Tag Archives: Open Water Swimming

Ironman Arizona Race Tips

It’s almost here. Ironman Arizona.

After all the hundreds of consumed GU’s and Gatorades, waking up feeling like a bulldozer hit you every morning for 4-12 months, and having your drive, courage and heart tested day in and day out, it’s time to see what it was all worth. Let me start by saying Arizona Ironman 2011 was my first, and I know what everyone has gone through with training. I’ve had the days when I’ve collapsed in tears on runs wondering how I was going to piece it all together come ray day, absolutely terrified of failing. It probably didn’t help I was only 22 years old and felt a little bit over my head. However, the fear is what fueled my training, and ignited my hunger to eat this race alive. With all of this said, there’s a few tips I could have used, and want to share some golden advice so you too can have the race of your life. I’d also like to note that this is what worked for me, and by no means should anyone think these tips are the only way to go.

Pre-Race Week

Let’s start by the week leading up to the race, because I’m going to bank on the fact that anyone reading this followed their training regimen semi-closely. Emphasis on the semi. THE WAY YOU TREAT YOUR BODY THE WEEK LEADING UP TO IRONMAN CAN MAKE OR BREAK YOUR RACE. Why did I put that entire sentence in caps? Because you’re already at a deficit prior to your race if you haven’t been prepping your body properly this week. What do I mean by prepping? Slow down! Nothing you try to throw in last-minute with training 10 days leading up to the race is going to benefit you. As far as working out, my pre-race week taper looked like this:

Monday= Easy 5 mile run, Stretched like crazy

Tuesday= Easy 20 mile ride, Stretched like crazy

Wednesday= Easy 2,000 meter swim, couple mile jog, Stretched like crazy

Thursday= Easy swim, 30 minute VERY EASY ride, Stretched like crazy

Friday= Walked/ Stretched like crazy

Saturday= 15 minute VERY VERY LITE jog, walked, Stretched like crazy

(I didn’t do the pre-race swim which you can opt to do Saturday, didn’t want to risk catching something from the water)

Sunday= RACE!

Take note I stretched every single day. To some, you may think this was not enough. It worked perfectly for me. You’ll be going crazy this week. You’ll feel like crap. Your body will be confused wondering why all of a sudden you’re not working out for 5 hours at time, and you’ll probably feel the most restless you’ve ever felt in your life. It’s OKAY! Remind yourself how crucial it is that your repairing your muscle fibers and preparing for one of the biggest days of your life.

Onto the eating part. Do it. A LOT. But not just anything. I’m 5’6, 135 pounds. I ramped my calorie intake up to about 3,000 to 4,000 calories the 4 days leading up to the race. Yes, four. Carb loading is not effective enough one day prior to race day. You’ll read different advice on this. Some say it’s not necessary to up your carb load due to you tapping into a different reserve store in your body. Because you’re racing at a lower energy level during an Ironman, you’re using much more of your fat stores as compared to solely tapping into your glycogen stores. Meaning, some will argue it’s not necessary to pack the calories on prior to race day because the process for utilizing fat as energy is much more complicated and slower. What am I getting at with this? Well, reflect on your hardest training days. The days where I simply didn’t eat enough prior to the days before my bricks, I bonked. Whatever works for you. I sweat close to (in my opinion) what a man does, and thus felt the need to eat. And I’m glad I did. I ate a lot of veggie/protein/pasta packed meals. I also started adding additional salt to my diet 3 days leading up. Two salt stick tablets a day prior to race day, as well as a gallon of water a day. I treated my body like a queen. Slept 7-9 hours a night.

To recap: Rest, don’t throw in crazy workouts, drink water like a mad man, eat healthy, protein packed meals, and stretch like crazy. And by god don’t eat at some crazy new eclectic restaurant you discovered down the street from your hotel the night before the race. That’s just dumb, and you’re asking for it. Eat what you’ve eaten the past 9 months before your hard workouts.

Race Nutrition

Prior to telling you my magical combination of food, I’d like to again, reiterate that this is what worked for me. All of our bodies will respond differently..

