Assessing Your Ironman Using the 4 Keys

TeamEN at the Ironman USA finish line.

We recently shared with you our Four Keys of Ironman Execution, four simple principles that have transformed the long course racing of thousands of athletes. We would like to now teach you how you can use these principles to assess your Ironman performance.

A Four Keys Review

First, let's review the Four Keys of Execution.

  1. Race day is about execution, not fitness.
  2. Nothing matters until the line, which is mile 18.
  3. We get to the line and we set the conditions of success by racing inside a box. Everything that goes inside that box is what you can control. Everything outside of that box is what you can't control.
  4. Your one thing. At the end of the day, when you hit the line, your body will begin to push back when it doesn't want to continue. This is when you pull out your one thing--the answer to the "why are you racing?" question. This is your mind's response to your body's demands to slow down or stop.

So, what does the above mean from a post-race perspective? When you are evaluating your race, the number one piece of data that you have on hand is your finishing time. It's very easy to know whether or not you achieved your goal time, but that information doesn't give any details about how your race day played out. After all, it only takes one mechanical to throw off your finish time, but you could have still had an excellent race. The true measure of your race is not the final time at the finish line, but how you got there.

Evaluating Your Race

Here's how you can use the Four Keys system to effectively review your race:

Step One: Did you race according to principles of execution or did your fitness dictate your day? This is a decision we all have to make at many points during the day when we have to decide if we want to accelerate away from someone on the swim, if we're going to be aggressive into a hill, or if we're going to run quickly for the first six miles.

Step Two: Where did you hit your line on race day? It's going to show up for all of us at some point in time. Perhaps it was at mile 18 or maybe it came earlier. Knowing where it happened gives you further insight as to how you paced your day: did it happen on he run, did it happen on a bike, was it late or early in the day? Where did you find yourself having the great mental versus physical debate that determines your finish?

Step Three: Did you race inside the box, focusing on what you could control? Or did your find yourself outside of the box focusing on external factors? There are countless times over the course of your Ironman day where you bump up against elements of friction in the competition that may or may not allow you to operate in a clean, efficient manner. Did you handle those moments well? Were you able to do what you needed to do to get passed it? What was it that forced you outside of your zone and how can you improve upon this next time?

Step Four: Your one thing. The line happens for all of us in an Ironman. When you hit it, you're going to need that one thing to be ready. How did your one thing work out? Was it powerful enough? Where you mentally strong enough? How effectively were you able to execute given your condition? All of those questions get at the meat of the issue: were you able to continue your race, and continue executing, when the chips were down?


The Four Keys is a great starting point for deeper introspection into your race, but it also allows for a very quick assessment of did I or did I not have a good day. Your ability to hit a specific time or a goal time in a day that is as long as an Ironman is pretty arbitrary. There are so many things that can go wrong, but you can quickly scan through your four keys list and decide whether or not you had a well-executed race despite the conditions.

Receive a free Four Keys DVD, a $29 value! Learn more at

Listen to TeamEN race report podcasts from IMUSA and IMCDA. These podcasts are a reminder that athletes of all ability levels can not only execute like a professional, but that they can learn from those experiences, incorporate them into their racing schedule, and continue to grow as athletes.

Rich Strauss is co-founder and head coach of Endurance Nation, a virtual triathlon team for long course athletes with over 400 members. Endurance Nation offers a FREE four week trial of any one of our training plans and our Team. To learn more about Endurance Nation and the results-focused and affordable tools they are using to change the triathlon coaching game, please visit

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