IRONMAN™ Triathlon Training Tips from a Seasoned Veteran

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April 8, 2015 on 12:52 pm | In Athlete Profile, Nutrition Tips, Product Information, Races, Random Musings, Sponsorship, Training | No Comments

This blog brought to you by longtime TriSports athlete Karin Bivens. With many IRONMAN™ races under her belt, she is well-versed on training and racing. Check out her top 10 tips to ensure you are well-prepared for your next attempt at the full distance. Check out Karin’s blog or follow her on Twitter – konakarin.

As a 10-time IRONMAN™ finisher, including 5 IRONMAN™World Championships and a 3rd place podium finish in Kona in 2009, I was recently asked for training tips by someone who  was planning to sign up for his first IRONMAN™ (Arizona) since, as he put it, I was a “seasoned veteran!” I was somewhat surprised and also flattered that he would value my input. I thought about it and here are my Top 10 Tips for IRONMAN™ training:

    1) GET STRONG ON THE BIKE!

      • Although you do need distance, put in the speed work, too.  I did some Time Trials which really helped me push my pace under race conditions.  If you don’t want to sign up for a Time Trial race, you can measure a 20K and/or 40K stretch of road (typical Time Trial distance) and then periodically (i.e., once every 2 or 3 weeks) do your own Time Trial and try to better your time.
      • Bike with stronger people – I tend to do the hard rides (trying to include hills) with fast riders on all kinds of days (windy, hot, etc.).
      • Welcome the wind – let the wind be your training friend!  The wind will make you strong and also confident that you can handle it.

      Karin heading out on the bike

          2) DIAL IN YOUR NUTRITION!

            • I had the good fortune to hear Bob Seebohar speak (www.fuel4mance.com – Dietitian for Olympians, elite athletes and mere mortals).  He indicates that much of the G.I. distress that athletes encounter is not because they eat too little, but because they eat too much!  He emphasizes training your body to utilize its own stored energy.  I use his book, Metabolic Efficiency Training, as a guide. Another great book of his is Nutrition Periodization for Athletes.
            • Personally, I do better with “real food” and try to avoid or at least minimize products with ingredients I cannot pronounce.
            • Most of my solid nutrition is on the bike.  I eat the bars and gels that consist of real food without all the additives.  In my bike Special Needs Bag, I pack a peanut butter and honey sandwich (cut into quarters) and really look forward to ingesting something other than nutrition bars and gels.  One year at IRONMAN™ Canada, I stopped to get my sandwich from my Special Needs Bag and there was Sister Madonna Buder eating her sandwich.  When I asked her what was on it, she replied, “Peanut butter and a pickle!” So eat something that works for you.  I would, however, advise against putting something in your Special Needs Bag that could spoil (I’ve heard of people putting a Big Mac in their Special Needs Bag and wondered how safe it was to eat after sitting there all day and often in hot weather). I also carry my preferred Electrolyte drink on the bike and pack a frozen bottle of it in my Special Needs Bag which helps keep it cooler.
            • On the run I tend to stick mostly with liquids (water, electrolyte drink) and gels. Do find out what electrolyte drink will be served on the course and train with it! It is difficult to pack enough of your preferred drink for the entire race.  Also, there is a possibility that you could lose your nutrition/drink.  At IRONMAN™ France, my Bike Special Needs Bag could not be located!  My system hasn’t always favored the electrolyte drink served on the course, but training with it helps, as well as putting a small amount over a cup of ice or else just diluting it.  You can pack some of your preferred drink in your Special Needs Bag, but you still may need to drink what is on the course.   I found that sipping some Coke over ice can be a real pick-up and can be settling to the stomach!  I remember doing St. Croix 70.3 and Chris “Macca” McCormack was volunteering on the run course handing out Coke (after he finished the race).  He told me, “Take some as it will give you FAST LEGS!”

            3) WORK ON TRANSITIONS!

            • This is “free time!”  I have friends who have missed out on the podium, even though they swam, biked and ran faster than their opponent. They lost it in transitions. There are lots of good videos online about efficient transitions.
            • Take advantage of transition clinics.  You are bound to pick up some small tip that can save time.
            • Train for transitions.  I keep my bike in the garage with my helmet/gloves on the aerobars and my bike shoes next to the bike.  Whenever I head out on the bike, I put on my shoes while standing so that I become efficient at this.  My husband will sit down in a chair to put on his bike shoes and then in a race, he still needs to sit down to put on his shoes.  This takes more time and often space is tight at the bike rack, so learn to put on your shoes while standing.

            Practice standing while putting on your bike shoes

            4) BECOME MORE EFFICIENT AT SWIMMING!