I didn’t figure out what Hammer Perpetuem was until 6 weeks out from my race. Wish I would’ve known about it earlier. Who knew that you didn’t have to jam 5 Cliff Bars, 7 GUs, and a plethora of fruit down to get all of your calories in?! Liquid calories are the two key words here. The quickest way your body is going to metabolize the necessary amount of nutrition is through a liquid/powder blend. This powder is a blend of almost everything your body will need:

Here’s what my race day nutrition looked like:

Pre Race Morning: 2 Oatmeal Packets with 1 banana, 20 ounces of water, 10 ounces Gatorade, 1 GU, 2 Ibuprofen. I had the solids down by about 5:30 am (ish).

Swim:

Nada!

Bike:

Six 24 ounce bottles in total. I think at the end I had about 1/2 bottle left that I didn’t finish by the end of the bike.

Bottle #1: Purely Water

Bottle #2: Gatorade

Bottle #3: 2 1/2 to 3 scoops of Perpetuem

(Bottles 4, 5, and 6 were the same, and in my special needs bag approx. half way through). I made sure to start with water, and have my last feed bottle (Perpetuem) down by the high 90’s miles so I wouldn’t be too bloated. Bottom line, don’t get off the bike hungry, and don’t assume you can make up calories on the run.

In addition, 1 Cliff Builder Bar, 1 banana, couple of orange slices, 4 GUs, 1 Bag of GU Chomps, 3 Ibuprofens and 5 Salt Sticks. I stored these in the back of my tri jersey as well as in my bento box. I also used a rear hydration system by Xlab and had a bottle cage on the bike. Tip: I froze both of my feed bottles about a 1/3 of the way up with water the night before. I then added the Perpetuem powder on top race morning for the bike bottle. You will have access to your bike race morning (you have to drop it off in transition the day before), but not your special needs bags. The powder isn’t too tasty lukewarm, so it’s smart to half freeze the bottle and add the water later on. Another note, also may be smart to bring a cover for your bike, as it will be outside all night in transition and subject to any elements. I saw people wrapping their bikes with plastic protectors or anything they could find to cover up their brakes and components.

Hydration set up under my seat

This is a cost-effective option for a hydration system. It can however be a bit difficult getting your bottles in and out of the cages, as they’re a bit stiff. A more convenient option in my opinion, is the Speedfil Hydration System. Below is a quick video on the system.


Remember, every 15 minutes you should be doing something. Whether it’s eating, drinking, or taking a salt stick, you have to keep a steady intake going. If this means setting a timer to go off every 15 minutes on your watch, then do that if you can’t remember to steadily be drinking and eating. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and forget about fueling.

Run

The idea here is to get off the bike feeling fairly full. If you’re getting off the bike hungry or thirsty, you’re in trouble. You’ll also find that once you get to about mile 10, you’re gonna get nauseous at the sight of GU’s. At least I did. I probably only ate about 3 Gus, some Power Bar Gel Blasts, a 1/2 of a nutrition bar, and some orange slices. I ate a few salt sticks during the run and also carried a couple Tums. I was sipping on some type of fluid every 10 to 15 minutes. I also gave into the Coca Cola at about mile 17, which was incredibly hard not to do earlier! My advice, keep eating small stuff lightly. Keep some kind of a sugar/salt intake going. If you planned your bike nutrition right, you really shouldn’t need to be taking in much. Just remember again, just as you did on the bike, do something every 15 minutes. There will be chicken broth offered later at the aid stations (towards 5pm) for those on the course a little bit later which can taste and work magic with its high salt content. You will find an aid station just about at every mile or so which I found myself slowly doing a shuffle through while eating. It’s okay to walk a bit to get your nutrition down!

The Course

Let’s start with the swim. Throw what anyone told you out the window right now. Unless you’re a pro, and starting your swim 15 minutes prior to everyone else, the water will never smooth out. When you go to get in the water, don’t wait until the last minute to jump in. I know it’s cold, but it’s important to 1. Not get stuck directly in the middle (or far back for that matter) and 2. Not get stuck near the wall. You’ll see a wall to your right. Stay away from it. Swimming is my strength and I moved to the front. I somehow still managed to have someone swimming over my back while getting kicked from the front in the meantime. All the thrashing for the first 500 yards or so is a bit unavoidable. Simply remember to just stay calm. It’s the shortest leg and will be over before you know it. I’d say your best bet is to stay to the mid-left away from the wall. The two shots below are a snap-shot of what the swim start will look like. The second photo is a much scarier one, and certainly from my perspective, a far better depiction. Wetsuits are a necessity.

