Monday, December 10, 2007

EN: Four Keys to Ironman Execution

The Endurance Nation "Four Keys" To Ironman Execution

I'm flying home from IMFL, the last Ironman of the 2007 season, and the end of a long season of Ironman coaching, speaking, clinic-ing and spectating. I'd like to take this time to deliver to you, one last time, the end-all, be-all of how you should race Ironman. Frankly, because after six years of full-time Ironman coaching I'm tired of seeing people screw it up! We're absolutely, 100% convinced that what we're going to share with you works. Our observations this season -- and the results of our athletes -- speak for themselves. Note that we're writing this a little tongue in cheek, using humor to get our point across. This is the style of our live schtick, delivered to you in pixels.

First, our CVs...
Rich: Ironman coach since 2001, has personally coached 200+ Ironman finishers. Over 800 athletes have used Crucible Fitness training plans since 2005. I have delivered pre-race talks at 2-4 Ironman races per year since 2003 to about 50-70 athletes per talk. This year alone I've:

  • Conducted race specific training camps (ie, how to train and racing Ironman) on the IMLou, IMLP, and IMWI courses for over 70 athletes.
  • Delivered pre-race talks at IMCDA, IMLP, IMWI, and IMFL to over 200 athletes.
  • Ridden motorcycle support for IMCDA and then stood at the turnaroud at mile 7 for three hours. Rode the IMLP course backwards during the race, then stalked the run course on my bike. That is, I've seen, first hand, hundreds of athletes hammering up a hill at mile 60, and the same athletes walking at mile 10.

Patrick: Triathlon coach since 2002, with over 150 one-on-one athletes and 400 training plan athletes sucessfully hitting the finishline in the last five years. I have conducted over 15 race-specific and epic training camps. My personal best is a 10:01 at IMUSA and a 10:37 at Kona 2007.

In short, we have a lot of experience with what works, what does not work, and we've honed this message through the results of our athletes, our observations while being ON the course during the race, and the feedback we've received from pre-race talk attendees.

This is the official Endurance Nation Ironman Kool-Aid, we hope you enjoy it. Help us help you!

The Four Keys
  1. Execution, not Fitness. All you've done for 9 months is build a vehicle. Ironman racing is about how you DRIVE that vehicle, it is NOT about the vehicle. The majority of athletes on race day are fitness-focused (look at my T-shirt, look at my abs/veins/etc, look at how fast I can go in the first hour of the bike, etc.) As coaches we can make you stronger, but we can't fix stoopid if you decide to race your own way.
  2. The Line. Nothing on race day really matters until you reach The Line on the run. The Line is the point at which continuing becomes very, very difficult. You define success as simply not slowing down at The Line. EVERYTHING before The Line is simply about creating conditions for success for when the Line comes to you. Additional Kool-Aid flavored thoughts we'd like to put in your head regarding this point are:
    • A successful race = a good run. There is no such thing as a good bike followed by bad run, period. In our world, if you showed up with solid run fitness, had a "good" bike and a poor run, we will ALWAYS assume you boogered your bike pacing unless you are missing a limb or are in the ICU with an intestinal parasite.
    • If you think you can ride faster than we're telling you, prove it by running well off the bike first (preferrably not attempted for the first time on IM race day).
    • Ride your "should" bike split vs your "could" bike split. Your Could split is what you tell Timmy you could ride on a good day, when you're out together for your Saturday ride. If you say you "could ride a 5:50," your Should split is likely 6:00 and defined as the bike split that yields a good run (see above).
    • Don't eat the paste. Ironman in general, but especially the bike leg, is at best a special ed class: you only have to show up with your C game to be at the head of the class. If you find yourself doing the opposite of everyone else, you're doing the right thing. If Jimmy and everyone else is in the corner eating the paste, don't join them! Sit down, do what we're telling you, and don't eat the paste! Lots of people passing you in the first 40 miles? That's good, don't eat the paste. Going backwards through the field on a hill? That's good, don't eat the paste.
    • Think you made the mistake of riding too easy? You now have 26 miles to fix that mistake. Make the mistake of riding too hard? That mistake now has 26 miles to express itself, to the tune of X miles at 17-18' walking pace vs X miles at 8-10' running pace. Do the math. How is that bike split going to look as you are walking/shuffling the last 10 miles of the run?
    • Every time you feel yourself about to get stupid, look at where you are. Are you at The Line? No. Then sit down, shut up, do what you're told and don't be stoopid. Please. :)

3. The Box: all day long you are going to race inside a box defined by what you can control. Ask yourself "What do I need to do right NOW to create the conditions for success at The Line? Is what I'm doing right now counter to this goal? From what we've seen first hand on the IM courses this season, we believe you should ask yourself "Am I participating in some short-term tactical masturbation?" If yes, STOP!!

On the swim, the Box is the space your body occupies in the water: focus on your form and the rest will come. On the bike, the box is probably about one aid station long. On the run, the box begins as 2-3 aid stations long but often diminishes to "from here to the next lampost/manhole cover/mail box." Regardless:
    • Keep the box as big as you can for as long as you can.
    • Keep in the box only the things you can control. Let go of the rest.
    • Exercise this decision-making process inside your box: Observe the situation, Orient yourself to a possible course of action, Decide on a course of action, Act (OODA Loop).

4. The One Thing. If you swallowed the Kool-Aid we're serving you here, you will show up at the Line, in your Box, ready to git'erdun and simply not slow down. But we're not done yet. There is still some psychological stuff you need to address.

