It's common for Ironman athletes to "shop a bike course," searching out information on the relative difficulty of bike courses and usually focusing on the total elevation gain. However, in our experience, elevation gain doesn't tell the complete story about the relative difficulty of Ironman bike courses.
Rather, the primary consideration should be how easy or difficult the bike course is to "figure out." That is:
- Does the bike course force you to make big or small decisions very frequently?
- Once a decision is made, how long is that course of action / inaction applied?
Why is 'Decision Frequency and Length' Important?
A 140.6-mile race is too long of a problem to solve with fitness alone. Rather, success at the Ironman distance is about the application of your fitness to the course via excellent race execution skills. On race day you put this fitness and your race execution skills in a box, drive that box around the course, and make decisions all day.
The contents of this Race Execution Skills Box are:
- Self-Awareness: are you able to monitor systems, and observe yourself and situations objectively, identifying when you need to make a decision?
- Knowledge: do you know how to make effective decisions? To race with power? Pace? Heart rate? How to adjust those for heat, wind, rain, or nutritional surprises? Fuel and hydrate yourself effectively? Fix a flat very quickly? Pace the first few miles of the Ironman bike and run, and much, much more?
- Patience: the ability to play the long game, ignoring the short-term game played by those around you.
- Discipline: very simply, the ability to shut up, sit down, and do what you know you should do.
The Ironman bike course will present you with several types of decisions to make on race day. Below are our notes for each: