re very proactive in helping you do that. Really, start to finish in the Ironman race those volunteers are fantastic. If you want help, just ask and you’re going to have double, triple the amount of people. They’re there to help. They want to help. You ask for something and they’re going to fight over the opportunity to help out.
Andrew: That’s the spirit.
John: If you want to get off your bike, I guarantee there will be somebody to hold your bike while you do whatever you need to do. They’ll bring you your bag and you can hand it off to them. Definitely as much support as you want or need, you’ll find there at those. Really at every station, but the special needs stops, especially, are very well manned with volunteers.
Jeff: For the most part you straddle your bike and stand over your bike the whole time and those volunteers will give you your gear. Unless you need a port-a-potty stop or whatever and run over to the side and use the restroom. For the most part I would plan on straddling your bike, or at least being right next to your bike. Bike on your hand at all times and getting that fuel, eating that banana while straddling your bike, then give the bag right back to them, and boom--you can get off and go. So it’s a pretty quick process.
Andrew: Elizabeth, you mentioned maybe having an extra CO2 cartridge or an extra tube in your special needs bag, just in case. While talking about flat repair kits, typically in such a long race, it’s advisable to carry a flat repair and whatever you need to repair a flat on your bike. Should you have a full complementing set in that special needs bag? Should you carry two flat kits on your bike just in case something goes wrong multiple times? What’s y’all’s advice there?
Elizabeth: I, personally, plan for the worst. I have a full flat repair kit on the bike and then if for some reason I had flatted prior to getting to special needs then I have something else to pick up and put back in my flat repair kit.
Andrew: Jeff, something you mentioned a moment ago was the port-a-potty. Potentially going and making a port-a-potty stop at the special needs station. Since you so gracefully brought up port-a-potties, it’s something I want to talk about. In the various 70.3 events that I’ve done, I’ve visited the port-a-potty...in one race I did it on the bike course. In another I didn’t have to until the run course. There was one race I saved it for transition because I didn’t have to go super bad, but I could tell I was about to have to go. I knew if I waited until transition it wouldn’t add on to my bike split. It would add on to my transition split. So my bike split would look that much faster. So I’ve always wondered this, though: if you have the ability to...you can tell in a day that long you’re going to have to use the bathroom once or twice, a couple times, whatever. Is there an optimal time? In TriDot we want to optimize everything in triathlon. Is there an optimizing of the port-a-potty stop plan or strategy where stopping on the run might be faster than stopping during the bike. What’s the best scenarios in terms of planning our port-a-potty stops?
Jeff: Very good question. It’s kind of a sensitive topic. Actually most triathletes want to tell you their stories anyways, but they also want to tend to tell you the “GI stories” as well, we’ll call them. I’ll say this--in half or full Ironman distance events you should have the urge to need to pee, right? So a half Ironman you can kind of get away with holding it. It’s not as prevalent there. I’ve had half Ironmans where I’ve peed a ton, which means I was very hydrated, but I had maybe a bad finish time overall. Then I’ve had races where I hadn’t needed to go pee at all, and had great races. I will say, though, for full Ironman it’s understood that you should have the urge to really need to pee at least two to three times on the bike. So that’s just a given. Many coaches say that if you don’t have to pee multiple times on the bike then you’re not hydrating well enough and it could come back to haunt you on the run. But if you’re doing it all right and everything is right and spot on, you’re getting your fluid ounces, you will and should have that urge. So do you really get off the bike at aid stations and add that time to the race? You may say, “Well, peeing three times on the bike potentially two or three minutes a stop--that’s 10 minutes added to your bike split!” So what I would say is use that discretion, but what I do is if I’m having the race of my life...Maybe I’m fighting for a podium spot or I don’t want to add that time. I’m really caught up in the moment. I don’t want to lose that mojo. I’m in a good rhythm. I don’t want to stop. Then absolutely.
Andrew: Just let it rip on the bike?
Jeff: Yeah. If you’re someone who trains day in and day out and all you want to do is shave five minutes off the bike split, you don’t want to add that five to ten minutes back with all these extra stops. If I see an aid station up ahead, I’ll pee. I’ll let it rip, like you said. It’s hard to do it, actually. This is a bit of a coaching advice here, but if you’re one of those people, practice it.
Andrew: Practice it on your stamina rides. Practice it on your race rehearsals. Your outdoor rides, okay? Practice it on your outdoor rides.
