This is it. This is the last piece of advice I have to proffer when it comes to an Ironman-type race. As I’ve said before, I didn’t make it to the run portion of last year’s event in Boulder. Nevertheless, I was well briefed and have had several discussions with those that did. I would always encourage prospective racers to read the Athlete Guide and to seek more than once source of advice. In other words, my voice is just one in a chorus.
TRANSITION SET-UP BEFORE RACE DAY
I covered this in my last post but it bears repeating. If you are checking your bike in for an overnight stay and the weather is going to be hot, leave your tires mostly if not completely deflated. A fully inflated tire in the hot afternoon sun will likely burst. Better to fill it up the next morning and be assured of a properly inflated tire.
No weather forecast is ever 100% accurate so I always plan for the worst. I put a plastic grocery bag over my seat and seal up all of my bags so that the chance of water leaking in is minimal at best. If serious downpours are a factor, it may even make sense to put items like shoes in their own bag before putting them in the race-assigned transition bag.
Ironman does a pretty good job of not only labeling where bags are by number but of also getting volunteers out to actually hand them to you. However, you should not count on that so try and find a landmark near your T1 and T2 bags and commit that location to memory. There’s a chance that things could be moved between then time you drop them off and when you pick them up but that’s out of your control so don’t stress about it.
If you’ve done a triathlon before, you already know how important it is to take extra care in packing your bags. I’ll say it again, though. Be slow and methodical as you pack the items you need. A checklist is an excellent idea.
TRANSITION SET-UP RACE MORNING
When you arrive in your transition area, it will likely be dark. Most races will have some lighting on site but my own experience last year was the area was mostly dark. As a result, when I borrowed a pump, I couldn’t see the needle on the pressure gauge. I think I did an okay job, but a light source is advisable.
A couple of years ago, I bought a cheap but useful LED light that goes on a headband. You not only benefit from having a bright light, but also for having your hands free.
If you followed my suggestion about deflating your tires, one of your first orders of business is getting them re-inflated. Assuming you did not bring a pump, find someone who did and ask to borrow it. You could be told “no” in which case, find someone else. I actually borrowed two last year because the first one was not working for me. If all else fails, you can very likely borrow one from the bike support crew who ought to be in the transition area. That may involve waiting in line however so be ready for that.
This is also a good time to locate your T1 bag and determine if its location has moved. Assuming T2 is not in the same place (as is the case in Boulder) you may not have that option for both, but just knowing where your stuff is and how to get to it from the water will save you time and stress. With luck volunteers will be getting your number as you exit and waiting to hand it to you.
Many Ironman races and probably others are moving to a rolling start format. There are still some wave and mass starts, but this process is quickly catching on as the fastest and safest way to put athletes in the water.
If you’ve ever done a local running race, you may see a series of corrals where you self-seed according to your expected finish time. When I ran the Colorado Marathon in 2013 there were signs indicating expected finish times and you lined up behind the one that most closely corresponded to what you thought you would do.
The process is the same here. If you think you can finish the swim portion in about ninety minutes, there will be a sign for that. Likewise there will be several at about five minute intervals. It’s important both to yourself and your fellow athletes to be honest about where you are going to be. Slower swimmers in fasters sections get in the way. Vice versa, you’ll be running into the slower pack. It’s probably a lost cause to expect much compliance with this but I have to make the plea. Line yourself up where your training indicates you’ll finish and not by what you hope or want to accomplish. It’s a chip-timed race so ultimately, it won’t matter.
T1 AND THE CHANGE TENT
If you are like me, you’re not a fan of being naked in close quarters with members of the same gender. However, there is a better reason to minimize your time in the tent: time. If the race is wetsuit legal, you’ve already got an advantage because your kit can just go under your suit. You’re pretty much just left with getting out of the suit (and their will probably be volunteers to help with that) and getting into your riding gear which means shoes and helmet.
If you were not wearing your suit, you’re (probably) going to have the added struggle of pulling on your top over your wet body. Obviously there are some exceptions like bibs but my guess is most people don’t wear them.
Last year, my routine was get my top on, get some chamois cream rubbed around my crotch, put on my beanie, helmet and sunglasses and then drop whatever I wasn’t taking (cap and goggles in my case) and heading out the door. It still took a few minutes so however fast you think you are, be prepared for it to take longer.
Once you’re out and you’ve handed off your bag, there will be volunteers on hand to apply sunscreen. It’s worth the time to get that applied. The ones I met slathered all of my exposed skin and while I still ended the day a bit red, it would have been much, much worse had they not been there. It was also faster than trying to apply it to myself.
BIKE AID STATIONS AND SPECIAL NEEDS
I got a little frustrated with the aid stations so now is a time when I advise you to follow my advice and not do as I did. As is often the case, not everyone who is out there should be. I encountered more than a few folks who rolled to a slowdown or even stop in the middle of the course when all I wanted to do was grab a bottle of water and go.
With an obvious exception for those who are truly competitive in the race (essentially anyone who is trying to place in their age group and/or qualify for a Kona slot), there’s really no virtue in rushing. I’m not suggesting you need to stop for five minutes or even slow if there’s no crowd. But if there is, ease up, do what you need to do to ensure you’re getting the things you need and then roll out. If you lose a minute on a smoking fast five hour bike split, that would be 0.03% more.
