AF race strategy: Ironman instructions

Stop worrying. Here’s what you need to do to conquer Ironman Arizona

Alarm clock

Dear Future Adam,

Good morning. If you’re reading this, it’s early on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013

The sun won’t rise for a few hours but your mind and nerves are already racing.

The dark windows, beeping alarm and creaky floorboards sing in a familiar harmony as you stumble out of bed for the start of a big day.

It’s OK. Take a deep breath, hold it for a couple seconds and close your eyes. Now, exhale slowly and calmly, and open your eyes.

There. Much, better.

Look to your right on the dresser: your clothes and shoes are laid out on the dresser and everything is in its place, packed and ready to go.

See? Business as usual.

Alright, now here comes a curve ball: after you turn on the lights, you’ll lean against the wall waiting for your eyes to adjust and feel a pang of anxiety that’s not so familiar. You’ll remember why today is different.

Today, you become an Ironman.

Probably didn’t get much sleep last night, did you?

I’m guessing you had nightmares about getting lost on the course, took multiple trips to the bathroom and spent a few wired hours lying in bed staring at the ceiling, desperately trying to slow down your heart rate.

That’s OK. Excitement is good, and most of the 2,800 other athletes are in the same boat.

Well now you’re awake, and it’s go time.

With all the adrenaline coursing through your veins this morning, it’ll be easy to get worked up, stressed out, and stray from the course that got you this far.

So take this letter as a reminder that you are very great – although you can be an idiot at times – and read the following instructions to stay on track, calm and in control during the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile ride and 26.2-mile run:

Before you leave the house


  • Stretch a bit on the bedroom floor to work out the kinks.
  • Then suit up and eat breakfast: banana, applesauce, almonds and some hard-boiled eggs – which will be ready and waiting for you on the kitchen counter, just like your Ironman nutrition plan dictates.
  • Brush your teeth and take your vitamins and fish-oil pills.
  • Load up your bags in the car, pick up your sister and hit the road by 4am.
  • If there’s no good music on the radio, play …And Justice For All at Volume +20.

Setting up at transition

  • Arrive by 4:45am (15 minutes before it opens). Don’t gamble with traffic like you did at the Boulder Ironman 70.3. Give yourself a buffer like you did at the Lifetime Tri.
  • Be relaxed, confident and calm when you set-up, with plenty of time for warming up, stretching and mental workouts. Everything will be in its place, organized and in rhythm.


yellow toy duck swimming

  • Remain calm and insulate yourself from the madness of the swim start.
  • Focus on your Total Immersion strategy: head down, rotating hips and a singular powerful kick for each stroke.
  • Gracefully glide through the water, submerged and relaxed, bringing your head up every now and then to sight the landmarks and buoys.
  • Goal: 1.5 hours

Transition 1

  • You’ll feel fresh out of the water. Relax and walk through transition, but don’t drag it out.
  • Stay focused and efficiently knock out your transition checklist: remove wetsuit, swim cap, goggles, quickly towel off, spray on a generous layer of sunscreen, put on bike shoes, helmet and watch, place disposable water bottle in back of jersey, grab bike and go.


Bike mural by Cam Novak + Roadsworth  3

  • Mail it in, enjoy the ride, and save your energy for the run. Listen to your legs and if you feel like you’re cranking away, ease off a bit.
  • Miles 1-30: Settle your heart rate down and take it light. Let people pass you and avoid racing – this isn’t the time to show what you got. Drink water for the first 20 minutes, then go to your sports drink: consume one mouthful of concentrated Accelerade mix with 3 mouthfuls of water every 10 minutes.
  • Miles 31-60: Maintain a steady pace and cadence that’s slightly slower than the pace you’ve been practicing for long rides. Keep it steady, but still no cranking.
  • Miles 61-90: You’ll be feeling good, so keep the steady pace going and say “Hi!” as you pass people. However, don’t get upset if you’re tired and need to lay off: stop, pee, put on sunscreen and get your mind right. Still a long way to go.
  • Miles 91-112: You can go fast now, but keep fueling from that sports drink.
  • Goal time 6 hours

Transition 2

Again: take your time but don’t drag it out. Change shoes, put on your hat and bib number, spray on more sunscreen, eat a banana, grab your sports drink water bottle and take off.

Go bananas:

the velvet underground & nico  1967

It’s going to be a long, draining and painful day. Don’t be surprised if you get down on yourself at some point – maybe many points – during the race. In these trying times, turn to bananas for solace. The delectable, nutritious fruit has always been there for you; let every bite serve as an uplifting reminder of your health, luck and many friends and family in your corner.


Hunter / Hunted

  • You must go light, slow and relaxed for the first 20 minutes of the run, or you will burn out. Down a full bottle of sports drink (two scoops of Accelerade) in this time frame.
  • 21 minutes to Mile 18:Fight the urge to speed up. Walk and take breaks regularly, and eat 2 gels an hour with water.
  • Mile 18 to Finish: Unleash the fury and smile. Say things like “You’re killing it, bruh,” “Looking good,” and “On your left,” as you glide past other athletes. Keep consuming two gels with water per hour and finish strong.
  • Try not to fixate on your left foot problems. Free your mind, enjoy the run and hear the music.
  • Goal time: No freaking idea


Cross the finish line jumping in the air, Tebow-ing, planking, pumping your fist like Kirk Gibson rounding second, or doing something else awesome…just try not to lose it and start crying OK?

Alright, Future Adam. You know what you need to do to conquer this race.

Go out there and get it.

– Live every day –


Much of this strategy was sourced from these two excellent articles on Endurance Corner:

Photos: milkpowder, oddsock, healthaliciousness, nickharris1, sebmorin, spunkinator

  • Sharon Ronstadt

    Perrrrrrrrfect. Happy Ironman Birthday tomorrow!