Jeff: I’ve done 30-something half Ironmans and it took me four or five of them...I’ve always said yeah, I don’t have a problem peeing on the bike. I’ll do it. It took me four or five races to do it. Let’s say five in a row I had to pee, but I wouldn’t allow myself to do it. I always told myself I’m soaked with sweat anyways, who cares? I couldn’t do it. It took me a long time…
Andrew: So you say you save it for an aid station so as you’re rolling up to an aid station where you can grab a water bottle, you let it rip, you clean yourself off with a water bottle, toss it, and keep riding, right?
Jeff: What’s cool and convenient is that at Ironman events, those first 10 or 15 people are holding water bottles. Then that second group of maybe 10 or 15 people are holding the electrolyte, Gatorade endurance--orange, typically, is what is on Ironman courses. So the first half is water. I always grab that first or second bottle. Always. I rinse off to stay cool. Rinse off any sweat, anything like that. So what I do is focus a little bit of that spraying, getting wet on my mid-section area to rinse that off. Throw it down. Then I grab that nutrition bottle. So I’ve lost zero time. I was able to use the restroom. Of course veer off to the side to make sure no one is directly behind you, all that good stuff. But then you’re on your way.
Andrew: I feel like I’ve probably overthought this. I’ve thought of so many different scenarios in my head. When I’m not able to fall asleep the night before the race, you’re thinking of these scenarios and what might happen on race day. You’re thinking, “If I have to go to the bathroom really badly should I wait until the special needs station when I’m already stopping anyway? Or should I bike through that because that bathroom is more crowded because there’s more people there? Should I find a random port-a-potty stop in the middle of nowhere? Should I save it for transition when I’m already off the bike anyway?” It sounds like what you’re saying...the swim is its own thing. If you’re on the bike, let it rip as much as possible on the bike, clean yourself off. But past that, on the run course, go when you need to go and just let your body dictate when you take those breaks, right?
Jeff: Yeah, at higher heart rates, your urea system shuts down. It halts a little bit. So on the run course, typically the urge to pee is later in the day. You’re a little bit more dehydrated. That urge to pee isn’t as prevalent on the run as it is on the bike. I would say definitely try to at least go in T2 more so than in T1 because the race has been going on for many hours at this point. The playing field is spread out a little bit more, so lines, toilet paper, and all that, it might be easier in T2 than in T1.
Andrew: Guys, RaceX is a powerful, powerful tool that guides our pacing every stroke and every step of the way. Talk to me about this. I’m out on the course. I’m following my RaceX pacing. At some point, most likely further in the race, for some reason I start feeling the pace slipping away from me. It’s getting more and more difficult to stick to the pace that’s prescribed. How can I best recalibrate mentally to the paces that I should hold for the rest of the way?
Elizabeth: I would say to evaluate why you’re starting to have that pace slip away. Then reevaluate for what’s realistic. In the first part of that, evaluate why this is happening. Is there something your body needs? Do you need calories? Do you need salt? Were you going too hard a little bit on your pacing before and you just need the opportunity to regroup and let the heart rate settle down a little bit? First, evaluate why this might be happening. Then see if there’s something that you could do to remedy that. One thing I always try to do while racing is to stay very present in the moment. To really think about constantly, “What do I need to be doing right now to be doing my best?” If that pace is slipping away, you may be realizing that your best on that day, in those conditions isn’t your PR time. But what is still the best that you can do on that day? Set something for yourself to fight for. Set something that is still going to be a goal for you. Even if it’s not your “A” goal and your stars and rainbows finish time of the day. What is something you can still be working toward? Maybe it’s I want to be under this certain hour mark. Or it might be that I’m going to jog until the next aid station and then I’m going to walk through that. Evaluating what you need to do then setting some smaller, realistic goals for you to keep moving forward.
Andrew: Not being afraid to tweak those goals as the race is going. If that certain hour mark is slipping away from you, that’s okay. Maybe recalibrate to the next goal. I love what you said about thinking through in the moment. What do I need to do right now to be doing my best? For my wife’s co-workers and our family that don’t do endurance sports at all, the most frequently asked question that I get, and I’m sure you guys get is, “What do you think about?” When they find out you can’t listen to music during a race, they’re like what do you do? What do you think about? In their mind they think that’s what you would do to get through the race. You’re constantly evaluating when you’re on the bike. “Do I need to speed up to pass this this person? Do I need to slow down so I’m not drafting? When is the next aid station? How long ago did I eat?” You’re people watching on the run course. The other runners around you. “What shoes are they wearing? Oh, there’s someone with the same Nike Vapor Flies that I have. Cool. High five!” There’s always something going on around you.
