Here is the rundown of my first Ironman race. If you are only interested in my race day nutrition, you can scroll to the bottom of this post for a summary.
As mentioned in my previous post, we were lucky enough to rent a house in Coeur d’Alene for the week of the race. One of the most important things (to me) leading into race day was to have a real kitchen so that I could prepare my own foods and not rely on dining out or the mini-fridge and microwave setup that some hotels offer. This house had a killer kitchen (digital stove and microwave!) so I felt immediately at ease upon our arrival.
Nutrition leading up to race day
There are all sorts of recommendations for what and how Ironman athletes should eat and drink prior to race day. For example, looking on the Ironman website, you’ll see a recommendation for eating 10 times your body weight in kilograms (as carbohydrate grams) for your 2-day carbohydrate load. This would be over 2000 calories just from carbohydrate for someone like me. Now, if you follow Metabolic Efficiency nutrition training and nutrition periodization principles, you know that such an approach has been challenged for quite some time. So, what did I do before race day? Nothing really that different than what I have been doing before a long training day.
So, here was the day before:
- breakfast: egg scramble with turkey bacon, spinach, tomatoes, bell pepper, avocado
- lunch: spinach salad with tuna, mozzarella, pumpkin seeds, tomatoes, cucumbers, hard-boiled egg plus one ounce mixed nuts
- snack: cottage cheese with olives, tomatoes, pumpkin seeds
- dinner: chicken breast, broccoli, sweet potato, avocado; cup of almond milk
This is fewer than ~450 calories coming from carbohydrate - quite different than the aforementioned recommendation. Crazy... or not?
I felt great throughout the day, eating when I was hungry and not eating any more than my usual amounts. I did do some acute sodium loading after dinner following the Seebohar protocol. I drank water to thirst throughout the day along with a cup of decaf coffee in the morning.
I got to bed around 10:45pm but didn’t fall asleep until after 11:15pm. I had hoped for a bit more sleep, but knew this was typical so I didn’t fret.
My alarm went off at 4:00am. Other than waking up at 2am and being awake for 15-20 minutes, I had slept okay. I found this in the bathroom (from my Irish husband) and giggled (which I didn’t know was possible at 4am):
At 4:15am, I ate a Justin’s peanut butter packet and drank 6 ounces of Via coffee with half and half. Because I had minimized my caffeine intake in the past 7 months, a little bit of caffeine has a potent effect for me. I tiptoed around the house to not wake my sister-in-law and family or my husband as I gathered the rest of my things. I started another round of acute sodium loading at 4:30am using SaltStick capsules. I woke my husband up at 4:35am, thanking him for the Irish blessings and to say goodbye. I got a tiny bit teary as I thought about the immense support he had given me prior to this important day in our lives. Gulp.
Sonja, Michelle, and Mikki picked me up at 4:45am. Sonja sported her brilliant smile and gave me a huge hug... and off we went to pick up Emily, another of Sonja’s athletes who has completed 10 Ironman races (!). There was some chit chatting in the car as Sonja and Michelle exchanged a few stories about their previous races here. Emily was super calm. Mikki and I were (I think) secretly suppressing our nervous state. Smiling helped.
I don’t recall what time Sonja dropped us off at the start area, but it seemed chaotic everywhere I looked. It was cloudy and cool, but at least there was no rain. I was carrying 4 bags and was doing my best to stay focused on the tasks at hand. We dropped off our Special Needs bags... and then soon thereafter I realized I had already made my first mistake of the day. My heart sank: I forgot to put my frozen hand bottle with my UCAN mix in my Special Needs run bag. I was with Emily when I realized it (the experienced IMer) and she calmly replied with “There’s always Plan B”. Of course, except I was sad that I had already goofed in my excitement of the morning. Smile and move on, but adjust my Run Plan A to Plan B.
I drank vanilla protein-enhanced UCAN mixed in 12 oz water with a dash of cinnamon from ~5:30a to 5:50a. I felt light yet satisfied... what I always anticipate from the Superstarch.
The porta potty lines were extremely long so I felt a bit rushed getting to our designated area near the beach where the gals would all meet up and I would get to see my husband and family before the long day ahead. To my surprise and joy, my nieces had made shirts for the event. More smiles!!
I hurried and struggled to not be a klutz putting on my wetsuit, gave some final hugs to the family and then tried to stick with the gals as we headed off for the swim start. I was excited!
From here, I will do my best to highlight what was important to me rather than recite the details of the course which you can read on just about any other athlete’s race report.
The gals and I did a quick warmup in the water, which seemed a bit chilly (I think 62 degrees) but not that bad. IMCDA had a rolling swim start, which I found to be perfect for me. I had self-seeded towards the back of the 1:15-1:30 estimated finish wave and didn’t strategize any more than that. Coach Julie had emphasized the importance of swimming efficiently, smoothly, calmly. I had not trained to become a fast(er) swimmer so I just focused on what I was taught. I also had in mind all of the open water techniques Jane Scott had taught me during Boulder masters swim classes the previous two months. It worked well for me.
I got punched and kicked a number of times, but it didn’t bother me. When open water space would open up, I would go for it. I actually did not draft all that much. During the second loop, the clouds were lifting from over the lake as the sun warmed us nicely. And what seemed to be all of a sudden, the swim was done.
Swim time 1:18:29, division rank 37
I used the wetsuit peelers, which I find to be a totally awkward experience. After the stripping, I found my transition bag and headed into the back of the crowded changing tent. Nothing too noteworthy here except that I took my time as evidenced by my 7:41 transition time.