            • I am not a particularly fast swimmer, but I have learned to become efficient and come out of the swim without wasting too much energy and am ready to bike.  If you can, join a Masters swim program.  It will really help.  Swimming is so technique-based that you might want to consider taking some lessons to make your swim more efficient.  You can also read books or watch videos on swim technique (www.swimsmooth.com, www.totalimmersion.net or some of the videos by Dave Scott) or, if possible, take a Total Immersion clinic.
            • Practice sighting as you will need it to make sure you are on course.
            • Practice bi-lateral breathing.  I favor breathing on my right side and am more comfortable on swim courses that are clockwise but that isn’t always the case and sometimes things like wave action can make breathing on the other side more desirable.  It also can help balance out your stroke.  Your head/neck can get pretty tired of turning the same way for 2.4 miles.

            5) VARY YOUR RUN TRAINING.

            • When I trained for my first triathlon (with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s “Team-in-Training”), I was extremely fortunate to have a Pro triathlete (Tim Sheeper) as a coach.  He said to regularly run coming off the bike, even if it is just for 10 minutes, to get your legs adjusted to “running after biking.”  Of course, there are days when you have longer runs following the bike and days when you just focus on the run, but get accustomed to running off the bike.
            • I found that doing some shorter running races (i.e., 5Ks, 10Ks) really helped with my speed as there can be a tendency to run long (but slow) distances.  So train yourself to run fast, as well.
            • Run hills – this will help make you stronger. Even if you are training for a flat run, think how much easier it will be, and if it’s a hilly run, you’ll be better prepared than much of your competition.

            Hills, hills and more hills!

            6) RACE!

            • Doing some shorter triathlons and at least one long course race prior to doing the IRONMAN™ will help with experience, training, nutrition, pacing and transitions.

            7) MIMIC RACE CONDITIONS!

            • Find out what conditions are highly possible on the course.  Train for it.  I cannot tell you how many races I have done where the winds have picked up.  This year at IMAZ, the winds were fierce and there were many DNFs due to missing the bike cut-off. I always think the Pros have it easier as conditions tend to worsen as the day goes on.  By training in wind (refer to the bike tips previously mentioned), you will better be able to deal with them.  The same goes for heat.  If it is likely to be hot on race day, train for heat.  Heck, train for heat even if it isn’t usual at that particular event.  One year when I did IRONMAN™ Canada, it was unseasonably hot, but not as hot as training in Tucson, so I had a good race whereas the heat, and the resulting GI distress on the run, had some calling  it “Vomit-man” (yuck)!  You also need to consider the opposite: cold.  Be prepared.  When I did IRONMAN™ Switzerland (held in July), there was a rainstorm and colder temperatures, especially as we biked into the higher elevations.  I remember being cold on the bike but luckily had a cycling jersey in my bike bag (a jacket would have been even more helpful). Consider the terrain.  Is it a flat course?  Technical course?  Hilly course?  Train for it!  If you are planning to do a hilly course, but live in an area where it is quite flat, you may need to bike on a trainer to mimic hill work, or  find the highest point you can (i.e., ramps, bridges) and do repeats or consider another race that is less hilly.  Humidity or lack thereof also plays a role.  Conditions will determine nutritional needs.  I find that in the hotter races, I eat less/drink more and need lots more salt supplements.  So, again, train under a variety of conditions so that you will be better prepared. These races are hard under perfect conditions, throw some unexpected weather in and it can knock you out of the game. Don’t let all that training go to waste…practice!

            8 ) HAVE A PLAN!

            • You cannot just WING it in an IRONMAN™!  Consider hiring a coach.  If you cannot afford a coach, there are training plans online and books on training.  Joe Friel’s The Triathlete’s Training Bible is a great guide… but there are many others out there.

            9) TRAIN ALONE!

            • Although training with faster people can help make you faster and keep you going,  you also need to train alone and tune into your own workout so you don’t get caught up in someone else’s workout or find that you’ve extended yourself when you should have taken an easy day or a recovery workout.
            • Training alone can improve your mental toughness.  In an IRONMAN™, you are basically out there on your own doing your own race.  You will need to dig deep, especially when your body is not saying anything nice!  You can draw from the experience of having trained alone.

            10) BE THANKFUL THAT YOU GET TO DO THIS!

            • I’ve often said that the best part of these events is the great people you meet who share a similar lifestyle.  Races often become reunions.  I have made great friends along the way, some in my age group, and when we are racing, we duke it out and push each other to greater heights!  The camaraderie is a bonus of these events!  No matter what the outcome, be thankful of the fact that you are out there!  It’s all good and you learn from every race!

            Great friends made over time

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