So we are now one month out from Ironman Cairns. I know quite a few will be heading over from NZ and from cooler parts of Aussie, and so I thought I would pass on a few tips for when you are training in an environment quite different to what we will face on race day. The last time I raced in Cairns was 2013 and I headed there from training in Wanaka in the South Island. It was quite shockingly cold. Many days it was down to -6 degrees with a high of only 1 degree. I was able to still grab a second place finish on that day with that preparation. This time the preparation is a great deal easier. Mostly days of 18-20 which isn't bad at all, but still a bit different to race day which will be high 20's or early 30's, hot and humid. Last year I also raced Metaman which was in Indonesia. Anyone who has raced in Asia knows just how hot it can get there. I was training in winter (the race was the end of August) and was only able to arrive to Indonesia a couple of days before the race. I had done several of these below points which helped me to have a good race despite the huge change in temperature.
- If you can, use a sauna. We have one down at our local pool which I go into straight after my swim sessions. I love saunas. I could easily stay there all day going in and out, but all I have time for is 10-15 minutes or so. But just this change in temperature for that short time gives a bit of heat stress, which allows your body to make changes that will help with acclimatisation. Plus for me, it provides about the only 10 minutes or so in my day where I can just relax... really important for mental health too!
- Put on more layers than you really need. As I said it is 18-20 degrees here most days which is quite comfortable, so go and make yourself a little more uncomfortable. Put on a polyprop or a jacket that you don't really need when running and/or biking.
- Inside training sessions. At the moment I am only doing my two long bike sessions outside, the rest of the time I am using the trainer. This enables me to control the climate, make it a bit hotter and uncomfortable. I don't have access to a treadmill, but if you do, then you can do this, and try not to use the fan!
- When it comes to arriving at the race venue you will start to acclimatise. If you are only arriving the week of the race as most people will be including myself, try to avoid training in the hottest parts of the day. This goes against my natural feelings. I really want to just get out there at it's hottest and really test myself, but race week I don't feel is the time to do that. If you are coming for a long period then you can do this. But in race week, train in the cooler parts of the day, and just being around not training will be enough to start acclimatising to the temperature.
- As soon as you arrive in Cairns, start making hydration your priority. You may have to add electrolytes to your water. Powerbar have these great ones that I use, you just add the tablets to your water.
- Long sleeve skinsuits. I know this is all the trend at the moment and I have been experimenting with these in certain races. I have used long sleeve skins in Kona the last two years, and found them fine as the aid stations are so close together, and they were long, so it was easy to pick up many bottles of water and still have time to pour a bottle of water over yourself. So I was able to stay wet the entire race, and therefore cool. In other races where the aid stations were much further apart and short, so hard to do everything you need by the last drop station, I found it hard to keep this top wet. In Wanaka it started out very cold and the top was great. By the end of 5 hours it was nearly up to 30 degrees and I wanted to rip that top off my body. For me, I love the feeling of the air on my skin cooling me down, and armpits are great for cooling aren't they? They say these sleeved tops are faster, but this doesn't really take into account the time that you would lose if you overheat and can't keep cool. So if you are planning on trying a sleeved skinsuit for the very first time, I would just bring two options with you, and try both out pre-race and make a call for which you truly feel most comfortable in. The huge pro for sleeved suits in my mind is that you will not have to deal with sunburn which for me is probably the worst thing about racing an Ironman coming from winter.
- Race cautiously on the bike. Don't get carried away right at the beginning of the bike ride. If someone comes flying past you just focus on your own race and pace. They could be a local, comfortable with the heat, they may know what they are doing, or they may not. I have had many people fly past me on the bike, only to meet them again walking in the first few miles of the run course. In a hot race the run becomes much more of a factor than in a cool race. A great deal of time can be lost on the run if you overdo things on the bike. In Metaman, both times I raced, I was extremely cautious on the bike. I built into my race in quarters and each year I felt fantastic coming off the bike and onto the run. I focused on my own race and didn't try to change my pace based on others.
- Hydration. This is key on the bike. Make sure you get exactly what you need each aid station, especially if you are a bigger person. It may be that you want to put on an extra bottle cage if you are on the bigger size, to make sure you don't run out of liquid between stations. You don't have to over drink, but you don't want to be feeling thirsty, let your body dictate. In the last quarter of the bike race you really want to be thinking about hydration. I feel once onto the run, it is very difficult to get enough liquid in, so you don't want to start the run thirsty. And never miss the last aid station. I can not tell you how many times I have come to the last aid station maybe 20k from the end or so, and thought "No I'm sweet I can just go straight through" only to get to 6k or so from the end and have no liquid left. 6k of riding without a sip is a long time, and it is not a good start to your marathon run.
- You can walk through the aid stations. This is some advice that I give that I just cannot do myself, but it truly is sensible, especially on lapped courses which can get very busy. A good example of this was my race in Frankfurt last year. I was feeling so great on the run, was flying, running everyone down, it was looking like I was going to win the European Championships I could not believe it. It was a 4 loop course and it was 36 degrees. I think there were 2500 to 3000 competitors, it started to get really busy for me through the aid stations those last couple of loops. So instead of slowing down and making sure I got what I needed, I just dropped and missed cups and kept running. Meanwhile Brett told me Corinne Abraham who was leading was being sensible and was walking the aid stations. I was catching her quite easily, and then I faded badly. I had run my way to second spot, and ended up getting moved to 3rd in the last couple of kilometers. Brett who gets to watch a lot of Ironman racing tells me that many of the top athletes do walk aid stations, and it does seem to be the sensible approach. I always feel that if I start walking I may not ever get going again, but one day I will force myself to try it and feel the difference!
- If we are lucky enough to have ice on the run, then make sure you make the most of it, use it every aid station.
All the best with the last month of training. I hope to see many of you there!