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!