Optimizing your Ironman marathon

Tips on optimizing your Ironman marathon.

Are you like most triathletes and struggle when you get to the Ironman marathon and not aware of the importance of optimizing your Ironman marathon?

Most people who are new to triathlon are a bit surprised when they struggle with the run portion of the race. This is especially true when they were accomplished runners before they became triathletes.

The biggest impact is usually felt by those who are taking on their first ironman and have several marathon finishes to their credit.

They mistakenly assume that all they have to do is deduct a bit of time from their best marathon result and that will pretty much indicate what their Ironman Marathon split will be, give or take a few minutes.

[bctt tweet=”My Ironman was going great. Until someone said I had to run a marathon.
via Ironstruck”]
Unfortunately it doesn’t usually work that way in an Ironman Triathlon because there are simply too many variables to account for and reaching the finish line can often take an hour or more longer then expected unless you are clear on optimizing your Ironman marathon.


  • Most Ironman triathletes fail to spread energy reserves out evenly over the course of Ironman race day.
  • The majority of novice ironmen go into the race over-trained and under-rested.
  • Poor hydration and nutrition in the days leading up to the race and also during the bike leg.


  • Know you limitations and pace yourself accordingly.
  • Are you getting the most out of your Ironman taper leading up to the race?
  • Timing is everything. It makes perfect sense to be carbohydrate loading and hydrating several days before the race.
  • It’s important to have a drinking and eating plan in place for the bike leg.

THE PACE: The energy wasted in a poorly executed swim and a mad dash through transition is unrecoverable.

There’s is a direct link between a poorly planned swim and the Ironman Death March.”

RELATED:Ironman Death March

It’s hard to understand at first that you can actually take a much-deserved rest and not lose what you have gained from all your training.

Without fail there will be triathletes training in the hot sun during any given ironman race week trying to get rid of pent up energy. Actually, they’re burning energy they’ll need for their best result on race day.

It you get this part wrong it’s difficult and often not possible too late to make up for lack of food and water out on the run course.

If you’re playing catch-up with your intake, it’s pretty well too late to recover because you are in a constant state of motion and continually burning energy.

optimizing your Ironman marathon

Swim calm and controlled. Burning valuable energy to swim a few minutes faster is a common error.

Go into the race with a sound swim plan and don’t just “wing it.” It’s pointless to take off like a shot when the guns sounds unless you are a pro and are trying to keep up with the other pros.

There’s not a thing to be gained by doing the swim 8-10 minutes faster if it means stressing yourself physically and in the process burning energy you will need later.

The end result of gaining that 10 minutes in the swim could well mean taking 90 minutes longer to make it through the run later in the day. That just does not compute. One of the main keys to optimizing your Ironman marathon is to begin the moment the swim begins.

Swim well within your ability with your main focus being to get to the swim finish using as little energy as possible and being as relaxed as possible. This means keeping your emotions in check when there is chaos all around you.

RELATED: Ironman Negative-split Strategy

It also means taking your time through the swim/bike transition. There is nothing to be gained by running. Let everyone else around you do that and you will pass them later on in the race.

Going out as fast as you can will sky-rocket your heart-rate for no good reason. Save all that energy for the last part of the bike. If you feel great then, that would be the time to pick it up a little while everyone else is hitting the wall.

THE TAPER: I firmly believe that a one-month taper for an Ironman Triathlon is about right.

With 30 days to go before the big race it’s time to begin to ease off on the gas pedal and let your body have it’s well-deserved rest from those months of preparation.

Each of those last 4 weeks cut your training back 20% or so from the previous week, and the week of the race don’t be tempted to do 15-mile runs in the heat of the day or to head out on a 75-mile bike ride.

This is perhaps the biggest mistake that is made by most new triathletes and crucial to understand on the way to optimizing your Ironman marathon.

All that is really required race week is a few short bikes, runs, and swims in the cool of the morning or evening. Rest should be the main focus the week before the race.

If the race is Sunday, be sure to take Friday completely off and get a good nights sleep as you may not sleep that well the eve of the race.

optimizing your ironman marathon

Mid-week before your Ironman begin taking in high complex carbohydrate foods you’re used to.

FUELING: Wednesday is a good time to begin to take on lots of extra fluids for a Sunday race. It’s also a good time to begin eating meals that you’re accustomed to that are high in carbohydrates.

If your urine is clear and copious by Saturday then you are pretty much there as far as hydration. Your last meal on “race eve” is best eaten fairly early in the day to allow sufficient time for your digestive system to work.

A light breakfast of tea and toast and perhaps a banana about 3 hours before the gun goes off and you should be well-prepared for the race.

If you have hydrated properly before-hand you don’t really need to drink much in the hours leading up to the race. You don’t really need a lot of fluid sloshing around in your system during the swim.

BIKE NUTRITION: The key is to begin early on and eat and drink controlled amounts often as opposed to a huge amount once in a while.

The best time to start drinking and eating is after about 15 minutes on the bike. Your body needs time to make the switch from being horizontal in the water to vertical on the bike.

From that point on I would suggest drinking at regular 20-25 minute intervals for the duration of the bike leg. It really works well if you set the timer on your watch before hand to beep at regular 25-minute intervals as a reminder. Use a time frame that works best for you but it works better if you are consistent.

2013 Ironoptimizing your Ironman marathonman 70.3 california results

Your body needs time to recover from the swim. Dizziness from going horizontal to vertical is not uncommon.

RELATED: Triathletes and Carbohydrates

Most of your eating (of complex carbohydrates like bagels for instance) should be done early on in the bike. Eating in the late stages of the bike is not necessary or recommended especially if you ate sufficiently in the first three-quarters of the bike.

Food eaten late in the bike will most likely not be assimilated in time to do any good in the run and may do more harm than good.

If you do things properly on the bike course you stand a good chance of making it through the run just drinking water at each aid station and avoiding food almost completely.

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