4 Race-Day Keys to Mastering 140.6 Miles

The average long-distance triathlete has a problem: too much talk about training, not enough talk about how to actually race.

With up to a year to focus on the big day, most triathletes fall into the trap of managing their day-to-day training and lose sight of the big-picture elements that will ultimately determine their race-day results. This article outlines the critical principles that will help you create race-day success.

Race Day Is About Execution, not Fitness

All you've done through your six to nine months of training is to build a fitness vehicle. Success or failure on race day is dependent on your ability to drive that vehicle effectively for 140.6 miles.

As Ironman athletes ourselves, former one-on-one coaches, and now the leaders of a team of over 400 triathletes, we have managed and observed many thousands of turns at the "wheel." We have distilled these lessons from long-distance racing into Four Keys, and have honed them in the pre-race talks we have delivered at every Ironman in the U.S. since 2004.

The Four Keys of Long-Distance Triathlon

1. Execution

It bears repeating: Race day is about execution, not fitness. We measure good execution by your ability to run well off the bike. There is no such thing as a good bike followed by a poor run. The simple fact is that the difference between a "slow" and a "fast" bike on race day is only about 15 minutes. If you've made the mistake of riding too slowly, you now have 26.2 miles of running to fix that mistake.

But if you have made the mistake of riding too fast, that mistake now has 26.2 miles to express itself. And it will, usually to the tune of walking 18- to 20-minute miles for 8, 10, 14 miles as opposed to just continuing to run.  Now you are going backwards through the field to the tune of hours!

2. The Line

Everyone will reach a Line on the last leg where continuing to run at the same pace, or just continuing to run at all, will become very, very difficult. Your focus on Execution above is critical to help create conditions for success at the Line. Success at this point it defined as not slowing down.

3. The Box

Your method of executing and creating conditions for success at the Line is to use your Box. The space inside this Box is defined by what you can control. Nutrition, for instance, is inside the Box because you can control when, how, and how much you eat. Weather and other athletes, on the other hand, are outside of the Box since you can't manipulate these factors, only adapt to them.

4. The One Thing

As your race day continues, you will eventually hit the Line. It's at this point that your body begins to debate, very loudly, with the mind. Unless you have a very clearly defined goal or compelling reason why you must continue, your body wins and your day will start...to get...very...long. Keep this goal or motivation in mind and use it as a lifeline that will bring you to the finish.

Yes, it really is that simple. But what about all that other stuff, you ask?

The heart rate, pace, power, nutrition, aero bottle, race wheel, carbon widget stuff that you are likely geeking about in that online forum? In our experience, you can have all the fitness you want, all the training knowledge you can possibly cram in your head, all the latest gear on your bike, but if you don't have your mind right about the Four Keys you are in serious risk of not realizing your potential on race day.

Want to learn more? Please visit our latest project, TriathlonExecution.com, to download our free Four Keys to Ironman Triathlon eBook. In the ebook you'll find an expanded discussion of the Four Keys, as well as over four hours of podcasts of Endurance Nation coaches Rich Strauss and Patrick McCrann discussing Patrick's Kona qualifying effort at Ironman Coeur d'Alene 2008: the Four Keys, racing with power, pace, discussion of Ironman nutrition, bike set-up and much more!

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