During the course of your race day, expect your body to have a conversation with your mind: "Look, Mind, you've had me out here slogging away for 132 miles. This is really starting to get old and very painful. You need to give me a good reason to keep going forward. If you can't give me a good one, I'm gonna slow down and you can't stop me!" Before the race, you need to ask yourself "Why am I doing Ironman?" In other words, you need to determine what is the One Thing that put you in this race? To finish in the daylight with a smile on your face? To run a 4:10? Whatever your One Thing is, be absolutely clear and rehearse your mind/body debate beforehand. But be warned: your body can be a helluva good negotiator at mile 18, especially if your mind hasn't prepared its rebuttal arguments beforehand.

Unity of purpose creates clarity of focus, yielding breakthrough performance.

What have we not talked about so far? The things you are likely most torqued about: heart rate, pace, speed, watts, how to eat, what to drink, etc. We believe that if you can keep yourself focused on the Four Keys above, the rest of the day is relatively simple and you don't need to worry about these relatively small details. In other words, all the whizbang guidance in the world can't help you if don't have your mind right about the Four Keys above.

But because you're a Type A Triathlete and you want the details, here they are:
  • The Swim: Swim only as fast as your ability to maintain form. When you feel your form go, slow down. Counting strokes is an excellent technique for bringing your mind out of the race and into the Box of maintaining your form.
  • The Bike: JRA (Just Ride Along) for about 45-60'. Then shift from JRA to Easy (5:45+ should split) to Steady (sub 5:45 should split). Guage how well you're doing by how well you're NOT doing what everyone else is doing. REMEMBER: Don't eat the paste!
  • The Run: Jog for 4-6 miles, with a jogging, do-no-harm pace and heart rate cap. Jogging is defined as a pace you could sustain for hours if we kept feeding you. After 4-6 miles, shift from jogging to "running," running comfortably, getting what you need, and preparing yourself for the Line, where things become very uncomfortable. At the Line, just suck it up and giterdun.

That's it, that's as complicated as racing Ironman needs to be and we can't say it any more simply. We've basically given you a Vegas betting strategy, having managed and observed many rolls of the dice. If you sit down, shut up, do what we tell you, you will have a good day. But as you stray towards the Ricky Racer side of the execution scale, you begin to rattle the dice.

Still not convinced?
The results and feedback of our athletes speak for themselves:

"First, the things Rich and Coach P preached were a lot of common sense, but somehow they seemed to hit home.
  1. There is generally not failure to train, but failure to execute an effective race plan. Test your plan prior to race day, know it, use it.
  2. Don't get caught up in other people's "stuff", e.g., trying new things 24 hrs before the race. Do the things you have tested long before race day
  3. Race your race. If the other guys want to blow past you on the bike, let them. You WILL see them again. Know your training data and use it.
  4. Prepare yourself mentally for the arguments your mind and your body are going to have toward the end.
  5. Swim: only as fast as form stays good.
  6. Bike: pace within your ranges (power/hr) ignore "speed"
  7. Run: start SLOWLY, you don't want to have to walk 26 miles,the real "race" starts @ mile 18
  8. Enjoy what you've worked for and know that while you are suffering Rich and Coach P are somewhere sucking down a Starbucks!!"--Gina

"I passed 20% of the field in my first Ironman marathon, and I am far from being an elite runner. I credit the EN masters with allowing this to happen. Simple, repeatable concepts & key words helped me to remain patient, focused, and detached from other competitors. Look out, ‘cause I’m taking another sip of their Kool-Aid in ’08." -- Dan

"Pre Kool Aid - I had completed 3 previous IM without Kool Aid. They were each about survival rather than completing the event with confidence. I walked the majority of the marathon in each of these events. I honestly thought that maybe I wasn't cut out to run the IM run.
Post Kool Aid - An hour run PR. I ran the whole run. Finished with confidence and absolutely "flew" on the second half of the run. Thanks to the EN pacing guidelines, I ran a 10 minute negative split. It seemed surreal, to think I could actually enjoy the IM run. What an incredible experience! More coaches need to preach execution just as much, if not more than the training phase." -- Alex

Have you had a great race after listening to or reading our drivel? If so, please post your comments and experiences!


Anonymous said...

Hi guys

I followed this principal, from other stuff I have read from your web site, emails etc. I am 39 years old and have been in the triathlon gig for nearly four years.

I just completed my first IM (IMWA - Busselton, Western Australia on Dec 2nd) and was very pleased with the way I raced and basically followed my plan, which was very similar to what you just outlined in the Four Keys article.

It worked like a charm. I had a nice solid swim (66min), a conservative bike leg - so many people passed me in the first 120km (!), (5:58hrs incl T1/T2) and a great run (3:58hrs), which was my first marathon. I passed so many people in the run. I think only people who were a full lap in front of me (8 and 9hour finishers) passed me. I finished in the top 25% of runners. Each of the 3 run laps was no more than 1 minutes difference in time. It was awesome. I ended up with 11:03 hours and finished in the top 3rd of the field overall.

Your tips and advice were awesome & I kept telling myself to swim & ride as a warm-up for the run.

Thanks heaps


Scarborough, WA.

Marco said...

The best advice I came across in my frantic trawling of the net. Put it into practice during IM Switzerland this year (2010) to finish in 12 hrs. Holding back on the bike is hard, but I kept repeating my mantra 'Don't eat the paste'. Big pay-off in the run, as I was passing people for fun, particularly on the last laps. My lap splits actually fell as I went through the marathon.

An excellent post guys, and a few key phrases that kept ringing in my head, even in soggy, sugar-addled mode. It led me to a finish time 1:30 ahead of my predicted finish.