No matter how many IRONMAN distance events one has done, nothing about the race should be taken for granted—especially your race arrival timing and preparation.
Considering a typical triathlete spends between three and five months meticulously preparing with huge amounts of physical training and mental energy invested in the fine tuning of every last detail—it makes sense to arrive at the race venue with extra time in hand.
A general rule of thumb is to arrive at least one day ahead for every time zone crossed to allow for sleep acclimatization. For most events, especially those with a major time or climate change involved, I like to have athletes come in four to five days early if possible.
For example, Tuesday or Wednesday for a Sunday race—especially if it is hot or a championship event. This gives ample opportunity to check out the course and staging areas as well as getting race expo and registration duties over with.
However, I often work with athletes who can spare only one or two days out of their week. What should an athlete with such limited time available?
Flying in only one or two days out is not an ideal situation as it adds another element of stress to an already busy time.
However, if last minute arrival is the only option, planning everything while in your last stages of training before you leave home will help pave the way for the smoothest event possible.
Areas to consider: Travel logistics, race venue familiarization, course recon, acclimatization and mental preparedness.
Traveling with a bike is often the number one stressor of many athletes I talk to.
If you are not comfortable unpacking your bike and reassembling it safely or in a timely manner, contact a local shop or the mechanics on site to book a time for this.
Or, consider using a service like TriBike Transport to take care of shipping everything for you. Be aware that you will be without your race bike for any number of days or weeks while it travels to your destination.
Above all else, having people know you will be arriving last minute will help alleviate the panic of searching around for someone to do the job.
Event Site and Race Course Familiarization
If the race is unfamiliar to you, do as much research on the venue as possible before you arrive. Analyze all aspects of the course. Print out course maps, drive the entire course and plan your nutrition accordingly based on where aid stations, shade and hilly sections are located. Use Best Bike Split to determine goal power for various parts of the course.
Arriving late to a race means having to forgo a course drive as sitting in a car for three-plus hours on a Friday before an IRONMAN is detrimental.
If you don’t have time to drive the course, use forums to get inside scoops on what to expect and things that are unique to the course. If driving to a destination race shortly before racing, get out regularly and stretch the legs or include a short 15 to 20 minute run daily to keep your legs fresh.
Spend the necessary time to orient yourself with your hotel and where the Expo and registration site are situated. Many events do not let you check in the day before the race, with IRONMAN, this needs to be done two days prior and then all gear bags packed.
This is an opportunity to organize all your gear at home in the appropriate bags while there isn’t the pressure of travel. Then transfer to the appropriate bags upon arrival.
Bring race day nutrition from home rather than scrambling from race expo to bike shop to running store to find your preferred gel or drink, possibly coming up empty handed and playing chance with a new item. This situation is becoming more and more common with the many varieties of bars and gels to choose from.
In order to keep a diet similar to what you are used to at home, do some research on local restaurants that serve your favorite meals or who are able to cater to special nutritional considerations.
If you are on a special diet, i.e. wheat or gluten-free, and need to bring specific food, you’ll need to research grocery stores in the local area that stocks them.
Most stores have websites you can check to be certain that the foods you require are available. Be prepared by carrying food with you so you don’t get stuck making poor nutritional choices. Have fruit or energy bars on hand and carry a full water bottle with a bit of electrolyte for better absorption—this is especially important during long flights.
If you are travelling to a hot race be sure to include temperature and humidity acclimatization sessions in the lead up to the event. I wrote about this last year and recommend including temperature specific sessions beginning at least three to four weeks out from your goal event. Make sure to determine your sweat loss and a corresponding fluid and sodium replenishment plan.
Try to keep some routine in your week. Schedule your workouts in advance, bring some good books, see a movie or schedule a midweek massage. You’ll have more time on your hands than usual with decreased training so take advantage of it wisely.
You want to avoid over-thinking the race this week. Don’t try to cram things in, rather instead make time for yourself to visualize being successful. Any time you spend time mentally preparing is time well spent.
Although arriving late is never the ideal situation, planning as much as possible in advance will alleviate the stress of last-minute travel. It will also help relax the mind knowing you have done everything possible to be ready on race day.
Thanks to LifeSport Senior Coach Dan Smith for his contribution to this article.