Insider Secrets of Ironman Race Day Damage Control

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Hopefully There When You Need Them, But Be Ready If They Aren’t!

After standing on the sidelines of Lake Placid and Louisville this year, I am reminded of two contradictory things. First, how easy my job is. Second, how important it is that I am there. My advice ranges from the profound to the mundane, but since it’s race weekend…it’s always timely. But what to do when a Coach can’t be there at the Bike Mount Line, or riding the Bike Course backwards or at Mile 18 of the run? Here are some tips on how you can bring a little Coach P along for your next race.

If you are looking for our Four Keys guidance, you can find that in the official Four Keys of Triathlon Race Execution post.

Pre-Race P

Almost all of my answers will revolve around helping you make a decision you are most comfortable with. Ironman® is a long day and you have to have confidence in what you are choosing to do. So side with comfort and you’ll be okay. Here are some other common pre-race questions I get from our athletes:

Should I try those fancy race wheels out for Sunday’s race? I know it’s Friday now, but…

If you haven’t trained with them in the last few weeks, or weren’t planning on doing it, I usually say NO b/c it adds a new total level of stress to the day that’s not necessary.

My leg / hip / back / shoulder / arm / whatever hurts, what should I do?

Get thee to the ART tent (massage tent) and have it worked on. Daily. If not 2x daily…it’s FREE! Stretch it out. Baby it. Make your family carry/do stuff. Have alternate plans in your head should the problem not go away on race day.

I broke / fractured / tore my whatever, what should I do?

A lot of bad stuff happens in the 14 days before the race. If you have seriously injured yourself, and racing could place you or your fellow competitors in more danger, I will tell you not to race. You can go, spectate, support and register for next year. You can find another event in a few weeks. I just don’t see the allure of doing an Ironman® at 50% capacity in a seriously injured state. I will defer to you, but I don’t recommend it.

Swimming Questions

There are lots of potential swim issues, most of which you can avoid by following our secret Ironman® swim guidance. But here are some more tips!

My goggles just got bumped off my face! Or, my goggles are fogged up, now what?

Just keep swimming freestyle, and on a stroke rollover on to your back into backstroke and keep kicking as you fix/adjust your goggles. Swimmers are looking for bubble, not for swimmers sitting still or worse yet, doing the frog kick. Make bubbles, be happy, get right and get back to swimming.

I swallowed a lot of water on the swim, how can I fix it?

If it’s salt water, you’ll want some regular water at the exit / T1 to help dilute the mixture in your gut. Regular water will (hopefully) just come out with excessive peeing.

My calves or hamstrings are cramping, how can I resolve this?

Slow down and ease up on your kick. Try to isolate and relax the muscle, or provide alternate tension — if your calf is cramping your can flex your toes/foot up towards your knee. Try to keep your rhythm with your arms and figure out how you can adjust your stroke so you don’t have a flare up again. Worst case, find a kayak.

My wetsuit zipper just broke and there is no time for warm-up, what should I do?

Don’t worry…fix that zipper and then just start swimming. The swim IS the warm up…a few minutes lost fixing or getting a new wetsuit just won’t matter in your whole day.

What should I do if I have a panic attack?

Find. A. Kayak. Or don’t start swimming. You are your own worst enemy on the swim, so make sure if you are prone to panic that you have resources nearby.

I inadvertently punched someone on the swim. 🙁 How can I reset my karma?

Yikes!! Be nice to the rest of the folks in the swim and resolve to be user-friendly and competitor-conscious on the rest of the day. You can point out debris on the roads, share water, ice, etc.

I threw up on the swim because I got sick, how should I adjust my nutrition plan

You will need to start eating right out of T1; odds are you didn’t throw up a lot as you ate at 3:30am, but you will still have lost food and fluids. Keep the pace conservative for a bit so your body can reset before going to work.

My swim cap came off my head! Yikes!

Don’t worry, you only need it to enter the water, not exit it. Let it go.

Where should I line up?

You swim placement is a reflection of your goals…if you want to be top 50 overall and compete for Kona, you’ll have to mix it up…otherwise you can use the entire swim space to make your swim as comfortable as possible!

