8 Things I Learned Training for a Half Ironman Triathlon
Eight years ago, I did my first half Ironman triathlon … on a dare. I had no idea what I was doing. So like any young, confident newbie, I consulted Coach Google and found an online training plan. I followed it, mostly, and showed up on race day. I suffered the entire time and cried three times. I almost sat down on the run course and refused to go on. Afterward, I knew I could do better, but I didn’t know HOW to do better.
I’m much older and much wiser now, and last year, decided to go long again and try a 70.3. Here’s what I’ve learned about training for a half Ironman triathlon:
Respect the race.
A 70.3 half Ironman distance is serious stuff. Don’t have three glasses of wine and agree to do an ultra-triathlon. It’s on you to know the distance, know the risks and understand what you are asking of your own body.
Know when you need help.
I’m a pretty middle of the road athlete, but when I first tried the half Ironman distance, I didn’t think I needed any help except a free online training plan. I certainly didn’t think I needed private triathlon coaching. YES I DO! Not only did I need help, I loved having a customized training plan and all the extra help that comes with it. All those little tips and tricks I picked up through chats with my coach, Cathy Obordo of Experience Triathlon, added up to a great race, optimized performance and a much healthier body. You don’t have to be an elite athlete to need a coach. In fact, I’d say that not being an elite athlete is even more reason to get involved with personal triathlon coaching.
Do what your coach tells you to do.
Now that you’ve hired a triathlon coach, DO WHAT SHE TELLS YOU TO DO. Don’t question it. Don’t think you know better. Just do it—finish all the intervals. Complete those warm-ups and cool-downs and stretch for the full 15 minutes. When she says rest, REST. She may not let you in on her evil master plan, but rest assured, your coach has one.
Have a nutrition plan.
You train consistently, but you also have to fuel your body consistently. Don’t eat three triple cheeseburgers because you had a long workout. I know it’s tempting, and you’re hungry, but you need to eat good food very consistently if you want to perform your best. That means: All. The. Time. Your body will thank you for it by performing better, faster and longer. Plus you’ll feel better after the race, too. Talk to a registered dietitian who works with athletes to help you determine how much, and how often you need to eat and drink to fuel your body properly. Poor nutrition planning can lead to dehydration, stomach sickness, fatigue and worse.
See the doctor.
Remember what I said about respecting the race? Respect your body, also. You are asking a lot of it. Get your doctor’s blessing, and if you have any issues along the way, go back to the doctor and get the help you need.
Know your mental roadblocks.
Everyone has something that psyches them out. I worry endlessly about how many bathrooms will be on the course. I obsess about this constantly, but I have a plan in place that stops my ruminating. Search your soul for whatever it is that worries you on race day and make a plan. Talk to your coach. Talk to your doctor. Talk to other athletes. Try out your plan before race day. Trust me when I say this: it’s a game changer.
Train your brain.
You spend hours getting your body ready for the race, but you also have to condition your mind to overcome unexpected challenges, like weather, terrain, forgetting something or malfunctioning gear. The mental splinters that can ruin a workout can also affect your race, but on race day, you can’t just pull out and finish it later. You have to soldier on. Instead of running with your playlist blaring in your ears, run scenarios in your head about how you’ll overcome challenges on race day. Imagine yourself pushing through and keeping your head in the game the whole time. Pay yourself a compliment. Tell yourself you can do it, no matter what. If you say it enough times, you will listen.
Practice kindness on the course.
A little kindness goes a long way in a half Ironman, and it can take you surprisingly far on race day, both in body and spirit. If you are strong enough to pass a biker or a runner, offer some encouragement or even just a head nod. If you noticed an athlete who got a flat tire on the course in between rest stations, let someone know as soon as you can. Finally, don’t forget to say, “thank you” to the race volunteers. They probably came out because they were inspired by what you are attempting. After all, you’re there because you want to be a better version of you.