All posts by Coach Betsy

IM race day

Managing Ironman Race Day

An Ironman race is something difficult to wrap one’s head around.  It is impractical to do these distances at one time in practice, so we never really know what to expect until race day.  This is a difficult realization for most people.  There are a lot of other variables that come into play on such a long day such as, nutrition, weather, mental toughness, and possible mechanical issues or nagging injuries that can crop up (which is another area for stress).   The key to mentally dealing with an Ironman is to not think of it as one race.  I am really good at getting things done if I have a list of tasks that I need to do.  I like to think of Ironman as a “To Do List”.  The day ahead is long, but it can mentally be broken down into manageable pieces or boxes that you will check off.  You may have to adjust the pieces that you are thinking about if you start to feel overwhelmed.  My mental breakdown is as follows:

  1.  Race morning activities- Wake up, get ready, set up transition, and swim warm up. My time-line for an 8AM race start:


Time Morning Activity
4:30AM Wake and eat allowing at least 3-4hr before the start of the race to digest food. See my race day nutrition blog for tips on race day nutrition and timing.

Apply sunscreen regardless of the sun. I use Coppertone Sport SPF 50 and only have to apply it in the morning and this provides all day protection for me. I have fair skin and burn easily.

-Put timing chip on in the hotel room. Forgetting where you put your timing chip is the most common stressor race morning.

6:30 I give myself an hour to take care of things in transition before transition closes. This may seem like way more time than is needed and it is.   The problem is the crowd around transition. There are racers and spectators and it’s hard to get around. Don’t waste energy panicking about the crowd. I wipe my bike off if it’s wet. I put my nutrition and fluids on the bike, pump up my tires and lube my chain if it rained the night before. I put my Garmin on my bike, locate the satellite and turn it off. I then find my run and bike bags and add my watches and last minute items to those bags.   I don’t spend a ton of time in transition obsessing. I do what I need and move to the next task.   I wear headphones with relaxing music sometimes to help tune out the shop talk that can add to the anxiety.
7:30 I head to the swim start. I don’t look at the distance of the Buoys! I warm up for ~15min, which means I get my heart rate up and get warm. I swim towards a buoy and practice sighting to get a feel for how the sighting is going to be. I get into my rhythm, which helps me lock into this same rhythm when all of the race chaos begins at the start. Here I decide what goggles to wear (smoked lenses or clear) and if I need ear plugs or not.
7:50 I line up to start the race. I take a gel and drink some water (~6oz).   I clear my mind. I don’t think about the entire day ahead, I just think about the moment right now. I have a little saying that I think to myself as I hit the water. Unleash the Kraken! It’s good to have a mantra, lyrics to a song or something to motivate you at the most intimidating part of the race.
8:00 Start Race. Find my rhythm.


2.  Race start- Find a comfortable rhythm with sighting, brush off people hitting you. It will clear up in a few yards. (If the same person keeps hitting me and I can’t get away from them, then I hit them back). Most of the knocking around in the water is unintentional so keep that in mind.

3.  One buoy at a time- How accurate is the sighting? Get a feel for how often it needs to be done. Listen to breathing and enjoy the feel of the water; zone out into that rhythm.

4.  Swim exit is near- Think about execution of T1. Are there wetsuit shuckers on the beach? Exit easy, don’t try to sprint, be composed.

5.  T1- Get shucked from your wetsuit if possible. Run easy to the bags. Grab your bag and get a chair in the changing tent. Dump all contents from the bag onto the ground and assemble in the order that was practiced.

6.  Run easy out of changing tent and get your bike

7.  Start riding- Get in a groove and start your nutrition cycle after about 15min or when your heart rate has come down a bit. Do not think of the 112mi you have to ride, and absolutely don’t think of the marathon! Constantly monitor power, hydrate and eat every 15 min. You now have a job every 15 min for the next 112 miles. If you make any mistakes during the race, try to forget about them and focus on the present. Talk to people on the bike, it helps mentally.

8.  T2- As I ride into T2 I turn on my run Garmin so it can locate satellite. Rack your bike or give to a volunteer to rack if possible. Find your run bag. Run into the changing tent, grab a chair, and dump your bag on the ground. Execute T2 as practiced and exit T2.

9.  Start running- Run the pace that your coach has assigned you. This should be proven to be the right pace for you. It might actually feel really easy, but hold back. Start your nutrition/hydration cycle at the first mile. Do not think about the distance that you have to run, just know you are almost done with your race. Wave to your family and friends, this will be the most interaction you will have with them. If things get bad mentally, then take it aid station to aid station. There will be coke, which is the best thing in the world during an Ironman race. Thank the volunteers and before long you will be crossing the finish line and listening to Mike Reilly call your name and tell you that “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN! “  This is a great accomplishment and within two weeks you will probably be registered for the next one!

Trust your training and your race plan!

Live in the second; don’t ever think about the entire day!

Race your race! Don’t worry about what others are doing.

Have fun! You have spent the better part of a year training for this, it’s your hobby!

IM run bags

How to Manage Ironman Race Weekend

You just spent the better part of a year training for an Ironman race and talking about it with your friends and family.  It’s finally here! If this is your first Ironman then you are probably a ball of nerves.  I remember all of the anxiety that I had when I did my first Ironman in Louisville in 2010.  I had never been to Louisville and I was by myself so I had to figure everything out alone!  I made it through the weekend and thankfully Tracy and Bob Hendershot (my swim coach and her husband) came down and helped me get my bags together and rack my bike and cheered me on during the race. It ended up being a gnarly day with temps around 95 degrees.  The swim was not wetsuit legal and they ran out of water on the bike course.  Somehow I was able to roll with the punches; I knew these things were out of my control so they weren’t worth worrying about.  I look back at this race with nostalgia.  My only goal was to finish and I wanted to finish this race more than anything in the world. I had no race to compare this one to so I wasn’t trying to PR or finish at the top of my age group.  Keep these things in mind as you go into your race weekend. You are here to accomplish your goal and the schlepping of gear, figuring out logistics, sizing up of competitors, making sure equipment is working, fitting in final workouts, planning meals, getting groceries, and finally thinking about the big day ahead is all totally worth it!

