Recently, I was blessed to have a terrific race of my own at the 2013 Ironman Canada triathlon in Whistler, British Columbia. It was a race that I entered with the belief that it was my last reasonable opportunity to qualify for the Ironman World Championship in Kona. With an augmented number of Kona slots available, Whistler represented a golden opportunity for many
other aspiring triathletes besides myself. That increased competition, a challenging new course, a beautiful alpine setting and perfect weather made this race a special event to remember. Ultimately, I was privileged to finish fast enough to earn one of those precious Kona slots.
Because many of MP Multisport’s athletes are focusing on shorter races, I’d like to share with them, and you, some of the tips and lessons from my KQ endeavor that apply to any triathlon race. I grant you that
there are triathlons, and then there is the Ironman which is a completely different physical challenge. (Do not confuse the two…Ironmans compared to shorter triathlons are more like distance cousins rather than brothers and sisters.) But I learned some things that are essential to success across the full spectrum from sprint races to ultra-distance races, and I’ll mention a few that take on some enhanced importance when the race is very long.
I received many compliments about my fast cycling split at Whistler, a course that has three major climbs. It also, consequently, has three major descents, and I had emphasized to myself to not waste FREE SPEED. Five hours is a long time to work on a bicycle, and the more you can let downslopes and tailwinds to some of that work for you, the more energy you’ll have preserved for later in the race. While climbing, your opponents may pass you with only a couple MPH of excess speed. But if you can descend at 40 MPH while they do 30 MPH, or you can handle speed better through curves and corners, that’s smart use of all available free speed.
I believe that it is also important to have a SIMPLE PLAN that you can execute efficiently. It may not seem that would work in ITU-style racing where race dynamics and your opponents’ actions can present a seemingly infinite spectrum of contingencies for which you “must” have backup plans in your mind. But regardless of the distance, it’s difficult to chew gum and drive a bicycle at the same time…or in other words, it’s hard enough for your mind to “stay in the present” to monitor how you are doing physiologically while also thinking about form (i.e. body position, bike steering, swim strokes) and then concentrating on a race plan. Keeping the race plan simple frees your mind to focus on execution and effort.
Related to the first two concepts is the commandment of DON’T GIVE YOUR ENERGY AWAY. In other words, you can only control you. Don’t let other people or circumstances, or things outside of your control, take
away your energy. At the ultra-distance, you clearly get from Point A to Point B at your own steady pace. For me, I was in my personal cave for 10 hours at Whistler…a private and lonely world where the noise of cheers, the ages stenciled on the left calf, and the people I passed or who passed me were of no concern.
Similarly, before the race surround yourself with positive energy and stay away from things and people that will suck energy away from you. There was an acquaintance from my hometown also racing in Whistler…a
person who I’ve known for years and is, basically, a good person. However, he’s a person that will talk and talk and talk, and usually it’s unnecessary nitpicking. It’s conversation that I generally find irritating though I will tolerate it back at home in order to maintain a friendly association. But two days before a huge race, I didn’t need the irritation from him to suck out the positive energy I was getting from my encouraging friends and from the atmosphere of Whistler. I stopped meeting with him and let his phone calls go straight to voicemail. Ignoring this person then (we reconnected after the race) while absorbing all the good texts, emails and tweets from friends was one of the best decisions that I made race week, and choosing otherwise could have likely thwarted my KQ quest.
Obviously there are many more common tips that are good for any triathlon (e.g. use lots of BodyGlide, think about your transitions beforehand, etc.). However, claiming Free Speed, having a Simple Plan, and Not Giving Away Energy are essential facets to getting a Kona slot as well as getting a high step on any podium.