Summer Races as Preparation for an Ironman

As the snow finally melts away and spring slowly arrives it is time to start planning your upcoming summer race season. For many athletes the summer season culminates with an Ironman. This involves many long days training days in order to be properly prepared. But combining long training days with a few shorter races along the way is a great way to put the finishing touches on your fitness and nutrition for the big day.

Here are some of the races available and how they can benefit your Ironman performance

Half Ironman’s – These are a great opportunity to practice your Ironman nutrition and test your fitness over the longer distances. You should plan on doing a half no closer than 4-6 weeks before your Ironman. This will allow you to both recover properly and to give you enough time to make changes to your training if you find that you are weaker than expected in certain areas. This race should be raced at full speed and not at your Ironman race pace. But it is still a chance to practice pacing, you will be going faster than you will at Ironman but you still want to be patient and hold a steady pace over the course of the whole race without fading at the end. One of the biggest mistakes in Ironman is going out too hard and this race is a chance to practice some restraint in the beginning and holding a consistent pace towards the end. A half Ironman is the ideal place to practice your Ironman nutritional plan, which is one on the keys to a successful race. You should have the same race morning breakfast that you plan on having at your Ironman as well as using the same nutrition you plan on using during the race. This will allow you to see if your breakfast still sits well when you are experiencing some race morning nerves and also to see how your system handles your race day nutritional plan while under the stress of competition

Sprint and Olympic Distance races – These races can be used as an intensity workout in your lead up to Ironman. They can be used in both your build period as well as your taper period before your race. Short course races will give you an opportunity to test your transitions and let you swim, bike and run one after the other. Again these races should be done at full speed and not Ironman race pace. You are using these races as a training opportunity and you need to push hard in order to get the most benefit. But, pacing is still very important and holding a steady pace over the course of the race is important, not going out hard and fading at the end. In your build phase these races can be combined with a long ride (or brick) either the day before or the day after the race as a way to build endurance for Ironman in conjunction with some intensity, be cautious however as going to long or too hard the day before or after can be very stressful on the body, so only experienced athletes should attempt this and the long day should be done at an easy intensity. A race, long ride double should only be used once or twice in a season however as the risks of doing it on a regular basis are quite high. You need to remember as well that Ironman is your A race and therefore don’t have too high expectations for your short course performances. The long hours and lower intensity training necessary for an Ironman are not the ideal prep for a PB performance in a sprint race so be realistic about your expectations and use the day as a hard workout and a chance to get used to the racing environment again.

Long Course races (2km-55km-15km) – Long course races can be used anywhere from 4+ weeks out from your Ironman as a training and testing opportunity. These races really combine the benefits of both a Half IM and a short course race. Namely they are short enough to be done at a fairly high intensity (relative to Ironman) but they are also quick to recover from so that you don’t have to miss too much training time in recovery. And they are long enough that race nutrition is still a factor in having a successful performance.

When selecting the races you would like to do it works best to choose a race with a similar profile to your Ironman course and also with similar weather conditions. The Subaru Half Ironman in Peterborough is a great example of a race that is ideal prep for Ironman Canada or Wisconsin, being in the middle of July it is far enough out from both races so as to allow full recovery and a chance to make changes to your training. As well the course and conditions are ideally suited to both Ironman courses as it offers a challenging bike ride and hot weather.

By adding a few shorter races to your Ironman preparation you can fine tune your fitness and ensure that you are fully prepared for your best possible race.