It’s almost time for the 2017 edition of the Ironman African Championships taking place at Hobie Beach in PE, South Africa. Athletes from all over the country will be making their way to the event on the 2nd of April to prove their worth in one of the toughest challenges on the continent.

Many athletes have attempted, and many have failed. It is called the Ironman for a reason and without serious training you will not be able to manage the gruelling trio of challenges. This article aims to give you, the Ironman athlete, a true look at to your training efforts over the last few months to see how you will match up to your fellow athletes. If you feel you have not quite matched the training requirements, don’t stress, we’ll also provide you with some tips on how to manage your challenges.

At each Ironman event, there are three types of athletes who you’ll meet at the starting blocks. Some of them well-trained and ready for the challenge, others less so but still brave enough to tackle it. Which one are you?

Under trained Andy
In principle under trained Andy could have been a victim of circumstance, or simply a victim of ignorance. As far as circumstances go, stuff like work, illness and family matters can derail one’s Ironman training, but that can be understood. There are also a few Andy’s who completely underestimate the level of fitness Ironman requires. They simply end up being massively undertrained, this can lead to early elimination or even injury.

So what would be the most important deficits in undertrained Andy’s preparation? Undertrained Andy might have slipped up with all three requirements for Ironman training; these are sufficient distance, duration and frequency. When it comes to distance, did you do it right? If you did 160 km training rides, was it a peloton ride or non-draft? How many traffic-light stops were there? Did you break your ride up with coffee stops? Did you have a car that seconded you with food and snacks, or did you do a self-sustained ride with 2-minute bottle stops? Did you drop your intensity level to almost zero because long rides are boring? Distance can be done the nice way, or the right way. Which one did you do?

In terms of duration: if you were happy with doing your 5 hour training rides, ask yourself if you will finish your Ironman ride in 6 hours. Even just one hour of uncharted territory, in terms of time, can put you in the danger zone. If a no-elevation, 5 hour ride was your longest with a best pace of 23 km/h, you’ll have 2 hours 47 of uncharted territory. The duration of your long training rides should have covered at least 80% of your projected time. (To put this in perspective: pros do sub-4h30 race day rides, but they do 6 hour training rides, which far exceed their race day bike times.) The bottom line: your time on the bike should have been in sync with your projected time on race day. Of course the same goes for the swim and the run. Different percentages count here, but the principle is the same. (Suggested long distances: Swim, full distance. Run, 25-30 kilometers)

In terms of frequency: did you do only do one or two long distance training days? If you did more, were they many weeks apart or sensibly spaced according to a structured plan? What are bare minimums in terms of frequency? This is open for opinion, but if you have not done at least 5 long rides (covering 80% of your projected IM time on the bike) over a period of 7 weeks, preceding the last 2 weeks before IM (taper time), you have stacked the odds against you. Of course same goes again for the swim and the run in terms of accepted minimums.

What can you do on race day to make it work? Simply put, just hold back. If cut-offs are staring you in the face, plan your projected times for each leg carefully and focus hard to avoid getting cut off. Whatever your best times were while you were busy ”under-training”, chances are slim that you will be able to better them on race day. Race very conservatively and stay away from pushing too hard. Aim to feel good for as long as you can. When the feel-good feeling stops, it will stop dead in its tracks, with not much more to dig for. Try to postpone that moment for as long as you can. One last thing, which applies even more so for undertrained athletes: apply your nutrition plan surgically. Don’t skip a beat.

Over trained Ozzie.
The most obvious symptom of over-training is fatigue. The second one is niggles or injury, and third place goes to loss of motivation. We do not have to go into detail here regarding your training. We will assume you have done the distances, the duration and the frequency, but you did too much of it. You’ve got only two weeks left, but if you ticked all the boxes, a lot can correct itself in two weeks. Unless you have a grade A muscle tear, good sleep, together with good tapering can correct a lot. With good rest, the solid foundation of aerobic fitness will come to the fore and serve you well on race day. If you can’t run for two weeks leading up to Ironman, you will be fine. Just give all the niggles the break they need. Biking and swimming will remind the red blood cells sufficiently of the imminent call of duty. Turn fatigue into fitness with that magic thing called sleep. Eight hours a night, plus an afternoon nap if possible should do it. Don’t allow one night of bad sleep. It can set you back a lot.

Well trained Willie.

In all honesty, no one can ever say they are perfectly trained for Ironman. The best you could do is to have managed your training plan as sensibly as possible. Or for that matter, stuck to the personalised plan that your coach put together.

That program would have included the long stuff, short stuff, big weeks, rest weeks, correct dietary habits, good sleep, and a good understanding of the annoying last two weeks of final tapering.

In terms of the race, whether you are under, over, or well trained, everything becomes a mental challenge once you line up on the start line. For a standard triathlon, or even a 70.3, you can train the distance. For full Ironman, not really. For most athletes, the hours they’ll cover on this day will exceed any number of continuous hours they’ve trained. On any normal day, feeling the way you are going to feel halfway through the run, you would call for an ambulance. On Ironman race day, all that changes, and somehow you’ll push yourself through it. That is exactly what makes Ironman a life changing experience: the fact that you pushed your body past the point which most people would deem as possible.

Which is best: character or fitness? 

To complete Ironman, you will draw strength from two sources: your character and your preparation. If your character didn’t get you to persist with the toughest training you faced, why would it suddenly step up to push you through Ironman in such heroic form? The same character that prompted you to persist with arduous training, is the one that gets you through Ironman. Race Ironman with both: your fitness and your character. It’s a win-win situation.

The idea of this article is to make you reflect on your preparation and mental inclination. Adjust your race day plans in sync with how well trained, over trained or under trained you are. Try to determine where the shortfalls might be, and formulate a race strategy. Of course, being negative won’t help, but kerb unrealistic over-optimism with realistic anticipation. It will serve you better on race day.

If you know you’re taking a pocket knife to a gun fight, race clever and conservatively, and be prepared to dig deep on a mental level. If you’ve checked all the training boxes, race with self-belief and execute your race plan with realistic confidence. Ironman race day is a celebration of everything you’ve done to get there. Make it a big day.

And when you hear: “You…are…an…Ironman!”, all will be worth it. See you on Ironman race day! – (c) 2017 NavWorld

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