Perhaps you've recently finished your triathlon and you're unhappy with your Ironman results. Perhaps you just signed up for an Ironman and you want better results. No matter what your level of triathlon experience is, there are three crucial keys for the swim, the bike and the run - and each of them will get you better Ironman results.
3) Swim: Swim With Attitude
Let's face it - the emotions and experiences you have during the Ironman swim can significantly dictate your mental performance for the remainder of the entire race. If you put yourself into a swim position that allows you to become frustrated, you could set-up a damaging cascade of decisions that stays with you during the bike and the run. It may seem illogical, but you can find yourself riding above your goal bike pace by 1-2 miles per hour and destroying your ability to run off the bike simply because you swam 100m off course on the swim and you're attempting to "make up time".
So not only do you have to have an attitude during the swim that allows you to shrug off any frustrating experiences that come your way - such as getting kicked in the face, elbowed in the goggles or drafting off course - but you also need to make sure that you position yourself in the swim to decrease the chances of these events occurring. For example, you can swim to the inside of the marker buoys (most people swim to the outside), sight off stationary landmarks on shore (most people try to sight off buoys, which is much more difficult), and draft on the hips of the swimmer in front of you rather than their feet.
Make the proper swim decisions, and you'll drastically affect your Ironman results for the rest of the race.
2) Gearing & Cadence
There's nothing like mashing gears for 112 miles to leave your legs feeling like J-E-L-L-O for the run. But at an average Ironman event, 90% of the competitors are spinning at 60-70RPM or lower as they climb the hills. This is either the result of not knowing how to use the bike gears, not having the mental awareness to use the bike gears, or not having the correct bike gears. Don't fool yourself - you may be able to do a sprint triathlon with a chainring the size of Kansas and the cassette of a Tour contender, but that might come back to bite you 80 or 90 miles into the Ironman bike ride.
So in your practice rides leading up to the Ironman, attempt to ride a course that simulates your race course, and bring a cyclocomputer. Watch your cadence. It doesn't matter whether you're training based on heart rate, power, or "feel" - your cadence should be at least above 80RPM, and preferably 85-95RPM, even on the hills.
If you've done Ironman before, then you know the feeling. About 6 miles into the run, each aid station becomes a blur of cookies, Coke, soup and gels - and you can't remember what you already grabbed, why you grabbed it, how much you stuffed into your mouth, what time it is, or where your pace is at.
The truth is this: during the Ironman run you have to *own your calories*. This means that every bite of fuel that goes into your mouth is cooly calculated and stored in your mental computer that tells you exactly how much fuel you've consumed. There's nothing like being doubled over with gut pain halfway through a marathon and not knowing whether it was because you ate too much, ate too little, mixed the wrong foods, or somehow grabbed a cheeseburger while you weren't paying attention.
During your long runs, practice adding total calories consumed and maintaining a running tally of your fuel - the mind can be trained to do math during exercise, and if you do this step, your Ironman results will rock.
Ben Greenfield is a triathlon coach and sports nutritionist at www.pacificfit.net.