Triathlon Training: Mistakes, Wins and Lessons Learned at 2012 Ironman World Championships in Hawaii

By Lindsay Hyman

Last weekend was the Kona Ironman, the big kahuna for thousands of triathletes around the world. On Monday, I asked several of the coaches who had triathletes competing in Hawaii what they learned from the pros and their athletes to see if there was any wisdom we could impart to those of you gearing up for Ironmans in the near future. Here’s what we discovered:

Ironman is Not Won on the Bike

The triathletes at Kona are considered the best of the best, yet we still see experienced competitors try to win the race on the bike. This year was no different. In the men’s race the strongest cyclists of the day blew apart on the run, entering the marathon in a depleted state and never recovering.

Case in point: Mike Lovato’s registered a power spike of 1,000 watts during the bike leg, the equivalent of a sprint in a bike race. A couple of explosive moves like that puts a lot of stress on the legs of any Ironman triathlete before the run, and that increases the likelihood that you’ll have a slower marathon.

For the pros, sometimes betting on the bike is worth the risk. You have to play to your strengths, and if you’re a tremendous bike rider it may be worth the effort to build a big lead on the bike and hope you can hold on through the marathon. It rarely works, but for some athletes that slim chance of success is better than their chances of winning with a more conservative approach.

For age-group riders, conservative pacing through the bike course is the best policy for a successful finish: staying between 70-90 percent of threshold power for the duration of the bike, paying close attention to hydration needs (which were magnified in the heat of the day) and calorie intake to keep their bodies strong all they way through the run.

Experience Matters

The triathletes who had their strongest races had been to Kona before, and this went for the athletes we coach as well. They had struggled through the fierce wind and unrelenting heat before. As a result they made smart decisions on pacing, racing tactics and, perhaps most important, they knew that they could reach the finish line despite the brutal conditions.

All competitions – and even training sessions – are opportunities for learning. That’s part of the reason we encourage athletes to stick it out and finish races even when they face adversity or are far off their goal paces. There’s certainly a time when athletes need to stop to preserve their health and safety, but when it’s just a not-so-great day there’s a lot you can learn about yourself and about your perseverance by staying in the race. Those lessons will help you out in the future.

Anything Can Happen

It was impressive that Leanda Cave worked her way back from a 4-minute penalty on the bike to take the win. It just goes to show that since Ironman is such a long race, a minor setback such as a flat tire, bathroom break, or a penalty doesn’t mean your race is over. There is time to recover and overcome adversity in Ironman. Like Cave did last weekend, you deal with it, and then you get back on the course and continue working your race plan. Staying cool, calm and focused will pay dividends in the end. Don’t needlessly waste energy getting flustered or surging to make up for lost time on the course. Remember, virtually no one has an absolutely perfect day during an race that lasts 8-17 hours. Everyone goes through a rough patch or experiences a mechanical, bad weather, or even a penalty. Part of being a successful Ironman competitor is learning to minimize the number of things that go wrong on race day, and learning to work through those problems when they occur.

Lindsay Hyman is a Pro Level coach with Carmichael Training Systems, Inc. and a certified USAT and USAC Level II Coach.  In additional to competing at Ironman distance triathlons, she coaches athletes from first timers to World Champions in sprint to iron-distance events.  For further information on coaching, camps and performance testing, visit www.trainright.com/ironman. To learn more about the CTS Triathlon School in Tucson, AZ, visit http://trischool.trainright.com.

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