If I could take one thing back from all the ironman training I did over the years, it would be the thousands of laps I did in the pool with the hopes of thrashing out a faster swim time.
If you are an age grouper or a novice Ironman, there is really no point in spending hours and hours in the pool if you are already at the point where you can easily handle the distance. To devote your valuable training time to enable you to complete the swim 4 or 5 minutes faster is a very poor return on your time investment.
It seems that there are many ironman athletes out there who push way to hard in the swim. The excess energy you burn in that opening leg is simply not recoverable and won't be there for the bike and run.
I firmly believe the reason so many people hit the wall in the marathon, is because they expended so much in the swim. The bike leg just finishes the job of depleting your resources.
There's no medal for swimming fast. There's not even a t-shirt if you swim fast and don't cross the finish line. Even being the very first out of the water means little is you can't put three events together.
Take for example Kona, 1984. The winning swimmer was Djan Madruga. You might be asking yourself, “who the heck is he?" My point exactly. Djan was a world class swimmer and he beat the likes of Dave Scott, Mark Tinley and Mark Allen out of the water that day. His swim time was 47:48. However, Djan ran a 4:47 marathon and Dave Scott ran a 2:53.
This is where my theory comes in of running an Ironman like your energy, strength and endurance are all contained in a full glass of water when the start gun sounds.
Try and avoid expending half of that glass of water before you even get on the bike. That means your glass could well be down to the last quarter-or less, before you even put on your running shoes. I really believe there is a direct relationship between the Ironman shuffle and a poorly executed swim.
I remember the race where I finally began to understand pace and how best to nurse that all important glass of water right up to the last mile of the marathon.
It began with learning how to swim easier-or-more efficiently, and not faster. I learned how to relax in the water and to use looooonnnng, smoooooth, strokes. I couldn't believe how good I felt in the swim-bike transtion. I probably used less than a quarter of that glass of energy.
For the first 40 km. of the bike I let myself get into the rhythm of the change of demands on my body before I settled into the race pace I felt I could hold for the remaining 140 km.
I could “not" believe the run. Normally, it was a struggle from mile one. This time I seemed to settle into a rhythm that I could maintain from the very beginning and the usual tiny voice telling me to walk because it hurt so much, never appeared.
To emphasis my point, I remember beginning to count the athletes I passed as the marathon progressed. It was a way of keeping my mind occupied and when I reached 350 that I had passed, I just quit counting, because it became a chore there were so many.
Needless to say, everyone I passed was either faster than me in the swim, on the bike, or in transition-or all three. The whole point is, it doesn't really matter how fast they were up to that point if they're walking now. Why spend hours and hours learning to swim faster if you're going to walk most of the marathon?
Just do the math. Say I'm running about an 8:15 pace like I did that year, from start to finish, and I pass someone at mile 10 and they have begun to walk and end up walking most of the marathon? They'll probably cross that finish line about 2 hours after me. That's the same person who swam faster and biked faster than I did. I had half a glass of water left and they were on empty at mile ten of the marathon.
I believe the best place to empty that glass is about 1 kilometer from the finish line. Its about there that the fan support has grown to huge proportions and most important of all you can hear the race announcer at the finish line. Those two happenings will carry you to the finish line. At that point, nothing is going to stop you.
I also think its best to be on empty just before the finish, because like me, if you finish and feel great and have a fast recovery, you most likely crossed the finish line with a quarter of a glass left.
And hey! You don't want to wonder years down the road if you left something out on the course that day.
My name is Ray and I'm a veteran of over 25 years of endurance events, including 14 Ironman triathlons.
I have created a site called “Ironstruck" that is full of training and racing tips for the first time Ironman.