Biking Questions

This is the longest and most important leg of your race. Here you need to be steady with your pacing and get most of your nutrition in…fail to do either and your race will be in jeopardy! Get even more tips than the ones below in our Six Ironman® Bike Secrets post!

I just got a flat!

Chill out…the hardest part of this exercise will be (A) remaining calm and (B) getting all your tools off the bike now that you have taped / stuffed it down, etc. Put your bike in the right gear as you slow down and pull off carefully. Put your sunglasses in a safe place. Start the whole process by eating something so you make use of your time. Only then change the tube/tire right – check the tire, make sure there’s no leftover debris. Make sure your CO2 is in there right so you don’t waste it…and once you are all set, make sure the wheel is inflated and properly seated before continuing.

My bike computer won’t start.

You won’t need it…odds are it won’t just start on it’s own. Unless it’s a poorly aligned magnet issue, you will have to go by your watch (HR?) or by perceived exertion. Be smart and focus on what you can control…and resolve to fix your computer issue once and for all after the race!

I just dropped my super-secret nutrition bottle!!

You gotta stop. If you trained with it, you need it. Unless it blew to smithereens, slow down and safely retrieve it…totally worth the effort.

It’s been 56 miles and I haven’t peed yet…am I screwed?

Not entirely…but you aren’t in a good place either. You need to up your fluid intake to make sure that your system is topped off…your goal on the bike is to replace all fluids lost (100%) so that you can suffer a bit on the run. Consider dropping the water and using the sports drink on the course as you’ll need sodium to get it into your system…and through your system!

My back/butt is killing me, what can I do?

Consider stopping for a second to stretch. A quick left-twist, right-twist and left/right toe touch can make you feel like a million bucks. Also add in a few seconds of standing pedaling in a bigger/slower gear every 10 minutes to stay loose. If you have Tylenol, you might consider taking some of that if you have practiced with it.

It’s way hotter than I anticipated, how should I adjust?

Dial the effort down a bit, up the fluids a lot (especially sports drinks), consider taking a salt pill every hour. Pour water on your body when heading uphill and slowing down. Calories are more important here (if that’s possible) as it will be even harder to eat on the run than usual.

My bike won’t shift properly, and I only have a few gears…thoughts?

Ride what you can and keep an eye out for neutral support. Flag them down and get some help…otherwise be ready to suck it up.

I lost a bottle cage!

This could be really bad. Your tri jersey should have pockets so you should be able to hold at least one bottle as a back up. Do yourself a favor and check all the bolts before you race so can avoid this.

My bike nutrition isn’t working…now what?

You have no choice but to switch things up…but first slow down and make sure your effort isn’t the culprit. If you can rule that out, then make sure your fluid intake has been good…if you are eating but not drinking enough, your gut will shut down. Once you have ruled those two out, you might need to switch to what’s on the course. You should be targeting 40oz of fluid per hour and another 100-200 calories from gels or bars. Avoid food that’s low in sodium and that contains fat — some energy bars aren’t ideal, so do your research before you race!

I see some drafters…should I update them on the rules or tell the next marshal?

Um, no. They are adults and they know the rules…just just don’t race. Race your race and keep it clean by example. Marshals are looking for drafting, not for a lesson…ride your race and don’t get distracted from eating and drinking. Karma will set all things right before the finish.

There’s a pack in front of me, should I pass them at 9,000 watts?

Nope..sit legally off the back and only pass when they slow down b/c they are done, not because you are over exerting yourself.

I have to pee…how do I do it again on a bike?

Find a slight downhill or place where you can coast. Stand up on one pedal, relax the other leg, and try to pee. Once you are done, you should squirt some water on yourself, your bike and pedals to make it stink less. If that doesn’t work, stop at the next aid station as it will seriously inhibit your ability to ride properly…and eat and drink!

Running Questions

For most competitors, the run is an exercise in simply not slowing down. You don’t race people, they come back to you. In order to make this flow work in your favor, you’ll have to solve a lot of small issues on the day. I cover most things below, but know that focusing on form and cadence are also critical..if I had a dollar for every IM runner with their head down and “out of it” on the run I’d be able to quit this coaching game. Chin up, hands up, nice turnover and stay on top of your game…it’s a 90% mental exercise here, you can do it!

I feel so good in these early miles, should I pick up the pace?

