Monday, June 27, 2016

Ironman Tips, Round 4: Pre-Race Procedures

We’re a little under six weeks out from IM Boulder and even less for some other prominent races such as Lake Placid and Vineman (to say nothing of the European schedule). While that’s still a ways, I thought now might not be a bad time to discuss the various logistical issues associated with an Ironman branded race. These tips are, of course, in your athlete guide but I appreciated being briefed by actual participants last year and this is my attempt to do the same for you, the reader and first time IM participant. I still strongly urge you to read the athlete guide multiple times.


The cynical part of me says that Ironman requires a check-in two days before the race (and does not allow it the day before) to drive up hotel bookings and earn some goodwill with local businesses. Who knows if that’s true but the early check in is what it is. As I mentioned in this post I recommend planning a weekend around the race. If at all possible, I suggest taking time off work beginning the Friday before the race and continuing through at least the Monday after.

There are multiple forms to sign and quite a bit to do. It’s not a lot more but a bit more than a standard race check-in. One thing that may be unique for you is a wrist-band which is your all-access pass for the weekend. Wear it and love it because it will be with you until you finish. However, you’re not done just yet.

All of your gear has to be prepositioned the day before the race and that includes your bike. The next section will discuss gear bags more extensively but for now let’s talk about your wheels. In what I assume is a pretty standard practice, you’ll have to queue up and have your bike photographed as you enter the transition area. This is no doubt to validate any insurance claims though I expect the number of fraudulent bike-theft claims against WTC to be something around zero. Nevertheless, once this step is complete, you’ll be able to rack-in at your assigned space.

If you’re in a race where heat is not going to be much of a factor, there’s probably not much else for you to do. It may be advisable to cover your saddle with a grocery store sack in case of unexpected moisture but that’s about it. However, most of us race in the summer and during the course of the next several hours, it’s going to get pretty hot out there. Thus, you’ll need to mostly deflate your tires lest they get to hot and burst. It sounds outlandish but it actually does happen. On race morning, you can bring or seek a pump to bring them back up to pressure. That’s a far better scenario than scrambling to replace tubes. As for the pump question, the way it was put to me: you can be the person who brings a pump and shares it with others or be the person who borrows the pump. Think about which one you want to be. It’s almost a certainty that the bike support crew working the race will have multiple but your line to use them may be long.

I also suggest brining some sort of light source. A headband light is ideal since it leaves your hands free. I discovered last year that I had to put my best guess on tire pressure since it was too dark to see the gauge. Whatever you bring, remember that it’s going in a bag and will be there the rest of the day. In other words, your phone might not be the best light source.


Unlike your local race where you probably are keeping everything in a transition bag, orange bucket, or otherwise, this race has a very regimented process for what goes where. The big transition bag is great to get everything out of the house and with you, but it won’t work for your actual transitions

At check-in you’ll be given a total of five medium sized plastic bags. Your race details (name and bib number) need to be written on the provided space on each bag. I suggest bringing a Sharpie so that you are prepared. I am assuming the color coding used at Boulder is the same as other races, but again, consult your athlete guide.

Morning Clothes

The morning clothes bag (usually white) is everything you wear to the race start but does not go with you. That means that if you bring a bike pump, you’d better have someone there who can take it because it will not fit in the bag and a portable pump probably won’t get the job done. Typically this will be the items you wore over your race kit (I like a t-shirt and loose fitting workout shorts) and anything else that you feel you need until the gun goes off. It’s all going to go in a big pile so and then be loaded onto a truck. I don’t recommend putting any valuables (like a cell phone or wallet) in it.

Bike Gear

This bag (usually blue) is set up just outside the change tent. It will be waiting for you when you exit the swim. It will also probably be accessible on race morning. In mine I put my shoes, Chamois Budd’r, helmet, beanie, and sunglasses. Since the wetsuit was only optional if you wanted to race at the back of the line and not be considered for any qualifications, I also put my racing top there. Had it been a wetsuit-legal swim, I would have worn it under my suit.

What you put on or not is largely a personal choice, but I recommend getting in and out of the change tent as quickly as possible. It’s dark, smelly crowded and full of members of your gender in various states of undress. Some may find this pleasant, I suspect not many.

Whatever you have removed (e.g.: wetsuit) goes back in the bag that you’ll hand to a volunteer when you leave the tent.

Bike Special Needs

I discussed special needs in my last post so I suggest referring to it. This bag will likely be orange. It gets dropped off at or prior to the start. In the case of Boulder, there’s a staging area on 13thStreet just north of Arapahoe next to Central Park. These will be loaded onto a truck and taken to the special needs stop on the bike course which somewhere after the halfway point depending on the race.

Run Gear

After getting off your bike and heading into T2, your Run Gear bag (red) will be waiting for you. In Boulder, T1 and T2 are in complete separate locations so you may not have time to check on it before you head out for the swim start. To save yourself time and worry, I recommend having that bag ready to go on the day before. In any case, it’s supposed to be staged on the day before race day.

I am speaking now from my understanding, not personal experience. I didn’t make it this far in last year’s race, but the procedure is simple. You’ll grab your run bag on your way into the T2 change tent. Again, get in and out as quickly as possible. I suspect there’s less undressing here but you never know.

My bag had, of course, my shoes, socks and visor. I also put my Scoshe heart rate monitor in there since I was only using it for the run (it’s battery life is limited). The items from your bike, (helmet, bike shoes, possible a pair of socks) will go into the run bag and again, you’ll leave it with a volunteer on your way out.

Run Special Needs

Once again, refer to my special needs post for what could possible go in this bag. As is the case with both of these bags, you won’t get it back so choose wisely. This bag is likely going to be black.

Some Tips

Your bike and run gear bags are going to spend the night in the transition area(s). Each bag can be sealed up tight. While the temptation might be to keep it loose for easy access, I suggest it’s worth it to make sure it’s impervious to moisture. This is a long (really, really, long) race and if you lose two minutes untying a bag, it’s really not that big of a deal. Pros and elite age groupers might disagree, but I doubt they’re reading this blog for advice!

Pack your bag slowly and methodically (I use a checklist). Approaching this as if you have no idea what to pack and having to consult a list will help keep you from rushing. I also think it’s a good idea to think about the moment you open the bag. What do you expect to see? If for example, you forget your helmet, your day is likely over. If you forget running shoes, that marathon is going to be a lot more difficult.

While the tendency to turn a transition into a base camp or picnic is largely eliminated by this system, you’ll still want to follow the K.I.S.S. principle. It’s okay for transitions to take a little longer in races like these, but there’s also no sense in wasting time sorting through a bunch of junk you don’t need.

I’m anticipating one final post in this series: race procedures. That will not tell you how to run the individual events, but it will talk about some of the logistical issues that are unique to this type of racing.

For now, thanks for reading and happy training!

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