Ironman and 70.3 Race Plan – Steady for Success
Swim – The swim is a short part of your day. Pacing strategy for both distances is essentially start steady and settle early into your pace, ensuring that you don’t over reach at any point and so get back to the shore ready to start the race proper. Now this might sound like it is demeaning the swim. It isn’t you have to be prepared through pacing and conditioning to stand up out of the water and feel like the race is still in front of you – you cannot afford to finish the swim tired. Unless you are a very competent swimmer steer well clear of the melee at the start. Whilst swimming on feet saves energy for the well initiated, swimming in and around a lot of bodies is for the majority of athletes energy sapping and will simply mean you starting the day in energy deficit. Instead do your best to start at either side of the line if you can – if the first turn is only a short distance away start on whichever side is furthest from it to avoid the crowds. If you do get bumped about a bit Focus on remaining relaxed, any other strategy simply wastes energy.
Bike – Split the bike into three parts and if the course is ridden over laps use them to build your strategy. You have to start each third feeling like you can go a little quicker then the previous third. This means you have to control the pace heavily in the first third of the bike. Whether you are racing 70.3 or full Ironman the first third of the bike is probably the most critical part of your entire race. This is where your race is set up, the point at which it can go hugely right or horribly wrong! You will have people flying past you throughout this portion and the temptation to go with them because you are feeling good will be huge, resist and hold back! Use this section to relax and start eating and drinking. At this point you will encounter two types of athletes. Those who are simply faster then you and you won’t see again or those who are going out far too fast and who you will pass later. In reality whilst you should feel like you are getting faster on each third of the bike all you are doing is not slowing down and riding even splits. You need to spend a lot of time in training perfecting this strategy – starting rides very comfortably, controlling your effort, holding back and so maintaining pace through the duration. If the course is hilly you must have gearing that allows you to pedal up the hills comfortably for the most part – unless very steep – if the hills are very steep you must control your effort as much as you possibly can – long course racing is an aerobic activity, going anaerobic or pushing hard is costly and creates fatigue quickly avoid it.
Run – The run is much the same as the other two disciplines; start steady for success. If you look at results for any long course race you will see the vast majority of the field start too fast and slow down significantly. As you will start under a reasonable level of pre fatigue aim to divide it into 4 rather 3 sections, mentally it is easier to cope and focus on shorter 5 or 10k sections rather then focus on the distance as a whole. Follow the same principle as the bike feeling like you can get slightly quicker on each section and again this will mean you run even splits. Again the first section is the most critical – it is a good plan to have a very clear idea of a pace that is very sustainable for you to maintain. It is so easy to run the first 5k of any long course race too fast with the crowds around transition and the fact that after the bike – especially if well paced – you are still relatively speaking quite fresh. So you must pay extremely close attention to pace in this section and hold back. If using a GPS refer to it constantly for this portion unless the course is very up and down e.g. UK 70.3, here you will have to rely on feel. Learn what this feels like in training so it becomes habitual and so on race day you can control yourself. Additionally as you get increasingly tired focus on your form; if you have ever watched a long course race you will see runners heads go down further and further the more tired they get, keep your chin up – metaphorically and literally!
Remember that your race plan is born out of you training and aim to train at a sustainable pace on terrain similar to your race course. Do this and you will be surprised at how much you need to hold back to record even splits. The key is not to forget on the day!