While Kona might seem far from your current triathlon reality, there’s a lot you can learn from how athletes of all levels perform at the race of the year.
The IRONMAN World Championship is upon us, generating a lot of buzz as the highlight race of the year. For the athletes racing, it marks the culmination of many hours of training sweat over the previous months and years.
If you’re a rookie triathlete who has yet to complete an IRONMAN race, the atmosphere and hype surrounding the event may seem overwhelming and even mystical. While the race may seem far from your current triathlon reality, there’s a lot that you can learn from how professionals and amateurs alike perform in the pressure cooker intensity of Kona.
IRONMAN Certified Coaches, Michael Olzinski of Purple Patch Fitness and Jason Lentzke of Toro Performance work with athletes who have qualified for and will be racing in the IRONMAN World Championship. They have watched the race closely on numerous occasions. Below, we talked to them for some of the key mistakes they see athletes making at the race, and how you can avoid those errors in your next IRONMAN or IRONMAN 70.3 event.
Many athletes take themselves out of the race before the gun goes off, expressing concern about not training enough and succumbing to panic training. Those worries are exacerbated these days with various forms of social media giving athletes the opportunity to compare themselves to on a daily basis.
Lentzke notes that this perception is magnified even further in Kona: "The number of extremely fit triathletes parading around Ali’i Drive at race pace or hammering the Queen K during race week always baffles me!" he says. He reminds athletes that you cannot get any fitter during race week and the focus should be on confidence boosting, leg sharpening sessions and resting up.
Don’t let yourself get psyched out by how fit and fast everyone looks when you show up to an IRONMAN event location—Hawaii or otherwise. Olzinski has had to calm down several athletes he coaches that began to panic upon seeing the six-pack abs and expensive equipment on show at bike check-in.
He likes to remind athletes that the minute an athlete begins to pay attention to everyone else who will be on the course with them, the simple decisions that they might make to have their best race start to get clouded. "Don’t forget who you are and the hard work and training you’ve done. Stick to the race plan you’ve crafted without a worry for the other competitors."
Nothing new on race day
The Kona Expo is buzzing with swim, bike, run and recovery companies unveiling their latest, great products and you should definitely do a walk through to check out all the new gear. However, ‘nothing new on race day’ is an old adage that every training article and coach will tell you.
Olzinksi confirms that you should not be making any major changes to your set-up and nutrition in the days leading up to a key race. "Triathletes are notorious for being junkies of gear, technology, and the latest-greatest racing equipment," he laughs. "It's fine to keep your eyes open and buy and try out new products, but trust in the equipment that got you to the start line and then play with your new toys and gear picked up at the expo after the race."
Chasing numbers (and people)
While you may train with power, pace, and heart rate and have acclimated yourself as much as possible to the anticipated race environmental conditions, both Lentzke and Olzinski caution athletes not to be a slave to the numbers.
Olzinski prefers athletes focus on technique, efforts levels, and staying as relaxed as possible throughout the day in conjunction with their trained numbers to improve their chances of a great race.
Similarly, Lentzke warns about getting caught up in the atmosphere and the athletes around you. "You will be very tempted to leave T1 as if you’re racing a 40k time-trial as the atmosphere of an IRONMAN is electric." He recommends you remain realistic with your goals, keep your effort in check, especially on the bike, and stick to your own race plan.
Between the Parade of Nations, shopping at the Expo, the Underpants Run and seeking out selfie shots with your favorite professional athlete, there’s plenty to distract you in the days leading up to an IRONMAN event. However, don’t neglect to rest and put your feet up in the preceding days. "Do what you need to do each day," recommends Lentzke, "but then get off your feet, and save the exploring of town until post-race."
Don’t take yourself too seriously
You’ve invested a lot of time, energy into training, possibly sacrificing time with family and friends, in order to make it to the start line. Race week and the day of the event is a celebration of all your hard work and so be careful you don’t miss those moments caught up in performance anxiety. Lentzke puts it more bluntly: "at the end of the day, we’re all just super fit adults exercising in our underwear. Be polite to your fellow athletes, grateful to the volunteers, respect the locals and soak in the atmosphere on race day."