Photo by Donald Miralle.
Over the past several years, as the popularity of Ironman racing has increased, so too has the availability of devices for tracking our training and racing metrics. As race day in Kona nears, what are the most useful tools for tracking how we’re doing and what to expect on race day? Having coached dozens of athletes across the Big Island’s finish line, I have learned that the following 10 metrics can make or break you on race day, regardless of your fitness.
Race week is finally here, and life is becoming a whirlwind. The next three metrics will help keep you focused on the important stuff and en route to the performance that you’ve trained for.
“Arousal” is a common term used to describe the level of excitement that an athlete brings to an event or workout. You should work to refine your arousal level such that you are neither a jittery mess nor a wet mop at the starting line. You want to make sure you are aroused enough to push yourself to your physical limits on race day, but not so much so that you begin making mistakes and focusing on task-irrelevant items. To this end, caffeine or other mental stimulants can serve an important role in reaching the proper arousal level; oddly enough, sometimes even by limiting or avoiding it.
Finding thoughts to reduce or increase arousal levels is an important part of mental fitness. Try rating your excitement level on a scale from 1 to 10 during the week leading into a race. Always aim for 5 out of 10, which provides enough excitement to push for new bests, but not so much that you risk losing focus on the task at hand. This optimal arousal level goes a long way to achieving the ideal performance state (IPS) you need for a race like Kona. Again, formally track this value throughout the week!
Carbohydrates during the carbo load
Most athletes have made tremendous sacrifices in preparation for race day: time away from their families, countless hours training and more than a beer or two refused. This can all go out the window with something as simple as too much carbohydrate loading the day before the event. It’s easy enough to track carbohydrates the day before the event to ensure you hit the ideal amount without overdoing or undercutting it. A good rule of thumb is to consume 10 grams of carbohydrate for every kilogram of body weight the day before the event, with at least half of it consumed before noon. Sure, many athletes can handle anything the day before the event, but others need to be a bit more careful. Why take the risk? The process of tracking carbohydrates takes 10 minutes out of your day; cheap insurance, if you ask me.
Adequate fluid intake along with the carbohydrate load is the key to super-compensation of glycogen; exactly what you are looking for during a carbohydrate load. During the final three days, I like to have athletes track how many ounces of fluid they drink each day, in addition to what is lost/replaced during workouts. You should include all sources, and it should come to about half your body weight in pounds. For example, a 150-pound athlete should drink about 75 ounces of fluid on top of what is lost during workouts in the last three days before Kona. Ideally, some of this fluid should also contain electrolytes, such as those found in Nuun.
Race day is here, and your excitement level is at its highest. The last two metrics are likely the most important for a successful race day in Kona—take them to heart!
If you track nothing else on race day, count how many times you pee on the bike! If you don’t pee at least twice on the bike, you probably won’t run to your potential. That’s the bottom line. For many athletes, getting themselves to the point where they can handle the fluid required in Kona is the essence of the battle. I have worked with many athletes who required 18–20 bottles in Kona in order to pee twice and run to their ability. The ability to handle this volume had to be practiced over years, not days. How many times, and when, you pee during the race is the best on-board barometer of how good your hydration is. Targeting the first pee to be at 60–90 minutes on the bike is not a bad goal. Your drink should include about 500–600 mg of sodium per bottle, as the PowerBar Ironman Perform served on the course does. This will provide much-needed sodium help you absorb the fluids.
In a hot race like Kona, heart rate can be your most useful metric for pacing the run. Heart rate accounts for potential heat accumulation where a pace-based strategy may not. When heat accumulation occurs, it is typical to see a dramatic decoupling between pace and heart rate. For example, your heart rate will continue to increase through the opening miles, while your pace slows or remains steady. When this happens, you are accumulating heat more quickly than you are dissipating it. In most cases, holding the pace constant while your heart rate rises will cause stomach bloating and eventual unraveling due to heat-related stress. At that point, your only option is to slow the pace (usually walk for a bit) and allow your system to rebalance itself. This can be very difficult for well-trained athletes to do, as they are often hard-wired to maintain the predetermined race pace, no matter what. On the other hand, heart-rate-based pacing, in hot environments, allows you to identify heat accumulation and adjust your pace before it becomes a larger problem.
Racing on the Big Island can be daunting for both the professional and the age-grouper. The above top-10 list can drastically improve your learning curve for a successful race day. Many athletes require a significant period of trial and error to get to a Kona outcome that they are satisfied with. I hope that this will significantly shorten that process and improve your odds of race-day success!
This original article, “Big Island Metrics” by Jesse Kropelnicki, appeared in the October/November 2012 issue of LAVA Magazine. To subscribe to LAVA Magazine click here.