Remember, I was riding my Cervelo R3 road bike with the clip on aero bars. I do love this bike, even with catching myself periodically gazing at the 'wow' tri bikes passing me by on the flat sections of the course. Anyway, the strategy here was to go conservative for the first hour and then start to push a bit more after that, all the while having a steady cadence and trying to keep heart rate relatively consistent. I don't have a power meter so I use perceived effort and heart rate. The bike course is known for its hills and some say for the winds, but those didn’t bug me as I live in the mountains of Colorado. I truly love climbing hills and I just think of wind as another element like the sun and the rain to accept rather than fight.
My thoughts were often occupied with trying to stay legal in crowded areas and wondering what the collective thoughts of cyclists are as we catch each other in the moments of not being legal. Move it!
You can laugh at me, but I find motivation in imagining my legs are like Thunder... the Norwegian cyclist, Thor Hushovd, kind. For real.
I did see my family a few times in the downtown area, but it was so brief that I didn’t get to absorb it as much as I had hoped. The spectators and volunteers were wonderful, just as I had heard.
- 1 BonkBreaker high protein PB&J bar split into thirds: started at 0:45 in and finished by 2:15
- 1 Clif Mojo Peanut Butter Pretzel bar split into thirds: started at 3:00 in and finished by 4:30
- 2 packets of lemonade UCAN mixed in one 20-oz bottle with 1 Nuun tablet. Started this at the 2 hour mark and drank 16 oz of it throughout the bike.
- 1 24-oz bottle with water and 2 Nuun tablets
- water to thirst
- FirstEndurance PreRace capsules (quantity 2) at 2:20 and 5:00
- SaltStick capsules (quantity 10) throughout
- 1/2 package of SportBeans from 5:30 to 6:00
Total bike nutrition: 680 calories, 108.5 grams carbohydrate (average 106 calories per hour; average 17 grams per hour of carbohydrate). An interesting comparison is if I had followed a popular recommendation from a well-known website, I would’ve consumed a total of 1775 calories (276 per hour) and 69 grams of carbohydrate per hour.
How did I feel with this nutrition? Consistent energy levels, no hunger, no muscle cramps or stomach/gut issues. I felt strong and no leg burnout.
Bike time: 6:24:29, division rank 28
Another long transition as I changed shirts and had one of the gracious volunteers apply sunscreen. I also applied lube to my bum foot and changed socks. Seemed like I was there forever.
I had put both of my UCAN handheld bottles in my T2 bag (since I goofed on putting one in my Special Needs bag) so I ended up grabbing the coldest one to take with me. I ate 2 GU Chomps as I was heading out of the changing tent (45 calories).
T2 Time: 6:12
I was very much looking forward to the run as this is my favorite sport of all. Even knowing my left foot was not healed from the cut a few weeks prior and I wasn’t going to have my 2nd UCAN bottle at the halfway point, I didn’t dwell on anything negative. The strategy here was to go very easy the first 3 miles while trying to keep my heart rate in zone 2. Then, try to maintain a steady pace while paying attention to perceived effort and heart rate.
I was able to run the “big” hill both times without stopping. I found myself walking during the aid stations towards the last quarter of the race but at no other times. I was amazed at how many athletes I passed who were walking or running slowly. I witnessed several athletes suddenly stop running and grab their calves or hold their stomachs...sorry for them but happy it wasn’t me.
It was a kick to see my husband and sister-in-law and family several times throughout the course. They made me smile and I was reminded me of how lucky I was to be able to have this opportunity.
- 20-oz handheld bottle with plain UCAN + 1 Nuun tablet during the first half. I finished 16 oz of it.
- rest of the package of Sport Beans from the bike
- my Plan B (since I didn’t have my 2nd bottle of UCAN) was to alternate at each aid station taking a gulp of Coke and Perform from mile 10. I found these liquids to be too sweet for my palate and I also did not take in any calories during the last 4 miles of the run due to not having a desire for anything sweet. So, my best estimation is 8 oz of each based on what my usual gulp amount is.
- SaltStick capsules throughout
Total run nutrition: 365 calories (~85 per hour or ~21 average grams of carb per hour. That same website I referred to earlier suggested I take in 140 calories per hour or 35 grams of carb per hour).
How did I feel on the run? Like many others, my average pace per mile slowed as the run progressed but my pace did not significantly change until the last 6 miles. Even so, my pace decreased by only 0:30 to 1:00 minute per mile, so nothing too extreme. I did not have any muscle cramps or stomach/gut issues throughout. My foot gave me slight pain but honestly, there was so much else to think about that I didn’t even notice it much. I didn’t have an appetite the last 4 miles but I don’t believe my pace slowed due to lack of calories.
My friend, Mikki, caught up to me within the last mile. We chatted for a few minutes and then I told her to go on as she seemed to have a faster pace than me. The last stretch of the race through town is truly incredible, in so many ways, as I imagine it is for any first time Ironman athlete in any town in the world. I found myself running a sub 8:15 pace in that last stretch as I approached the cheers of my husband and my family supporters... and then the finish line. This picture makes me look as if I’m believing I won an Olympic medal, but honestly I just felt elated to have finished this race with success overall.
Run time: 4:18:08, division rank 14
My Ironman finish time was 12:14:59 for 14th in my age group. Thrilled and unexpected! And although my nutrition Plan A didn’t get tested, I am still happy with the results. I have no doubts that my metabolically efficient daily nutrition patterns played a huge role in the outcome of this special day in my life.
- Before race: 465 calories from Justin’s nut butter packet, 2 scoops Vanilla UCAN, 2 Tbsp half and half in coffee
- During race: 1045 calories (~85 per hour), 187 grams carbohydrate (~15 grams per hour)
My next post will be on Ironman after thoughts and gratitude.
Thanks for reading,