Jeff: You’re tougher the first half of the race. “My pacing. My bike.” All that stuff. Then the second half of the race you’re like, “Oh, that butterfly is so beautiful!” You’re so emotional. Thinking about your kids or all the things you’ve overcome to be there. Those emotions, man. It builds throughout the day, for sure.
Andrew: Kind of between the 70.3s that I’ve raced and some of those longer TriDot sessions, like the stamina work and the race rehearsals, at this point I have a pretty good idea of what my nutrition plan is heading into race day. But as I and the other rookie Ironman athletes like me get deeper and deeper into the race, is there a point where we should start grabbing whatever is at an aid station that looks good to help ourselves to the finish? Or is it better to stick to what you know as long as humanly possible?
John: I will say...we talk about these things at race rehearsals where we dial in everything. We have a fantastic, well-tested, well-vetted plan. As the great Mike Tyson quote says, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
Andrew: That’s a great quote for Ironman, too.
John: It’s so pertinent. At some point it is very, very likely that Ironman is going to punch you in the face and your best laid plans are just going to fall to the mat.
Jeff: I’ve gotten bloody noses in the swim on Ironman before.
Elizabeth: I was going to say, “Very appropriate with the body contact there.”
John: Like you said, what we want to do is have that plan and we want it to work for as much as the race as possible. But it’s such a long race. There are so many hours, so many miles to cover and there’s a lot of things that can happen within that time. So there’s a good chance that at some point you’re going to need something that is going to require deviation from that original plan. What I’ll say is nothing new on race day until what’s known no longer works. At some point it’s almost inevitable that you’re going to have to do some improvisation. You’re going to have to overcome something. Like Elizabeth said earlier you’re going to need salt or calories or hydration and you’re going to realize you got behind for whatever reason. It’s all about listening to your body, finding out what you need, and do what you have to do to get to the finish line as soon as possible.
Andrew: Thanks, John. That’s super helpful. I love that. Stick with what you know until what you know isn’t working. We’ve said it before, and, John, you said it just there. It’s a long day. Ironman is a long day that’s going to punch you in the face--maybe a couple times. Mentally there are going to be moments that are enjoyable and exhilarating and everything you’ve trained for. But it’s equally possible, and probably even probable, there’s going to be moments where you find yourself in a bad place. You’re going to hit some rough patches. You’re going to have some dark moments. Talk to me about navigating through those moments and rallying to press on toward the finish.
Elizabeth: I know that I’ve mentioned this on the podcast before, but my race day mantra is, “I am stronger.” So with whatever situation it is that I am currently facing during the race, I remind myself that I can get through this. I am stronger than this freezing cold and choppy water. I’m stronger than this miserable headwind that I’m facing on the bike. Or I’m stronger than the blisters on my feet and this urge to start walking and stop. I feel like coming up with your personal phrase or your personal mantra can be very helpful and really bring you some motivation and guidance. Some reminders about why you’re out there. What you’re doing. And give you that opportunity to rally yourself and push forward.
Jeff: Yeah, a lot of people put family pictures on the top tube of their bikes so that every time they reach down and grab their nutrition they think of their family. If their mind is going to a bad place, that brings them back. People will put in T2 little bracelets that their daughter made them and they’ll do the run with that. They’ll carry some sort of memorabilia because maybe they’re racing for a loved one that passed away. Something like that.
Elizabeth: A letter of encouragement in their special needs bag.
Jeff: Exactly. Something to bring your mind back to the bigger picture when you’re having those rough moments.
Andrew: John, I think what I’m going to do is remind myself during those dark patches that I can’t go to Roth and do Challenge Roth with you as my second Ironman if I haven’t finished my first Ironman.
John: And Mike Tyson is chasing you.
Andrew: So, guys, we finish. We hear Mike Riley or some equally awesome race emcee call out our name. We get the medal. We pose in front of the Ironman banner for a pic. In our wiped out, delirious state of mind, what are the post-race things we need to make sure we take a second and do? I would love to have each of you contribute one thing that our athletes need to keep in mind to do upon completing the race. John, I’ll start with you.