Some words of advice:

Look up, often. Watch where you’re going. If you don’t, one or all of three things will happen: 1. Another irritated swimmer will give you a nice, hard jab. 2. You’ll smack your head right into a kayak or two. 3. You’ll add-on additional minutes/yardage. Learn how to spot.

When you go to get out, the stairs are pretty steep. Don’t be tough/guy, tough/woman and try to lift yourself out of the stairs. Let the volunteers lift you up so you don’t eat it and hurt yourself. They’ll literally carry you up the stairs. You’ll be so dizzy from being horizontal for so long that it’ll take you a minute to gain balance anyways. After allowing the wonderful volunteers to get you in and out of transition quickly, while putting your shoes on for you (yes, they literally do everything for you in the tent), let them lather you up with sunscreen as well. There’s a pack of 5 or 6 people ready to glob sunscreen all over you after leaving the transition tent. Very smart idea. Below is video of the swim exit. Narrated by my proud Mother. Take note of the vertical steepness. Below the swim exit video is a quick video to give you an idea of what transition looks like.

Bike! You have three loops as I’m sure you’ve already read up on. It’s not hilly. The most you have to worry about is a false flat up Beeline Highway. The biggest issue with this course tends to be the wind, as it was the year I did it. Hopefully, the wind will be at your back while going up Beeline. Regardless, I ended up being in aero position for about 95 of those miles. I opted to use an ISM Adamo Saddle, which served wonders, as it is designed for pressure-relief in aero postion.

If you don’t have aero bars on your bike for this race yet, I would highly suggest it as most of the course is flat. Below is the course outline for the bike.

The “climb” up Beeline Highway is approximately 10 miles. It really is more of a false flat. If you did any, and I mean any, hill training you should be fine. I’d say being mentally prepared to get through hours of a head wind is much more important. In my opinion, wind can be far more defeating than climbing a hill. Drafting is not legal, but there were tons of people doing so last year, for fear of literally being blown over. The wind will most likely heavily pick up on your third lap. Stay calm, and don’t try to ruin yourself on the bike. I thought having three laps was going to feel like murder, when in reality, it couldn’t have been better. You know exactly what to expect come lap 2, where to push, where not to push, you get to see your family quite a bit (awesome), and have a better time-lapse for your nutrition. If I remember correctly, your special needs bag on the bike will come at about mile 57 or so. Take time to use the bathroom! I got off my bike half way through to use the facilities. This is also why it’s a smart idea to wear a tri top and tri short as opposed to a trisuit on a race like this. Much more easy to get off. There are porta-potties all over the bike course. Just please take note to be careful when veering off the road to do so. Signal your way over. I did see a crash with this situation last year.

Run (The Best for Last)

Again, 3 laps of beauty around Tempe Town Lake.

I’d like to note that a good 20 plus of the marathon miles are on cement. Ouch. I found myself jumping on over to any patch of dirt or even asphalt I could find because my body didn’t take well to the pounding on the cement. Don’t try to use your race flats on this course. A stability trainer worked perfectly for me. Also keep in mind you’ll have your special needs bag at about mile 11 or so. The special needs bags are the bags you yourself put belongings in that you’ll need on the course. You’ll get one on the bike almost half way through, and you’ll have one on the run as well. I packed some more nutrition, some warmer clothing just in case, and a change of socks in the event that my feet got wet. Anything you think you just might need throw in there. They’re fairly large, and the volunteers are INCREDIBLY good about organizing and getting your bags quickly. The volunteers on the course are unlike anything you’ve ever seen at any race. Every step of the way they’re there to help you while cheering you on and making you feel like a million bucks. I ended up finishing at about 6:30 or so and only was in the dark for a couple miles. I could barely see during these couple miles. If you end up running in the dark, the course states you must use the glow sticks they provide. I don’t think it’s enough light personally. I’d say bring some other type of light because it really was hard to see, and you’re going to be pretty delirious at that point. Unless of course you’re Chrissie Wellington..and have more than enough light to see your way through.

