9 weeks out from an Ironman

message to coached athletes for IM Florida

We are just about nine weeks away from IM Florida. All of you have completed several key workouts to this point. Some highlights among the group include: First century ride; Hotter than Hell Century ride (by all accounts, this is one of the toughest around); 2 Olympic Distance PRs; and a bare minimum of complaining!

Iím proud of the progress you all have made to this point and have a lot of confidence in your abilities.

With nine weeks to go, weíre entering a crucial phase of training. Depending on what terminology you like to use, this is essentially base 2 or specific prep 1 (where the previous 4 weeks would be base 1). Your key workouts are your weekly long run, weekly long ride, or broken brick workout. Your target HR training zone is predominantly Frielís Zone 2, or Byrnís aerobic endurance threshold (AeT) (top Z1 bottom Z2). This puts you roughly at 70-75% of your max HR, though weíre all different. I might have you doing some limited ME (muscular endurance) work (big gear riding or Z4, sub-threshold interval training) but your main focus is aerobic system endurance training. Long rides. Long runs. Long bricks. Fun stuff!

Iíd like to emphasize that at this time you should have a pretty good nutrition strategy prepared for IM Florida. Nutrition is the fourth leg of endurance events and can make or break your day. At 2001 Ironman California, I made the rookie mistake of putting my bike special needs bag in my RUN special needs bag slot. Donít do that! This led to a big bonk at mile 15 of the run and blew apart my 7:20 mile goal pace. I shoved bananas and gels down for the next 3 miles and was able to pull it together, but probably lost 15 minutes strictly from the bonk. You do not want to bonk!

You should be using your nutrition strategy during your long training rides and runs. If you do not have one, please email me so we can get something established. There are several fueling alternatives available, and this aspect of racing comes down to a very personal preference. But, however you go about fueling, here are some general guidelines:

Take in a minimum of 300-400 calories per hour on the bike, more if you can handle it.

Drink water / fuel / sports drink a minimum of every 10-15 minutes, depending on how much you take in at a time. My personal choice has been to alternate water with Gatorade or my fuel of choice (Sustained Energy with Gatorade mixed into it). It is better to have to pee on the bike then dehydrate.

Definitely consider using a caffeine supplement in the last third of the bike and on the run. Accumulated fatigue and a loss of focus is common among IM athletes and a bit of caffeine can help you keep your edge. I like Mocha flavored Hammergel (www.hammergel.com).

Those of you who sweat profusely or know that you lose a lot of sodium need to have an electrolyte replacement plan. Gatorade works for many people but some need more electrolytes. Here is one product that has gotten a lot of good reviews: E-caps. Note Iím not sponsored by this company, they just happen to have good product.

Whatever you choose, you must practice these nutrition plans during your long training days in the next few weeks! Race day or the week before is not the time to make fueling decisions. Make them now. Iíll repeat that: make your fueling decisions now and use them in training.

Some issues you may be facing over the next few weeks:

Fatigue.
IM training is not easy and you will get tired. All of you have scheduled days off and you need to take them. Sleep as much as you can and take on as little outside responsibility as you can right now. Eat well. Limit your consumption of alcohol and avoid standing for extended periods of time. Life stress and diet aggravate fatigue, if you havenít figured this out.

Time:
If there is a time to be selfish, this is it. Iím not asking you to neglect your families, but if you can, now is the time to withdraw some of the understanding, patience, and support they offer you. Get a little extra sleep and skip those trips to the amusement park after a four-hour Saturday brick (you know who you are!).

Work:
Donít pick up extra shifts, more clients, etc right now. Iím speaking from experience. We all have to make a living, but this is the time to keep it to a minimum. If you have pressing issues that canít be avoided, then letís work out some creative ways to get in sufficient training while dealing with the challenges of the real world.

Diet:
Junk food is the worst thing you can do to your body. It will get you through the day but please, please avoid it if possible. Eat healthy, and by this I mean lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean meat. Chicken and fish are great. Pasta is great but creamy dishes (fettucine alfredo for instance) are probably worse than eating a double whopper with mayo. Omelettes and homefries from your local greasy spoon are very high in fat and sodium (they cook with butter). If you eat out a lot, eat intelligently.

Motivation:
It may ebb over the next few weeks as you accumulate more and more miles. You need to keep your goal in sight and in mind. Youíre training for an Ironman, arguably the toughest one-day athletic event on the planet. This takes countless hours of preparation. You are the one who signed up for it. You are the one who must prepare for it. And you are the one who will be smiling as you cross the finish line. No one else can do it for you.

IM Race day plan:
By now you should at least have an outline of a plan. It should NOT be:
Show up at race.
Race.
Party!

Not gonna work! :)

Weíre talking about a comprehensive strategy for tackling the race. It is a very sound idea to break the race into segments and concentrate on a segment at a time. Here is one example:

Swim:
Start: cruise the first 5 minutes. Find rhythm. Stay relaxed.
First half: find feet to follow. Stay relaxed. Keep HR in low Z2.
Last half: pick up pace slightly if feeling good. HR not above mid Z2. Finish feeling comfortable.

Bike:
First 10 miles: easy, loosen up.
10-30: low Z2, steady pace
30-60: low to mid Z2, stay steady
60-90: mid Z2, focused
90-112: strong mid-high Z2 finish, reel in those who went out too hard.

Run:
5k: low Z2, loosen up, relax
5-10k: steady, find goal pace, eat and drink as planned
10-20k: steady, on goal
20-30k: stay focused.
30-40k: huge part of race. Keep pace going. Stay sharp. Mental strength, ignore the discomfort. It all comes down to this!
40-42k: You are an animal! GRRRR!

Most people like to break each leg into either halfs, thirds, or quarters. Whatever you choose, I want you to write it up and post it on your office wall or garage door. Your goal needs a plan and proper planning leads to success. Plan to succeed!

General summary:
Remember, every athletic endeavor starts with a vision and a dream. We all come to the sport of triathlon, and eventually to Ironman, because something about the challenge calls to us. The road is difficult and will require you to reach new heights and find depths of strength you did not know you had. Keep digging, because thereís always more.

Your goal at IMF may be to PR the course, or to simply finish. The work you have put in to this point and will put in from this point forward is the embodiment of that goal. Race day will see your vision in action. When you arrive at the finish line you will see it is no longer a dream; itís reality.

Youíll be an Ironman.

Marty Gaal - 06 September 2003