So how do you break down the weekend to alleviate your anxiety?  I’m a list person and the act of planning ahead lessens a lot of my anxiety.  Here are some things that I like to do to help manage race weekend anxiety.  I have an additional blog on how to manage race day, so stay tuned for that one too.

Before you leave for your race weekend:

Prepare a Race Day Checklist. You will find that you have to keep adding items to this list.  All items that you plan to take on your trip need to go on this list.  You don’t want to be running around at your race location trying to find items that you left at home.  It’s no big deal if this happens, most items can be purchased at the Ironman expo.  It just adds something else that you have to do on race weekend.

If you are staying in a place where you can prepare your meals then have your meals planned out and have your grocery list ready.  You really do not need to carbo-load, the act of the taper coupled with your normal appetite will provide your body with enough calories for the Ironman.  Do not change the type of foods that you eat, you do not want to throw off your gastro intestinal (GI) system with too much fiber or too little fiber for example.  Also, stick to the normal times that you eat.

If you plan to eat out then you might want to search for restaurants ahead of time and make reservation.  Many of the restaurants with healthier menus may fill up.

Once you arrive at your race weekend location:

Try to stick to your normal schedule.  Wake up at the same time that you normally rise and go to bed at your usual bed time.  You are on a taper and are probably feeling a bit lethargic and maybe even a little depressed.  You are off kilter when on a taper.  Keep active.  Your coach should have planned a workout or two each day.  Get up at your usual time and do your workouts.

Get a good night’s sleep on Friday night.  You probably won’t sleep well the night before your race.  It’s okay, don’t stress out if you slept terribly the night before, it’s not going to impair you.  If you have a hard time sleeping, try to just rest and think of a calming scene. Do NOT take a sleeping pill at 2AM when getting up at 4:30AM!

Try to minimize anxiety by knowing yourself and taking actions to avoid situations where you will be anxious.  If being around everyone talking shop bothers you like it does me, then avoid hanging out near the expo or athlete’s village.  Get what you need and get out.  The city or town is probably swarming with triathletes, so do what you need to do and then find a quiet place and read a book, watch a movie or just spend time with your family.

Sometimes it helps to rehearse the race in your head.  Visualize waking up, setting up transition and bags, warming up in the water, starting, swimming in the chaos, executing T1, riding the bike, your action items on the bike, executing T2, and finally running the marathon.  Picture yourself calm and composed and checking off each box.  This will set you up to execute your race in the same manner.  If this stresses you out then don’t do it or perhaps do it in the weeks before the race.

Again, I like lists, so I suggest following a checklist for race weekend.  Here is my checklist:

* Pick up your packet and visit the expo-  I suggest picking up your race packet as early as possible to avoid lines.  Also, visit the expo early before sizes in the cool t-shirts and kits sell out.

*Get groceries.  The grocery store can get busy in a small town as well, so keep that in mind too.

*Pick convenient places for family meeting points.  Come up with a meeting location near the finish line where you can meet your family.  It tends to get crowded, so knowing where to meet makes it easier.

*Drive the bike course- Pay attention to road conditions, hills and sharp turns

*Ride the run course

*Do the practice swim- Pay attention to water temp, clarity and currents.  Pick structures to use for sighting.  Will you need a sleeved or sleeveless wetsuit?

*Attend the athlete briefing- Here they discuss any issues on the courses and things to you need to know.

*Lay out your race gear- make sure you have a flat kit and the correct tube stem length for the type of wheel that you are riding!  Also, make sure you know how to use your CO2 inflator.

*Double check your nutrition plan-  Add up the number of calories and mg of sodium to ensure that you have enough.  Also, know what items you are eating and when.  For example I eat my solid foods earlier in the bike ride and do the Clif Blocks after mile 80.  Do you plan on using the course nutrition and hydration?  The Athlete Guide lists the course nutrition.  The less you have to carry the better.  I have an additional blog on race day nutrition for more information.

*Assemble bike, run and special needs bags-  You may not even need the special needs bag; I don’t use one.

*Rack your bike- This might take longer than you think.  They photograph every athlete’s bike that enters transition.  Let some air out of your tires.  Tubes can blow if you bike is sitting in the sun all day.  If you do have a mechanical problem, then take your bike to the mechanic in transition.  They will be much faster and have 100% less anxiety than you.

*Know where your bags are in relation to the swim-in and bike-in area.  Count rows or find some visual point of reference to help you quickly find your bag. You may consider adding bows or ribbons to your bags, but keep in mind that others are doing this, too, so be original.  Volunteers help retrieve your bags during the race, but there may not be enough volunteers to help and you may be faster at retrieving your bag than they are.

*Know where your bike is racked in relation to the changing tent from which you will be coming.  Often, volunteers will take your bike and rack it for you, but not always.

These steps should help minimize race weekend anxiety and save you time.  Having a schedule and a plan will keep you focused and moving forward with minimal anxiety.  The biggest factor is knowing yourself and your needs.  You have done a lot to prepare for this event so enjoy your weekend, it is yours!