What I learned from my first Ironman 70.3

I competed in my first Ironman 70.3 on 20th October 2019 in Goa, India. My official finish time for the race was 6 hours 54 minutes 58 seconds.

First, the race stats

  1. Swim (1.9 km): 50 minutes 24 seconds
  2. Transition 1: 11 minutes 46 seconds
  3. Cycling (90 km): 3 hours 4 minutes 25 seconds
  4. Transition 2: 10 minutes 32 seconds
  5. Run (21 kms): 2 hours 37 minutes 53 seconds
  6. Position: 222 of 712 athletes and 49 out of 151 athletes in my age category

Stats aside, the race was a lot of fun and was full of learnings for my next Ironman. I’m going to try and summarize the race here, read on!

Knowing your strong sport(s)/ your strengths helps

Most amateur athletes are strong at either one of swimming, running or cycling and reasonably good at the other two. My strength is cycling. Even on bad days, I can complete a century ride in 3 hours and 15 minutes. Cycling helped me improve my overall rank from 306 to 87. I did drop to 222 overall after the running leg… that’s a different matter now!

During the training phase, you should spend time to understand your strengths. Knowing them will give you the confidence that your strong sport(s) will compensate for under performance in any other sport(s).

Planning the race helps

An athlete must plan the time required for individual sports, transitions, quantity and frequency of nutrition during the race.

My planned time for the race was between 6:15 hours and 6:30 hours, with the following break up:

  • 50 minutes for the swim
  • 10 minutes for transition 1
  • 3 hours for cycling
  • 5 minutes for transition 2
  • 2:10 hours for the run
  • 15 minutes of buffer time

I managed to keep my swim and cycling times on target. I overshot my transition time by 8 minutes and the run time by 27 minutes. I’ll talk about the why I overshot my times later in this blog. However, planning the race gave me confidence and a realistic estimate of the time I’ll need to complete it.

Practice sessions and route recce build confidence for the race

I arrived in Goa three days before the race. It helped me to settle in and reccee the race route. Consequently, I was able to do multiple practice sessions. These included two open water swims, a 20 km ride and a 5 km run on the race route. As a result, I gained confidence to swim in the sea and I got a feel of the race route. Not only did the practice sessions get the muscles moving, but they were also an immense confidence booster.

I recommend reaching the venue at least 3 days prior to the race. It will help you to get a feel of the route and to build your confidence.

Practice ride - Ironman Goa
Practice ride – Ironman Goa

Pre race transition area tours help

The organizers conduct official transition area tours which are mandatory for a good reason. These will acquaint you of entry and exit points, technical support stations, change rooms and your allocated station. If you don’t do this, you might end up getting confused and losing precious time during the race.

A thorough equipment check is a must

I can’t stress enough on this aspect. Ensure that you’ve checked and re-checked your equipment, especially if your bike requires assembly before the race. My bike handlebar was a little lose and after a few bumps the handlebar position shifted lower. This caused a terrible lower back ache and could have resulted in a serious accident. I had to continue riding for 22 kms before getting technical support to fix the handlebars. In this process, I lost precious 6-8 minutes.

I learned the hard way how important it is to check all your equipment thoroughly before the race. At the very least this includes shoes, clothes, swim goggles, swim cap, smart watch and the bike.

A triathlon suit is good, but not essential

A Triathlon suit is a quick dry suit for back-to-back swimming, cycling and running. Since this was my first Ironman, I didn’t invest in a tri-suit. During transitions, I changed from my swimming trunks to cycling clothes and then from cycling clothes to running clothes. Hence, I took longer (22+ minutes) as compared to other athletes (between 5 and 8 minutes) who used a tri-suit. For the next Ironman, I plan to invest in a good quality tri-suit.

Pre race food

The ideal diet for a few days before the race consists of high carb, low fat and low fibre foods. These type of foods are easy to digest and increase glycogen stores in the muscles. These foods are the richest fuels for ATP production. Unfortunately, I didn’t know enough about this (I still don’t, research is on) at that time. Hence, I wasn’t able to plan my pre-race food adequately. Consequently, my energy depleted during the run and I ended up slowing down during the running leg.

Food and drinks during the race

The body needs adequate energy and hydration to perform optimally during the race. You can’t start this planning on race day. This has to be a part of the training regimen. Race day is for execution of everything which you have done during training. During training, the athlete will have to experiment with quantity, frequency and type of food. Doing so, will help her/ him develop a deep understanding of her/ his nutritional needs.

I didn’t plan the food part well enough and was ravenously hungry ten minutes into the run. At the support stations, I gobbled up anything edible/ drinkable which I could lay my hands on. As a result I drank chemical electrolytes, coke, red bull, water and ate oranges, bananas and chips. All the junk I consumed did two things. One that it helped me recover slightly and two, made me feel bloated up and weird while running. End result was that I completed the run in 2:37 hours rather than my planned 2:10 hours.

The verdict on food

Eat before you get hungry, drink before you’re thirsty and ensure that you take enough electrolytes during the race.

Enjoying the race matters

I thoroughly enjoyed the Ironman 70.3. The volunteers constantly cheered the athletes and provided amazing support. Thanks to their infectious energy, I had a silly grin plastered on my face during the race.

The volunteers happily splashed cold water on athletes who requested for it, gave us plenty of food and water and a healthy dose of cheering. Apart from the volunteers, Goan people cheered us on, gave us high fives, played upbeat music, danced and created a happy festive atmosphere. They just made the race memorable and thoroughly enjoyable.

The best part…

…Gaurav Ghosh waiting patiently at the finish line to click my pictures as I finished the race. This was an incredible moment. Thanks GG for capturing it and making it a permanent memory :)

At the finish line
Finisher medal - Ironman Goa
Finisher medal – Ironman Goa

In conclusion, the learning is to plan, understand yourself and most importantly to enjoy the race.

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