The same is true of special needs where nearly everyone who is partaking will stop. I was impressed to see a volunteer about half a mile ahead with a radio calling out numbers to his cohorts at the station. Unfortunately, I still had to provide my number when I stopped and wait for them to retrieve my bag. Again, however, it was a delay that really had only the most minimal of impacts on my overall time.
If you read my post-race article from last year, you know I left the bike course around 10 miles from the finish in an ambulance. Keep that in mind as I describe to you the process by which one exits the bike in an Ironman race. In other words, it’s all based on what others told me and on the briefing my coach provided me last year.
Coming off a bike after a long ride is tiring enough. Walking that bike through a crowded parking lot and trying to find the spot where it belongs is even more exhausting and if you can’t find your spot, it can be time consuming.
Ironman (and perhaps others, I can’t say) has come up with the idea of “bike catchers” who, not long after you dismount, will take your bike from you and see to its safe storage while you proceed to transition to the run. The bike is no longer your concern until you pick it up post-race.
There are a few items to consider, however. First, as is the case in Boulder, the run from dismount to where you pick up your bag is on the long side. If you are running in your bike shoes, it can be a little tricky. If you are not running in them, it can be a bit hot on your feet. There aren’t a lot of good solutions, but just be aware.
At the Boulder event, T2 bags are lined up on the running track at the stadium adjacent to Boulder High School. In the first year, that black all-weather surface was scorching hot. Last year, they ran long lengths of rugs which I hear helped. It did appear to me, however, to be crowded so hopefully volunteers will be of assistance in getting you your bag and into the change tent.
I’m forgoing any advice about the T2 change tent because other than to see where it was and to walk through it on the day prior, I never had the experience. I can’t imagine it’s especially involved however. Most of us are probably only swapping out bike shoes for running and shoes and perhaps putting on a fresh pair of socks.
ODD AND ENDS
I’ve covered a lot in this post so if you’re still with me, thanks for reading this far. Here are a few other miscellaneous items I can share:
In General (not specific to any one race)
· Attend pre-race briefings, watch videos, read and re-read the athlete guide and avail yourself of any opportunity to be informed. Knowing the course, the race procedures and being ready for any unexpected developments can only help you
· Thank the volunteers. Imagine arriving at an aid station to find it empty and unstaffed. While most folks who volunteer for races (myself included) do it because they want to be there, it’s always great to have someone thank you for it.
· Talk with family and friends who are going to watch or follow you. Ironman actually publishes a Spectator Guide with information on where to watch and what to do while you are out there racing for several hours. My family was able to track me using the mobile site provided by Ironman, but it can get overloaded so it may or may not be helpful. The rules say you cannot carry a phone with you (and you should follow the rules) so tracking via an app is not an option.
· Make a plan in case things don’t go well. Ironman includes a couple of tickets that allow the bearer to get your equipment in case you are not able to do so. I was especially grateful that my wife and father-in-law could get my gear while I cooled my heels at the hospital. I had also left my phone in my car that morning so my wife was able to use the Find iPhone app to pinpoint the car. This or something similar is a good idea.
IM Boulder Specific
· Parking in downtown Boulder (near Boulder High School) can be a little challenging, but in the wee hours of a Sunday morning, you’ll have a few more options. There are several garages within a few blocks of both Central Park (where you drop your special needs) and the high school from where buses will shuttle you to the reservoir. Last year I parked in the garage adjacent to the downtown RTD station at 14th and Walnut and walked a couple blocks over. I believe parking was free but even if it isn’t you’ve already spent a few hundred dollars at this point so you might as well pony up to get a covered space. I don’t actually know the policy on metered parking in the area but I would be wary of it. There will not be anything for you at the High School and some of the adjacent lots are actually on CU property. That might fly, but my recollection of parking operations at the University is that they will not hesitate to ticket and possible tow you. Another option would be to do as I am doing and stay at a hotel downtown. I will no doubt pay through the nose for parking there, but at least I won’t have to worry about it.
· Boulder Reservoir is accessible through and only through the shuttle buses they run. These depart from the front on Boulder High School (on the Arapahoe side) and will also return spectators back downtown. Don’t even try to drive, ride walk, run or pogo stick your way into the reservoir.
· Your spectators seeing you at finish line is not impossible, but not easy either. It’s a crowded space with large sections devoted to the finish chute and a VIP area where folks with money to burn get special seating. If your friends and family have the $250 to $500 to blow on this, so be it. For most folks, it will probably mean elbowing their way in as close as possible and that could result in being either ahead of or behind the actual line. As a courtesy, once you’ve finished, they should move out as quickly as possible.
· This is a big field. My memory tells me there are something like 2800 entrants which is far larger than anything else I’ve ever done. I did not find that to be a problem, but bear in mind, you’ll have others around you all day.
· Downtown Boulder is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to dining options. However, my feeling is that majority of these run more toward the high-end and are not necessarily a great location for a pre-race dinner. Likewise, you may not feel like heading to such a place after the race. The surrounding area including the towns of Longmont, Lafayette, Louisville, Broomfield and Westminster have options for you. I’ve waited for over an hour at a certain well known pasta-restaurant downtown. I wouldn’t do that when I’m aiming for an early bed time.
That, at long last, is the end of my advice for racing an Ironman event. With luck, determination and perseverance, I’ll have just a little bit more to add after August 7!
Thanks for reading, good luck in whatever your event may be and have a terrific week!