An Ironman Triathlon journey: Five things I would do differently

In the early 1980’s taking on the Ironman Triathlon was hit or miss at best. There were really no resources to fall back on. There are several things I would do differently if I had it all to do over again.

1) Make proper diet a priority: Many new triathletes in the early days of the Ironman never really knew much about diet and how it could effect endurance and ultimately their Ironman Triathlon performance. Often the reasoning was that because so many calories were being burned in training that it really didn’t matter what you ate.

One of the main reasons why Dave Scott was head and shoulders above everyone else in the early days of the Ironman Triathlon was his understanding of diet and especially complex carbohydrates and the role they played in optimizing endurance.

Today many triathletes preparing to take on the Ironman will train like Gladiators, but poor diet stifles all their efforts once race day arrives. Understanding the importance of complex carbohydrates, protein choices, and high quality fats consumed in proper balance will greatly enhance endurance and optimizing endurance is the key to your best possible Ironman Triathlon result.

2) Place more importance on rest: It’s a fact that many triathletes are Type ‘A’ Personalities and compulsive when it comes to training. I was guilty of training full speed ahead for months on end in preparation for the next of the 14 Ironman Triathlons I entered from 1984 in Kona to 2004 in Coeur d’alene.

Rest was often an after-thought and ultimately it led to injury and the stress that comes with training days not going as well as I hoped. It took many years but finally I learned that as endurance athletes rest is our friend. I learned over the years that often we have to take a step back and gear things down in order to keep things in perspective. Ultimately an extended break from those dog days of training will rejuvenate a triathlete and add productivity and more enjoyment into preparing to take on the Ironman Triathlon.

3) Maintain a balanced lifestyle: It was so easy to get totally immersed into Ironman training. In my case social life, family, and career suffered because they were seen as more of a distraction and not as a necessary part of maintaining a balanced lifestyle.

When you think about it, maintaining an active social live can be a welcome diversion from training. If you go to that late-night Saturday party and fore-go that 4-hour Sunday ride you had planned it will not set your training back at all. It will actually give your body extra time to recover when you take unscheduled days off and it will not hurt your overall result on Ironman race day one iota.

As far as your job or career is concerned it is essential to stay focused on this aspect of your life as it is what ultimately will finance your journey to the Ironman finish line. Arriving late to work or adding an extra half-hour to lunch breaks on a regular basis in order to squeeze in swim or run sessions is an easy trap to fall into.

It seems that family time always suffers but it doesn’t have to happen. There is nothing wrong or counter-productive about taking a three-day long weekend off and spending quality time with your family. After all, they are your biggest supporters and are the ones who will be on the side-lines on race day cheering you on.

4) Tapering properly for an Ironman: For years I never really understood the value of a proper taper going into the final weeks before the big race. Usually that meant training far too hard in those final weeks.

In the early days it confounded some of the pros as well. The famous 1982 T.V. Taper by Kim Bushong is a perfect example. As the story goes he sat around for three weeks before Ironman Hawaii watching T.V. and eating chocolate bars.

In hindsight his T.V. method probably made more sense than training himself into the ground. That year he led the race for the entire bike on the Queen K. highway and Dave Scott never caught him until mile ten of the run.

However, I have learned over the years that there is a compromise between doing too much or too little as Ironman day approaches. What really works best is to begin an Ironman taper one month before the race and decrease training incrementally each of those last four weeks.

5) Pace is the key: For years I allowed myself to get caught up in the emotion of Ironman Triathlon day. I would move my arms as fast as I possibly could for 2.4 miles and then pedal as fast as I could until I ran out of gas and ran head-first into the wall at about mile 70 of the bike course. Invariably this meant I was in for a marathon from Hell that was nothing short of a death march.

It took a long time to figure out that racing with an elevated heart-rate was continually setting me up to hit that invisible wall long before the race was over. Whether you are an Olympic class marathoner or taking on the Ironman Triathlon, pace is the key to performing to the best of your ability for the entire day.

You simply cannot allow others to dictate how you manage your race. In order to give yourself the best chance you should go into the race with a plan and stick with it no matter what is happening in the chaos all around you.

Take re-assurance in the fact that most of the people putting the pedal to the metal early in the race are the same ones you will be passing late in the bike or perhaps on the marathon course when you are running and they are walking.

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