John: I would say back it up about 5 minutes. Really ensure that you take in this experience. From the very beginning I talked about how this whole thing is an experience. It’s a year leading you to this moment. It’s crescendos in the months and the weeks and the days leading into the race. But, really, it reaches its peak there...not even necessarily at the finish line. But also in those last...maybe half mile. Those last couple minutes where it’s magical. I’m getting goosebumps even thinking about it and talking about it. This is what brings you back to do it all over again. You’ll spend the money, the time, the pain, the blood, sweat, and tears, just so you can experience this brief moment again. I think the biggest mistake I see in Ironman racing is when athletes sprint that last 100 yards down the finish line. It’s such an incredible opportunity. I would say do the opposite. You may be running your best pace all day long. I would say unless there’s like 59 showing up on that clock, slow down. When you hit that red carpet, the race is over. That’s celebration time. Really soak it in. Find your family. Listen for your name to be called. It’s so hard. When you hear your name and your hometown and you’re declared an Ironman, that’s just one of those top ten life experiences. I have so many tips for someone racing Ironman. Perhaps the number one tip is soak in that finish line experience and don’t rush it. Unless there’s a 59 on that clock or something like that. If you’re seconds away from your PR or something like that, get across the finish line. But if you have the opportunity, milk it for all it’s worth.
Andrew: I’ll even say this. I haven’t raced an Ironman yet. I’ve been at a few Ironman when we as a staff are cheering on TriDot athletes. I remember from Ironman Arizona this past year, there were several athletes...Jeff Raines and I were...we weren’t at the finish line. We were right before the last turn into the finish chute cheering on athletes. A couple TriDot athletes came by and before they hit the finish line chute they would take off a sweaty visor. They would take off the jacket they were wearing because they had gotten chilly. It was almost like they saw a familiar face and they were shoving our way the things they didn’t want to be wearing in their finish line pictures. Which is smart, right? Have that in mind. You’ve worked months to be ready for this race. You’ve spent hours on the course. That’s going to be your Facebook profile picture for a hot minute. Take a second and do what you want to do.
John: Take the sponges out. Straighten the glasses. Zip up the jersey. Those are all important things to do.
Jeff: Get out that last snot rocket.
Andrew: Jeff Raines, what would you say is that post-race finish tip?
Jeff: I would say the best answer is what John just gave.
Andrew: John gave it. So what’s yours?
Jeff: I’ll give a quick in-the-moment, one a day or two after, and one a month after. I would say right in the moment, thank a volunteer. A lot of Ironman events will give you a wrist band that you wear all day. If you choose to, you can give that wristband to a volunteer and the volunteer that has the most is voted the best volunteer of the day. So thank a volunteer. Thank your sherpa.
Andrew: Do they want your sweaty wristband?
Jeff: It’s a thing. It’s a thing for volunteers.
John: Some of them do.
Andrew: I haven’t heard that before. It’s fascinating.
Jeff: Thank a volunteer if you think of it. A few days after the race...it’s funny because every half and full--particularly fulls that I’ve done--as I’m crossing the finish line I’m like, “This is great. It’s over. I will never do one of these again. I’m hurting.” It’s funny, though, because a few days later you’re already surfing the internet to figure out which one you’re going to sign up for next. It’s weird how that works. Then the weeks and months after the race, maybe you want that tattoo. It’s a little cliche, but post-race, maybe that’s something that you’re intrigued by.
Andrew: Something to consider.
Jeff: So start thinking about what design you want to put on that M dot.
Andrew: Elizabeth James, close our main set down with this. What is your post-race tip that you want to leave athletes with?
Elizabeth: Gosh. I have to step back because John went and I was like, “No, that’s my answer!” Then Raines went and I was like, “Darnit! That was the other thing I was going to say!”
Andrew: You were going to get a tattoo, weren’t you?
Elizabeth: Yeah. What they said--slowing down; thanking the volunteers...that’s fantastic. That’s where my mind went too. As Raines was talking about things a little more further removed from the finish line, one of the things that I have done for a number of my Ironman races that has given me a whole lot of joy is to sit down and write some thank you notes, post-race. To really identify a lot of those people that were instrumental in getting me to the start and the finish line of that day. It’s neat for them to receive that kind of recognition and acknowledgement of how much that they helped in that. But I’ve found that it was a wonderful thing that gave me a lot of joy, too, to reflect on that whole year process and think of all of the people that invested their time and energy and support into this event for me.
Cool down theme: Great set, everyone! Let’s cool down.
