Ironman Triathlon strategy: Benefits of a race-day plan

Many triathletes go into the Ironman Triathlon without any set plan in place.

It’s especially common for those taking on the Ironman challenge for the first time to be unsure how to approach the race. The reasoning might be that how can you come up with an Ironman race strategy if you don’t know what to expect?

Actually it’s not as hard as you may think to come up with a workable plan long before the start gun goes off regardless if it is your first Ironman or not.

There are excellent reasons why having an Ironman strategy in place for the swim, bike, and run can benefit you.

Chances are you will not only enjoy the Ironman experience a whole lot more, but will also enhance your chances of crossing the finish line, or perhaps you may even get there faster than you ever thought possible.


For many triathletes waiting for the gun to go off to start the Ironman swim is one of the most stressful situations they will ever find themselves in. Much of that anxiety is caused by venturing into the unknown and at the same time, not having a plan in place on how they are going to manage their swim.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

It makes a huge difference if you decide way back during those long months of training exactly what you plan to do when the gun goes off to start the swim.

For instance, you may decide that you will seed yourself to the outside of the crush of bodies and find some open space where you can concentrate on a long, smooth swim stroke that will keep your heart-rate under control.

You may decide that it doesn’t really matter if it takes you 1:30 minutes to do the swim or 2 hours to do the swim. The main thing is that you are going to be in control and when you come out of the water you will have expended far less energy than 90% of the swimmers who answered the starting gun.

This is the perfect start to your day and all it takes to make it a reality is having a plan in place and sticking to it no matter what.


Things can get pretty frantic on the Ironman bike course.

Bikes are crashing to the ground, 3 and 4 bike pile-ups are happening everywhere, water-bottles and gels are flying like confetti, and the carnage and chaos is unbelievable…….

And that’s in the first 50 meters with almost 112 miles left to go.

For some reason there is this belief that you have to red-line your heart-rate and get that bike up to top speed in the first ten pedal strokes and hold that pace for as long as humanely possible.

Logic and limited stores of glycogen dictate that this is a flawed strategy and can only end one way. Suffice it to say that this plan does not lend itself to a personal best marathon.

As a matter of fact, this is the very reason so many triathletes relegate themselves to being foot soldiers in the Ironman death march.

This scenario has been part of every single Ironman Triathlon to ever take place anywhere in the world and there is no end in sight.

The good news is that you can stand out from the pack and formulate a strategy for the Ironman bike that is much more realistic, a whole lot more fun, and a ton less painful.

Make up your mind months before the race that you are going to start by leaving your bike in the easiest gear before the race gets under-way.

You reason that this will give you the best possible control leaving transition as you work your way free of the frenetic multitudes on tricked-out tri-bikes bent on self-destruction.

From the very beginning you lock into that heart-rate friendly, steady, doable spin-rate that you perfected in all those training miles back home.

Your strategy is brilliant.

While just about everyone else is burning through precious, limited stores of glycogen, you are burning fat for fuel and because of that will conserve your energy stores for the marathon.


It looks a lot like a hurricane has descended on the marathon course.

It’s about mile ten.

Energy bars, gels, water bottles, jackets, hats, fuel belts, squashed bananas, and spent triathletes litter the Ironman Highway.

Another ambulance roars by with a fresh supply of I.V’s for glycogen-depleted, dehydrated, humbled road bike warriors who are wondering what went wrong.

Yet you make your way methodically toward the finish line impervious to the chaos around you.

You are not a great runner, but months ago you had the foresight to devise a plan to run the best you could between the aid stations and when you arrived at each one, walk and take on the necessary nourishment to carry you forward to the next one.

You are tired but not depleted and there is a huge difference.

Your spirits soar as you pass dozens….no hundreds of others who simply have nothing left.

As you sprint the final 50 meters toward the finish line you visualized so many times during the dog days of training, there is one overwhelming thought that fills your mind.

Thank God I had a plan.

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