Swim. Bike. Run. Nutrition? It is said that nutrition is the fourth discipline of triathlon, and in few races is that so visible as it is in Ironman. The time spent completing an IM distance race makes proper nutrition a necessity.
For many, it is also the most difficult discipline. And for first timers, it is admittedly a crapshoot. While we use long training sessions and other races as test cases for what to do on IM race day, it is impossible to simulate the magnitude of completing an Ironman. It must be done.
Reading some of the race reports, I'm getting a better feel for the challenges that may develop on August 26th in Louisville. Those under Coach Mike's tutelage got an advance copy of his race report from Ironman Arizona. It is quite obvious from his report that nutrition can quickly overshadow just about any other challenge.
Mike commented about difficulties staying on course in the swim for two major issues. First, his goggles were leaking and kept filling up with water. Second, he apparently lost a contact somewhere along the way. Those two issues combined to cause Mike to miss his swim goal (of 57:30), by a WHOLE three minutes. (Just for the record, leaky goggles would slow me down a WHOLE lot more).
The wind in Arizona was another huge factor. Particularly on the bike. Mike has set a bike goal of 5:20, an aggressive 10 minutes faster than his previous best bike. Despite the conditions, Mike finished in 5:35, his third best bike time in an IM race.
But Mike's own comments touch on the fourth discipline of triathlon. The balance between caloric intake, hydration, and power output is very fine, indeed. The simple difference of a bit of water can have a huge impact on a race. In this case, Mike indicated that his solid food intake called for more fluids than he was able to get his hands on. As food became less palatable, his caloric intake fell, and power went with it. By the end of the bike, he knew that the run would be a struggle. To his credit, Mike ponied up and completed the race. Again, for the record, while short of his target marathon time, Mike's sub-4:30 marathon is very impressive.
Nutrition has always been more of an afterthought, for me. Throw a few gels into the running pack. Water, Gatorade? Whatever's handy. Going for a bike? Grab a Clif Bar or a banana. Get a couple bottles of whatever's available and get out the door. Forget everything? No biggie, even a marathon can be completed on just water or Gatorade.
That mentality? Well, it's just got to go. That kind of thinking will earn me a bed right next to Commodore. Only I'll have nothing to blame except myself. So, it's time for some research, and you can all add your two cents worth.
As a marathoner, I'm used to gels (I use Gu) and Gatorade. On long rides, I've been carrying Clif Bars, Gatorade, and water. Mike's comments hinted that purely liquid calories may be a better option. The question will come down to what will meet my needs on race day. If I can handle solid food, am I better off with that? Or am I better off going all liquid for ease?
One thing is certain. I have less than 100 days to sort it out, because after that, I won't have time to test things out. And after my first triathlon, I learned not to use ANYTHING new on race day.
*Side note* While looking for the post on my first triathlon, I came across the post about my first mile swim. Two things caught my eye. First, my feelings about a 1760 yard swim at that time. I called it a miracle mile. Second, the pace I mentioned, 2:45/100 yards. Less than 12 months later, a 2000 yard swim is an easy session. And if I see 2:45, I know I forgot to hit my lap counter.