This is your day. Soak up every second, and trust in the months of training you’ve done. Come prepared and don’t forget why you’re doing this in the first place. To see the finish. It’s everything you’ve dreamed of. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to thank your loved ones who’ve supported you day in and day out throughout it all. At the end of your race, I’m sure they’ll tell you as well that they felt like they did an Ironman too after cheering you on all day.

Me with my trophie. 2nd Place WooHoo!


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Open Water Swimming in Triathlon

The shortest leg of the race in triathlon is often funny enough, the most feared. By far, you’re certainly the least out-of-control of your surrounding environment in this leg, which can allow for the capability to put a nice damper on your time. Most triathlons take place in some kind of a body of open water, so assuming your pool skills will transfer right over isn’t the case, and often times, can be dangerous. There’s many tips that can be followed to keep yourself safe, and drop seconds to minutes on your swim. We spend tons of money on gadgets, wheels, aero-dynamic and light-weight everything to save seconds and minutes, so why not take the time to practice open-water techniques for the swim? Below are some triathlon swim tips.

Pool Swimming

Pool heaters, a line to follow, lanes to keep our flailing bodies in, and visibility as far down as the eye can see. What’s not to like about training in a pool? Well, it’s not a realistic representation of the race environment. Certainly, it’s great for things such as speed-work and interval training, but it needs to be used in conjunction with your open water training. We’re not required to lift our head up in a pool to see where we’re going, or to modify our breathing according to surprise waves smacking us over the head, and if we get tired, oh boy! …a nice wall or lane line to grab onto won’t be there. Certain aspects of oceans and lakes call for specific gear, technique, and safety measures. Train to increase your conditioning, practice being in the environment to get you mentally prepared for the elements.

Necessary Equipment

So you’ve been training in the pool and want to venture into a lake, river, or ocean swim. Where do you begin? Most people do fine with some swim goggles, some find that a wider-lens goggle allows them to spot better in the open water. Here’s an example:

Wetsuit? Or no triathlon wetsuit? You’ll find at your triathlon races, about 95% (depending on temperature) of triathletes will be in wetsuits. Your first idea about this is probably that they’re wearing them to keep warm. Swim purists are strictly against this notion of wearing neoprene to swim. I myself was one as well, until I saw friends who I was lapping in the pool beating me in the open water. Not gonna fly. Tri wetsuits will give you quite the advantage. Sure they’ll keep you warmer than not having one, but they’re designed to make you more buoyant and reduce your drag. This allows you to conserve power, thus saving you energy and making for a faster time. My advice: get one.

Chaffing. It’s painful and unnecessary, but has a strong likelihood of happening with your tri wetsuit if some kind of a lubricant is not used. The chaffing will most likely happen around the neck, but there’s a few areas we strongly recommend as well to put the lube. Below are the two options, BodyGlide and TRISlide.

TRISLIDE

Body Glide

Both will protect against chaffing, and also aid in getting the wetsuit off quickly. We suggest putting it around your ankles, wrists, and neck prior to putting on the wetsuit before training and races.

Now that you have the necessary gear, there’s a few things you should consider prior to your open water swim training. It’s best to be checking the swells and currents prior to when you’ll be swimming if you’ll be swimming in the ocean. In a recent race I did at the Camp Pendleton Sprint Tri, the starting wave did not take note of the strong current and swam an additional 200-500 yards at least. Those that caught on and realized they needed to start their swim further down to avoid fighting a current, were able to gain a few hundred yards (which equates to at least a 2-5 minute lead) HUGE.

For Your Safety..

