Ironman is the ultimate challenge for triathletes. The sheer distances involved (3.8km swim, 180km bike, 42.2km run) make it not only a physical challenge, but a mental and intellectual one too…

Ironman run

It’s such a tough event that imperfections in your training, equipment and nutrition become magnified and can affect you tenfold towards the end. Sound like hell? It can be. It can also be the scariest, most exciting and rewarding triathlon experience  you’ll ever have. So it’s worth getting it right. Think of it in terms of the fable, ‘the tortoise and the hare’. You want to be the tortoise, moving steadily forward throughout the entire event without ever going too fast. The moment you become the hare, racing others up hills or trying to set a fast split, is when your race unravels. Consider these five points your homework. The more you tick off, the greater your chances of success on race day. Can you become top of the class?

FIX YOUR STYLE

As kids most of us were taught how to ride a bike and swim a few lengths of the local pool, but how many of us have ever been taught how to run? Thankfully there is an increasing number of running technique coaches available who use digital video analysis, one-to-one coaching and drills to improve your gait. Examples include runningschool.co.uk and kinetic-revolution.com. Running School founder Mike Antoniades believes there are eight common faults including:

  1. Bouncing up and down too much
  2. Over-striding
  3. Not using hamstrings enough
  4. Landing too heavily on feet
  5. Breaking action on landing
  6. Not using arms
  7. Twisting midriff side to side
  8. Bending head and upper body forward

If any of these sound familiar, fixing them could transform your race.

DROP THOSE EXTRA POUNDS

Shedding excess body fat may help you run faster and cycle up hills quicker. According to Joe Friel, author of Triathletes Training Bible: “A pound of excess body weight takes about two watts to get it up a hill on a bike and costs about two seconds a mile when running. What if you shed 10 pounds of fat? You would ride up a hill seven to 10 per cent faster and run a 5k about a minute faster.” Weight loss is hard to achieve, especially without losing muscle mass. Research suggests that if you attempt to cut calories, you should maintain your protein intake and cut calories elsewhere in order to lose fat rather than muscle.

CRACK OPEN A CAN

There is a plethora of fancy energy drinks on the market offering various forms of carbohydrates and electrolytes, but there comes a stage towards the end of a long-distance triathlon when you can’t beat good old-fashioned cola. The thing with cola (choose full fat not diet) is that it contains lots of simple sugar, six teaspoons per can in fact. The benefit of simple sugar is that it enters your bloodstream as energy without having to be processed and converted in your gut. It’s short-lived, quick-burn energy, but it is energy all the same and your body will thank you for it when you’re on your last legs. So next time you can’t face another energy snack, reach for the cola – the flatter the better.

MADE TO MEASURE

Your ability to run well during an Ironman is partly determined by residual fatigue from the bike section. After riding or anything between four and eight hours, you’re bound to be stiff and sore and this is where a good bike fit can help. A qualified fitter will spend up to four hours analysing your fit, adjusting your cleats, assessing your flexibility and fine-tuning your set up. The end result should be a riding position that is both comfortable and efficient. This should help reduce fatigue in key running muscles such as the hip flexors as well as easing tension in your back, shoulders and neck. Check out retul.com or cyclefit.com for practitioners.

PACE IT OUT

Before you start the 26.2 mile run section of an Ironman, you’ll need an idea of how to pace it. One solution is to use a GPS watch that measures pace. Use it during all your long training runs and on race day. Providing the race-route and conditions are similar to your training routes, you can use your training pace as a guide to race pace. If you pace the bike sensibly, your Ironman race pace is likely to be 30 to 60 seconds slower per mile than your comfortable long run pace in training. Alternatively you could try using heart rate. Your Ironman race heart rate should be five to 10 beats lower than during your comfortable long training runs, in like-for-like conditions.

WORDS: Phil Mosley

As well as how to improve your Ironman run, we’ve also got tri tips on how to speed up your Ironman bike leg and Ironman swim so your firing on all cylinders…