Race Day Planning – Ironman Edition

I’m finally back for Tri Talk Tuesday! Looking forward to connecting on great tri related topics with Courtney and Cynthia!

Today’s topic is: Race Day Planning! Specifically when it comes to IRONMAN racing.

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Having just completed Ironman Mont Tremblant one month ago, I’m familiar with planning for a race day. For IMMT, I had goals and expectations, but not a set ‘Race Day Plan.’ My several months of consistent, focused training was my plan… I just had to execute it on race day! And of course, I had some ‘ideal’ split times in mind.

Here are some tips for planning your race day. Most of these relate specifically to an Ironman, but you can apply them to almost any race as well!


Set realistic goals for race day
Be true to yourself… know your limits and what you are capable of. It helps to go by previous race times and set goals from there. I also found it helpful to look at my long bike rides and runs to get an idea of where my heart rate was. I used this as a parameter for my race day. Keep training data and monitor your racing and training ‘averages.’ For example, my longest training ride was done at ‘Ironman heart rate’ i.e. Zone 1 for 100 miles… my pace was 18.5. I knew that I would not be able to go MUCH faster than this during the actual race , especially with the Marathon at the end.

Treat the Ironman like a long training day
The Ironman is not meant to be an all out race, by any means. I went into IMMT thinking of it as a very long training day.. this took the pressure off it being a BIG race! I raced just like I trained and this set me up for a happy, comfortable race all around.

Know your heart rate zones and stick to them as best as possible
For the Ironman, this typically means staying in Zone 1 (for me that’s 130-140 bpm on the bike and 140-150 bpm on the run). Before my Ironman, I asked my coach what the effort should feel like, and he said it should feel like a 4/10  perceived rate of exertion at all times. I really focused on that 4/10 during my race and did regular check in’s with myself. If I felt I was higher than a ‘4’ I backed things off… same went for if I was lower than a ‘4’ I pushed it a little harder.


Every race won’t always be a PR, but you can sure as hell try
To be honest, I go into a lot of races wanting to ‘PR’ I mean.. who doesn’t?! Everyone loves a PR! However, know that you can’t always PR… there will be races that are slower than you wanted them to be… and that’s ok!

Things can and WILL go wrong… prepare for it.
Whether it’s fixing a flat tire, drastic changes in weather, dropping your nutrition, etc… plan for it! I made mistake of not wearing my arm warmers during the bike ride at IMMT. I paid for it and I was freezing for the first 30 miles. Ask yourself what you will need in case of emergency on race day.

Amen! It is better to be prepared than worried or anxious or scared! This is part of my school philosophy.

Consult a Coach
I can’t emphasize enough how much it helps to have a coach for an Ironman, or any long distance race. Coaches can help you not only with training, but with race day execution! I don’t have a 1 x 1 coach (I wish!) but I have a coach that gives me my training plan and provides feedback to any questions I have… this is what is critical for race day prep!

What are some ways you prepare your race plan?!

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  • Reply Courtney@The TriGirl Chronicles September 17, 2014 at 12:24 am

    Preparing for things to go wrong is such good advice! I usually just hope that everything goes the way I want it to go, haha

    • Reply Kristin September 17, 2014 at 6:58 pm

      absolutely… as much we we want to only think about the positive, we have to think of the negative scenarios too!

  • Reply Cynthia @ You Signed Up For WHAT?! September 17, 2014 at 3:44 am

    These are such great tips! I really need to learn my heart rate zones, that’s my next endeavor. And I like the sentiment that not every race will be a PR. I was thinking about this recently for the ZOOMA half marathon, that each half marathon isn’t going to get faster and faster – each race is different!

    • Reply Kristin September 17, 2014 at 7:00 pm

      Thank you so much! Yes HR based training is super important, strongly recommend it! My next endeavor is training with power:) It’s hard to imagine not PR’ing at every race, but sometimes we just can’t do it (and that’s ok!)

  • Reply Lee@tri*inspired*life September 17, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    Having in mind that things can go wrong is good advice. You can plan for many of these scenarios, but not all. Such as a thunderstorm that causes race officials to pull athletes from the water, is not something one would expect or plan for, but it forces you to roll with it. These are things that are out of your control and could not prepare for, but stay as strong as you can mentally, and you will make it through these type scenarios!

    • Reply Kristin September 17, 2014 at 6:57 pm

      Glad you agree… you definitely have to think about things that can potentially go wrong! I can’t imagine what you felt like at IMLP getting pulled from the water… so crazy! The weather is the worst because we can’t control it, AT ALL! And yes, mental toughness is super important!

  • Reply Kecia September 18, 2014 at 2:00 am

    I love this list!! Having a plan for the unexpected (such as severe stomach cramps on the bike like I experienced at IMWI) is always top on my list. Also getting better at thinking about what I need now and what I’ll need down the road to ensure that I have a can complete the race. In 2012, one of the 70.3 races I did ran out of water at aid stations on the bike. it was a HOT July day and I knew I would need water, so thinking quickly on my feet and coming up with a plan was really important. I think more racing experience and hearing about other people’s race day blunders has helped me come up with the “what if” plans to prevent an unnecessary DNF. 🙂

    • Reply Kristin September 18, 2014 at 8:42 pm

      Stomach issues are the worst, because I feel like they can come up so unexpectedly! I try and practice my race day nutrition and sometimes it just goes out the window (i.e. Nausea on the run). When nausea happened at IMMT, I drank coke at the aid stations, which helped! I agree with you about experience, I think it will all be a little ‘easier’ planning the second time around!

      • Reply Kecia September 19, 2014 at 7:13 pm

        It was SO much easier the 2nd time around!! That is one more reason I’m looking forward to #3 😉

  • Reply Leslie @ Triathlete Treats September 18, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    Definitely plan for the unknown especially weather. I listened to a pro talk a long time ago. She said “plan” your dark moments. You know you will have them. No one wants to have a dark moment or a low point but it happens especially in IM! I do a lot of visualization of my race plan. What I am going to do: starting with pre-race nutrition, swim, when and what I am going to eat/drink, what is the plan for the bike, different scenarios for the run. It is just nice to think ahead and VISUALIZE having a good day!! 🙂

    • Reply Kristin September 18, 2014 at 8:33 pm

      Seriously, I learned the hard way about the weather. Never will I ever go with out arm warmers when it’s less than 55 degrees outside! I love the idea of planning your ‘dark moments’ that is a neat way to put it! Oh and visualization is KEY! I also hope I get things a little better the second time around!

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