If you’re not an experienced swimmer, trying to get past the waves (or break) will be almost impossible if it’s a large wave day, and incredibly dangerous. Check to see if there is a lifeguard on duty if possible, who will quickly notify you of any potential dangers such as undertows or rip currents. If you do have a higher anxiety about open water swimming, choosing a day when there’s greater visibility out in the water (usually on a sunnier day) is certainly a smart idea. If the ocean seems far too terrifying, I would highly recommend swimming in some kind of bay or lake if you can access one. There’s fewer possibilities of potential anxiety triggers, and will serve as a great way to segue you into unprotected open water swims. It’s incredibly important when you’re getting into any body of water to not go alone. You never know what’s going to happen in the water. As an example, a fellow friend of mine was swimming in the bay when an unsuspecting 10 foot wood oar split his head open from a boater. He luckily had friends to drive him to the hospital. With that said, there’s a reason fish swim in schools. So should you!

Specific Open Water Techniques for Racing

Where the heck do you put yourself in the start of the swim pack? Before you answer, consider this: Would you hop in the fast lane on a 5-lane freeway going 45 and expect to not get honked at, tail gated, or dirty looks? Probably not. The swim isn’t a good idea to do this either. Line up according to your ability. Fast swimmer? Jump to the front. Let’s just say if you’re swimming a sub 7 or sub 6 minute 500 yard time, you’d do fine at the front. Mediocre swimmer? Get to the middle. Consider this the equivalent of how people stagger themselves at 5k’s and marathon starts. It’s also smart to place yourself on the outskirts of the pack, not directly in the center. If swimming isn’t exactly your caveat, stay towards the back. You’ll thank yourself later. You will avoid unwanted kicks and elbows this way. Once you’ve figured out how to place yourself, let’s think about how you’re going to get yourself through the waves, or from the sand to the water. With a technique known as dolphin diving, getting through the shallower water and under the waves will save you time and energy (and maybe a few waves to the dome). Below you can find a perfect example of how to do this. I do not recommend doing this if you’re a beginner in very shallow water (let’s say, below the knees). Once you become more familiar with this type of diving, you can utilize it in shallower waters, but I wouldn’t recommend it until you get a better grasp. This method is often used in lake swims as well.

Once you’re past the waves or initial start of the swim, you’ll feel pretty crowded. In the majority of open water swims, the wave of people you start with will spread out within the first few minutes. The only race I’ve participated in that this is not the case is an Ironman. The Ironman Arizona swim will never throughout the 2.4 miles of swimming, spread out. Back to the point. Most races will. You’ll begin to feel synced with your stroke. However, it is IMPERATIVE you are looking up. This is what we call “spotting” in open water. Everyone will tell you differently on how often you should be raising your head to see where you are, but I say a good rule of thumb would be every 10-30 strokes, depending on how experienced with this you are. Most triathlons will have you swimming in some kind of twisted triangle or rectangle similar to the one pictured below:

There will be buoys marking the corners, which are what we’ll call your trackers. They’re huge and brightly colored. You need to make sure you’re staying in line with these trackers, by picking up your head to see where you’re going. The only reason you swim in a straight line in the pool is because of the fat solid black line you swim on top of to keep you in check. It’s a good idea to practice spotting in a pool, or at least practice in open water prior to racing. You can easily add on a few hundred yards or more depending on how long your swim is if you’re not spotting the buoys. You also might swim yourself into a nice kayak, which are often conveniently located right in the middle of the line of swimmers. I myself have smacked my head hard on one of these puppies and proceeded to blame it on the nice kayak volunteer for being in my way. Point being, look up. The example above is of a lake swim. Most ocean swims will have you swimming parallel to shore, which means you’ll have the waves at your back coming in. Body surfing these in and beginning to dolphin dive once it’s about waist deep can save you some precious time.

Key Points To Take Away…

  • Pools aren’t a substitute for open water
  • Get the necessary gear to make your life easier for open water swimming
  • DO NOT swim alone or at least tell someone on shore you’re swimming and to keep an eye out
  • Learn how to study your surroundings; know the currents and swells
  • Place yourself correctly at the start of the swim start in a triathlon
  • Learn what spotting and dolphin diving are and how to utilize them (know your swim course as well)
  • Enjoy it! Stay calm, and remember why you started it all in the first place

Further Guides to Help:

Sleeved Wetsuit or Sleeveless?

Choosing the Right Triathlon Wetsuit

Printable Triathlon Gear Checklist