If you’re thinking about going long but not sure where to start, we’ve got all the answers. Words Phil Mosley. Images Ironman / Getty Images
An Ironman 70.3 is the first step into the world of long-distance triathlon. With its 1.9km swim, 90km bike and 21.1km run it’s an event that will cause any rational person to think you’re crazy.
Even the thought of practising these distances separately in training can seem like a major feat. It’s also the point at which nutrition and pacing become paramount to race success. This is because your body can only store enough carbohydrates for about two hours, beyond which you become reliant on stored body fat and the energy from snacks you take in along the way.
For this reason, it’s a race that requires serious thought and equally serious training. Here we will cover all of the most essential equipment, pre-race strategies and training techniques you’ll need to succeed. And if you choose to ignore all of this excellent advice, we even tell you how to wing it off sprint-triathlon training alone.
You’ll be racing for anything between four and eight hours so you’ll need to be comfortable, efficient and aerodynamic. Here are five of the most important considerations.
Tools of the trade: Saddle up
The bike section of an Ironman 70.3 will last anything between two hours 30 and four hours, most of which you’ll spend perched on the end of your saddle. Not surprisingly, having a sore bum can be a real issue.
Thankfully, over the past few years saddle designs have evolved to benefit the derrieres of long-distance triathletes. Split-saddles such as the ISM Adamo Podium (£125.99, chainreactioncycles.com), Cobb Gen 2 (£150, cobbcycling.com) and Bontrager Hilo RXL (£129.99, cyclesurgery.com) are now commonplace at long-distance triathlons.
They are designed to spread the load and reduce the pressure on the sensitive areas of your under-carriage. They are usually slightly heavier than standard racing-bike saddles but they make up for it by allowing you to maintain a comfortable aero position for longer. Some bike fitting studios such as cyclefit.co.uk let you try various saddles while they measure the pressure-points as you ride.
Try hiring a saddle for a week or try out a friend’s to see if it suits you.
Seeing as you’ll be riding your bike for several hours it’s vital you can take a drink easily. If a bottle is hard to reach, you’re less likely to use it when you really need it. Aside from convenience, it’s also worth considering aerodynamics. Standard bike bottles placed in bottle cages on the frame add to overall drag.
Research by Cervelo has shown that a bottle placed in a cage on your down tube results in a four watt drag penalty whereas a bottle mounted between your forearms or behind your seat creates negligible drag. Another option is to use a refillable bottle with a straw, which can be mounted on your frame or between your arms.
These are aerofoil shaped to help reduce drag and offer perhaps the best combination of practicality and aerodynamics. Good examples include the Profile Design Aero HC (£14.99, sigmasport.co.uk) and the Nathan Sports AP Pro (£43.46, outdoorgb.com). Whichever option you choose, make sure it works for you as the bike is your number one fuel and hydration stop.
Perhaps the biggest difference between racing an Ironman 70.3 and a shorter triathlon is the importance of pacing on the bike. Get this wrong and you’ll be reduced to walking the run section. A power meter can really help because it tells you exactly how hard you’re pedalling.
Research suggests the optimal power output for an Ironman 70.3 is 75-85 per cent of your Functional Threshold Power (FTP).
Slower athletes should aim for the lower end of this range while potential race winners might aim for the full 85 percent. To make life easy you can estimate your FTP by doing a 20 minute maximal cycle time trial, recording your average power and then multiplying the outcome by 95 percent.
In a relatively long race such as an Ironman 70.3, your choice of clothing takes on great significance. After all anyone can cope with rubbing or discomfort for 90 minutes but dealing with it for five or six hours requires a different level of suffering.
Consider if you should you change into separate bike and running kit between each discipline or stick with one outfit for the whole thing? If you’re more worried about comfort than time, you should get changed. Just be aware this strategy will cost you around 10 to 15 minutes in transition.
Female triathletes can turn to p60 for the best trisuits on test and if you missed our men’s tri suit test last issue, the HUUB Core tri suit (£99, huubdesign.com) was a clear winner. Consider a long-distance specific tri suit such as the Zone3 Lava (£108, racezone3.com), which has dense padding for your bottom and handy pockets for carrying gels.
If you get a puncture during an Ironman 70.3 you could be 25 miles away from the transition area and anyone who might help you. Avoid disasters by using fairly new tyres with reasonable puncture protection. Double up by using a puncture protection sealant such as CaffeLatex (£22.49, cyclesurgery.co.uk) or Stans NoTubes (£18.40, tredz.co.uk).
These products are designed to fill small punctures as you ride. They don’t work 100 percent of the time but they’re still worth having. Carry two CO2 canisters and an adaptor for quick inflations but make sure you practise using them first.
Ensure you inflate your tyres properly in the first place. Read the guidelines on your tyre walls but you should aim for 100-120PSI. Finally carry a spare inner tube and tyre levers. If you use tubular tyres you should carry a spare tyre or just rely on the previous tips here.
Read part two of our guide tomorrow.
Check out Training Section for more advice