The training and waiting may be drawing to a close, but just four weeks away from Ironman Triathlon and the anticipation, self-doubt, and second-guessing is hitting full stride.
That very moment when you decided to take on the Ironman challenge seems like so long ago and yet here you are, looking into the eye of the tiger.
The nearer the race gets, the more you begin to question your preparedness and perhaps the choice you made so long ago that has led you down this path.
I am writing this as a suggestion for those who may be taking on their first Ironman, or perhaps have done a few and came up short of personal expectations.
Of course the pros have their own game and are basically on their own planet, and there are also age-group athletes who have a coach who has everything planned out for them as the race nears.
By all means, listen to your coach if you feel comfortable and confident in the direction you are being taken.
However, every year there are thousands of novice Ironman around the world who are twisting in the wind and doing the best they can on their own and might welcome a bit of direction.
Perhaps I can make a few suggestions based on what I have learned over the years from experience and years of researching distance running and the Ironman Triathlon.
Lets begin with one very important point.
THE FEAR OF TRAINING LESS
This one singular thought is often what leads triathletes to go into an Ironman over-trained and tired.
From the moment the gun sounds to begin the swim they have put themselves at a disadvantage because they simply did not know when to stop pushing the training envelope.
There is always a nagging doubt that easing off and resting will somehow take away all you have gained from the weeks, months, and perhaps years of training that you have endured. Will all your sacrifices be for nothing if you ease off on the training four weeks away from your Ironman Triathlon?
Nothing could be further from the truth.
It sounds a lot like how I thought 30 years ago when I ran every day of the year except for one(against my better judgement I took Xmas day off) for fear of my marathon training going backwards.
I could not have been more wrong. What really happened is that for all those wayward early years I never ever raced to my full potential and had both knees “scoped” before most of the world had ever heard of arthroscopic knee surgery.
As far as endurance is concerned, there is nothing to be gained in the last four weeks of training before the big race.
Endurance is built up slowly over time and what you have built up with four weeks to go is what you can expect to be taking into the race with you.
It’s time to ease off and accept that endurance-wise are as ready as you will ever be.
There are no amount of five-mile swims, 25-mile runs, or century bike rides that will help your cause this near to the race.
In fact these will be a detriment and your body will be spending more time recovering from those efforts when in fact it should be healing and charging your battery to capacity for the big day ahead.
A more sensible time to tackle a few of those last long training efforts is in the second last month before your race. By going long with six or seven weeks left before your race, you will have plenty of time to recover from those efforts and will be perfectly positioned to begin your four-week taper into the race.
For each of those last four weeks, cut down the amount of time you spend training, but at the same time train at about the same intensity as you did for most of the year. You want to rest and recover, but at the same time want to stay sharp.
You can stay sharp without the long bikes and runs.
INCORPORATE MORE REST EACH OF THE LAST FOUR WEEKS
To simplify things, lets talk about time spent training as opposed to speeds and distances. As I just mentioned, during that last month maintain the same level of intensity and concentrate more on time spent training.
In other words, if you normally trained 16 hours per week on average, cut that time down to 12-13 hours in the fourth last week, 8-9 hours in the third last week and 4-5 hours with two weeks to go.(adjust this example to suit the amount of training you normally do)
When you are two full weeks away from your race it would not hurt to do your own mini-triathlon.
I would not enter a race, but rather would plan to swim for 30 minutes, bike for 45 minutes or so, and run for 35-40 minutes. Keep the time(transitions)in between short. What you are doing is preparing your body and reminding it what you will be doing two weeks down the road. This should take up less than two hours in total.
Another 2-3 hours of short brisk workouts in that 2nd last week and you should be perfectly tuned and ready to go.
It also serves to give you a last chance to work out your transitions as far as gear etc. and will keep you sharp as hopefully you have eased off on the training considerably by this time.
THE IMPORTANCE OF VISUALIZATION
Now you will be into race week where you will hopefully do very little in the way of swimming, biking, or running.
This is the time to be staying in the shade, topping up your glycogen stores, hydrating(beginning about Wednesday for a Sunday race)and visualizing yourself swimming a perfectly relaxed stroke, spinning easily on the bike, moving steadily on the marathon course, and crossing the Ironman finish line.
The importance of visualization cannot be over-stated. It will do you a hundred times more good than running or biking in the heat in the days preceding the race. Because others will be doing it, does not mean you should be as well.
Any careless expenditure of energy during race-week is unrecoverable in time for the race and will work against you.
You can visualize yourself doing the entire Ironman course while laying in the shade without expending one ounce of energy unnecessarily, getting sore, tired muscles, or getting dehydrated. Those are all things that will happen if you decide to tackle 60-70 miles of the bike course or run fifteen miles in the week before the race.
YOU SUDDENLY DOUBT YOURSELF
Welcome to the world of the Ironman Triathlon. Join the club of all the novice Ironmen over the years who begin to think they have bitten off a bit too much as the race gets closer and closer.
One of the biggest accomplishments of becoming an Ironman is overcoming these fears and finding yourself standing knee-deep in the water waiting for the race start as the anthem is playing in the background.
It is a moment you will remember forever and the moment you deserve because you have worked for it.
If not you……then who?
The very soul of the Ironman Triathlon is all of those people who have overcome so much adversity in order to make it to the finish line.
The Ironman family is comprised of people who were not willing to settle for mediocrity and watch life pass them by.
It is a time for ordinary people to do something extraordinary.
Don’t doubt it for a minute.
It’s your time to fly with the eagles and find out just how much you are truly capable of once you start believing in yourself.