Andrew: The main set today was for the athletes. The cool-down today is for the sherpas. We’ve talked a lot about going into your first Ironman as an athlete, but sherpas have feelings, too. Sherpas deserve a shout-out too. Whether the athletes relay these tips to a non-athlete sherpa friend, or if these athletes find themselves playing sherpa for someone else. Can you all go around and give one quick, next-level Ironman sherpa tip? What I’m looking for is maybe a great way for a sherpa to help out an athlete that maybe wouldn’t be obvious on the surface. That they might not automatically think to do by themselves. Elizabeth, I had you go last last time and everybody poached your answer. So let’s start with you.
Elizabeth: I would say accept the stinky, sweaty hug at the finish line. I’ve been on both ends of being the athlete and the sherpa. From the sherpa’s perspective, yeah, it’s nasty. It’s disgusting. As an athlete, we know we smell terrible. We know what we just put our bodies through for the last half a day or so. But we so want you to be part of that moment and that celebration. For the sherpas out there--yeah, a little gross--but please accept our stinky, sweaty hugs and help us celebrate.
Andrew: For my wife and me at the half Ironman level, our tradition has become...because when I was doing my first half Ironman she was on course and she was like, “I want to Instagram after the race.” So she had in her mind that she wanted to do a picture where I jumped on her back and she was holding me up. She thought it would be a funny Instagram. “Andrew just did a half Ironman. I have to carry him home.” Now it’s become a tradition where after every single Ironman I do we take a picture like that.
Elizabeth: That’s fun.
Jeff: That’s cute, Andrew.
Andrew: Thanks. Thanks, Jeff. Jeff, you’re still winning today’s podcast, by the way.
Jeff: Teacher’s pet!
John: We’ll be there to help you up on her back.
Andrew: I appreciate that. Jeff Raines, what is your sherpa tip?
Jeff: To piggyback on Elizabeth’s, don’t miss the finish line. It’s the closure of a long journey. Your long journey. Don’t miss it, whatever you do. I’ll say after every full I’ve done, I’ve told myself, “I won’t even look at a goo. I don’t want to think about them. I don’t want to look at them for at least six months.” By the end of an Ironman I am done with all the supplements. Not just goo. I mean, I like goos and I use them on the race course...
Andrew: If it’s from a race course, you don’t want it.
Jeff: I would say as a sherpa duty to have something besides a supplement at the finish line. A little bit of sugar. Some fun nourishment. Have a fresh coke. Or a sweet tea. A cheeseburger. Have something ready. Don’t hand me a Cliff bar or something at the end of an Ironman because I’ve been eating those suckers all day. Have a fun food or something there after that sweaty finish line hug.
Andrew: That’s great. John Mayfield.
John: We mentioned after 112 miles, 4-5-6 hours on your bike, the last thing you want to do is spend more time with your bike on that day. But you have to. After the race is complete, you’re an Ironman. You’ve raced 140.6 miles. That does not get you out of going and collecting your bike and your gear bag after the race. But at check-in you will be provided with two bike check-out tickets that you can give to your support crew and they can go and get your bike and bags out of transition for you. So that, I think, is one of the best things that they can do for you on race day. Alternatively, perhaps the best case scenario, is taking advantage of TriBike Transport’s valet service where neither you nor your support crew has to do that.
Andrew: Because TriBike Transport, the sponsor of today’s podcast, will do that for you.
John: They’ll do that for you. It’s a small fee, but I can guarantee you it’s money well spent. You will not regret spending that money. You want to go. You want to celebrate. You want to get off your feet.
Andrew: Particularly if you’re already using TriBike Transport to ship your bike anyway. At the end of the day for what you’re costing to participate in that event, it’s a very nominal charge to have them take care of that on the back end.
John: If you are using them for transport, they get it and you pick it up however many days later back home at your local bike shop. If you’re not using TriBike Transport, you can still take advantage of that. They will take that into their area and hold it overnight for you. So when you come down the following morning to get your finisher gear you can pick up your bike then. It’s going to be a better experience the next day than mess with it after the race.
Andrew: Well that’s it for today, folks. I want to thank coaches John Mayfield, Elizabeth James, and Jeff Raines for talking us through our first Ironman event or next Ironman event. But particularly my Ironman event. Shout out to TriBike Transport for partnering with us on today’s podcast. And shout out to TriBike Transport for taking care of our bikes on the back end of our races. Enjoying the podcast? Have any questions or topics you want to hear us talk about? Head to tridot.com/podcast and click on “Submit Feedback” to let us know what you are thinking. We’ll do it again soon. Until then, happy training.
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