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Ironman Western Australia, Busselton… renowned for flat, hot, fast racing and in more recent years, the art of a collective blow up on the run leg (for most). Actually, this seems to be a pretty common occurrence across most long course races these days. However, those few who adapt well to changing conditions and stick to a race plan seem to still do really well.
Extrinsic stress, in an Ironman, inevitably comes in one form or another and although we can’t control the weather or sharks or bush fires, we can control how we react and most importantly, how this plays out in our minds on the day.
What was particularly evident early on in the run leg was the amount of athletes that over biked and left themselves over-cooked on a very warm, dry Busselton day. Busso is not alone though, it seems more and more athletes are pretending they’re the next Lionel Sanders and trying to bike the pants off the course, only to realise they don’t quite have the watts/kilo of Sanders and end up either a. Dying in the backside through the back end of the bike and/or b. Dying in the backside on the run, more than likely from early on in the piece.
Despite the fact the swim got canned, an Ironman is still a bloody long way and for age group athletes, even more importantly, is the need to learn how to pace yourself and keep a cool head about it.
It might be all the outdoor training I did in my early years… but I’m a sucker for ‘spotting the lemons’ (seeing the potential risk) in a given situation. I’m not risk averse, I’m just trained in seeing what’s there. I digress. Where I’m headed here is that as a coach, I make race plans for my athletes based on the worst conditions (Busso looked like it was going to be hot from early in the week so it wasn’t rocket science working out a race plan suited to hot conditions) and also based on RPE- rate of perceived effort (for most). Why? Well if you’re ready for the ‘worst’ and it’s any better than this on the day then it’s a bonus right!? I think so. And why use RPE? Because no matter what the conditions are, your RPE is your truest internal meter on how things are playing out. When it’s smoking hot, 6min/km run pace is going to feel like a sprint. When it’s cool, 6min/km should feel pretty easy. If I told you to run at 6min/km pace no matter what, it’s not really taking into account any variable is it and more than likely, that’s going to play havoc with your mind as well. In the case of Busso’s hot run leg… most of my athletes got a stern RPE 6/10 to start the run off.
Let’s use Busso as an example here: traditionally, it’s hot, it’s windy, we know how flat it is and let’s also remember it’s 180km followed by a marathon… it’s not easy! So, with that said, let’s break down what advice I give. Of course, depending on the individual, this advice differs and there is a time and place for best case scenario pace and power plans, but it depends entirely on the individual.
Swim- didn’t happen due to sharks on the weekend. But my advice in an IM swim is to build your way through it, stick to your own game and exit the water feeling good, warmed up but not smoked.
Bike- Again we break it down and build our way through the ride sticking to the prescribed RPE throughout. Given that it’s hot, advice is given on making sure nutrition is taken on board in little bits and more often (roughly every 15mins is good). Hydration- it’s hot, keep the fluids flowing in.. same again, little bits, as often as you can. It’s hot, it’s extra stressful on the body, which means less blood flow to the gut and more to the overworked muscles and brain. Keeping on top of your nutrition also helps both your mental game and your bodies ability to keep the neuro pathways flowing freely. Believe or not, fatigue comes in more forms than just a tired muscle ;-) it’s all encompassing so keeping everything fresh and on song is the order of the day. Another tip for somewhere uber flat like Busso is that there is not much changing of position on the bike. There’s no hills to sit up or coast down the other side. It’s pedal to the metal for 180k. So, getting out of the saddle for 30s every 15-20mins is crucial to break things up a bit and will help your run legs too. Lastly, you gotta stay ‘cool’ and keep your mind on the job. Drift off into lala land and you’ll lose a heap of time or worse case, crash into something or someone- which ain’t good for nobody.
Run- We were expecting it to be hot and it was. So, same deal with nutrition, get it in, small bits of fuel and hydration as required. Let this fall away and catch up mode is not very forgiving when it’s hot. Whether you’re running 3 hours or 6 hours, we think a run:walk strategy in the heat is the ducks nuts (the best). So depending on you as an individual will determine where you sit on this scale but it’s generally in the vicinity of 13.5:1.5 / 19:1 / 14:1 or for ease on course, walk 1 min every aid station. And again, stick to RPE and build your way through the run as coach has prescribed. The time at walk depends on how quickly an individual can ‘recover’ on the go- some might take 30s, others 2mins.
There ya go… easy as that right!? I’m sure other coaches and athletes will agree that the better the pacing on the bike and early in the day, the better the ability to run to your potential off the bike. In addition to that, being able to adjust your expectations of how fast you can run no matter how well you pace your bike leg is also handy. Again, RPE wins on the day.
As high functioning, overthinking individuals we tend to over complicate things sometimes and we also let our ego get in the way of a good plan of attack. For most of us, we’re out their racing ourselves as Age Group athletes. We are not professionals, we are there to do our best and this means letting go of what everyone else is doing and what you think you should be doing and just getting on with the business of sticking to your game plan and getting it done- with a smile!
Hats off to our T:Zero athletes out there in Busso over the weekend. Those who stuck to their plans, had great days at the office, albeit it bloody tough. Those who didn’t learnt well and truly the art of suffering a little more than those that did. And others unfortunately succumbed to things outside of their control, we can’t control everything. What was very evident though, was the fight to finish and a spirit that rivals all. A never say die attitude and huge respect for the beast that is Ironman- inspiring and humbling!
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