Hell no. If you feel good, you should EAT MORE. You don’t get faster than what you trained at, it just means you paced the bike well and are pacing the start of the run well…so use this chance to eat and prepare for the tough times, cuz they are coming!

My heart rate seems crazy high, what should I do?

You need to make sure that it’s not too hot and you aren’t overheating, so douse your body and get ice in your hat / hands, etc. If that doesn’t fix it, you will need to dial your pace back a bit by being conservative on the hills and make the most of the flats and downhills. Hopefully the tweaks above do it, otherwise you might need to work in some walking breaks. Early action matters!

My bike nutrition was sub-par, how can I adjust?

You could really be in trouble…your goal in the first six miles is to eat as much as you can, with some sports drink as well. Walk as much of the aid station as you need so you can eat well, and monitor your effort and pace so you can dial things back as needed when things get hard to digest or your body starts to drop off.

I think I just stopped sweating…

Damage. Control. Time. Get thee to the next aid station and drink as much sports drink as you can, perhaps with some coke as well. Take some salt here if you have it. Bring a gel from this station in case you need it as you leave, and walk for a few minutes before starting to run so the fluids can settle….

My food won’t stay down?

If you are tossing it right back out again like a high school science project, it means your body can’t handle what you are giving it. Odds are you have too high a concentration of carbs, so switch to chicken broth and/or coke so you can get in easier to digest calories. Can’t say enough about the broth because of the sodium content, which will most likely alleviate your malady.

My stomach is sloshing around?

That means you have taken in too much carb heavy stuff and the body has shunted water there to dilute it. This doesn’t mean stop drinking, it means that your muscles are getting dehydrated and your critical balance is off…you will need more fluids (with sodium) and perhaps some salt to help move that fluid out. Avoid eating solids for a while, sticking to Coke or broth, and gels if you can.

My reflective stuff is gone, am I in trouble?

Nope, they’ll give you something when it gets dark.

It’s way hotter than anticipated…how can I adjust?

Your body will need more fluids, both internally and externally. Drink at every aid station. My routine is as follows: Run in, grab sponges to wipe face and squeeze over head/body. Water on head as I still run. Stop at the sports drink or coke person, walking 20 to 30 steps so I can take it in. Grab ice in cup (or hat) as hat as I leave so I can stay cool until the next station. Repeat sponge routine if able.

My calf / foot / quad / hamstring / whatever is cramping…what can I do?

Slow down as it won’t go away. Walk it out and try some light stretching. Get in some salt as that might help, but know that adjusting your effort / gait will be more immediately effective. If possible, go into your Triathlon Time Machine (patent pending) to fix that part of your bike when you raced to the top of every hill at 54 rpms.

My fingers are tingling, how can I fix it?

Get some potassium in your system, aka a banana.

Random Questions

I forgot to safety pin my timing chip. It fell off, do I need a new one?

If possible, you should stop at the next transition or, if possible, flag down an official / stop at the penalty tent to have them radio ahead to have it ready at the next transition. It’s not super critical as they’ll have pictures of you out there (and you can tell folks at the turns, “it’s me, #1423 with no chip!” so they can note it down.

This is really hard…will it get easier?

Not during the race it won’t! You signed up for this and you are ready; race day is 90% mental so do what it takes to get mentally right so you can tackle your day. Before you know it, that finish line will be less than a mile away and you’ll be floating along until you cross the line!

Transition Questions

I can’t find my transition bag!

Hopefully it’s out of order, and no one else took it. Look around and involve a volunteer (or three!) to help you out. You can’t go anywhere without it, so hopefully it’ll turn up soon enough.

Do I put my bike shoes on and run in them or carry them?

I almost always say put them on, as once you have your bike you need to put it somewhere to put your shoes on, and that’s not easily done when everyone is racing.

Should I change into a complete bike outfit after the swim?

Ideally not. Even if you want to wear proper bike shorts, you can still swim in all that stuff under your wetsuit or speed suit. Putting lycra on a wet body is wicked hard…save yourself minutes and energy by wearing as much as you can.

Should I change into a new outfit for the run?

Some folks love the fresh feeling of new bottoms, others don’t. It’s up to you, but know that you will need new socks and a hat for sure for the run, at the very least.


Coach P

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