The $.02 Series:
Note: This was written in 2007 - things change year to year, so your specific experience, schedule, etc. may vary. For instance - the new on-course sports drink from Powerbar, rather than Gatorade. That is all, carry on.
I thought I'd spread out, over the next few posts, a few general thoughts and ideas I have on Ironman Wisconsin. Tips and tidbits. Things I wish I'd known, or practiced, or just information that might be helpful. I'm no expert in anything, and the web is full of way more valuable information than anything I can come up with, but having done IMWI for the first time last year, a few things do stick out. So, I'll share them, geared mostly, I suppose to you first-timers out there. I encourage comments by anybody to add to the discussion. And of course, if you have any questions, I'll do my best.
So to start, I thought I'd talk a little bit about Ironman week. I'm not going to spend much (if any) time on training techniques, or things you should probably already have down: Taper taper taper, rest, gear, nutrition, etc. etc. These are more the details specific to IM week, and what I learned. Later I'll cover the swim, then later the bike, etc.
Depending on your travel plans, you'll register in at Ironman Village on Thursday or Friday. Before those days, keep an eye on the 5-day forecast. A suspicious eye. If there is an inkling of a chance of rain, you want to pack back-up clothes for a day of constant drizzle. If they say "breezy", you want to be prepared for "wind tunnel". Don't lose your mind - there's nothing you can do about the weather, and you have enough to think about than to start obsessing about it. But do plan ahead. Last year, for all its infamy now, was not forecast for the day that was. When I went to bed the night before, in fact, the forecast said no rain and winds below 10mph and a high near 60. And we all know how that went. You want to pack for whatever is possible. This might mean you pack way more than you need. Who cares? You can figure out race-day attire the night before, but if you at least have tights, or armwarmers, or a sweat-band in case it's 100 degrees, or whatever, then at least you'll have what you need.
Also the days before registration, review your race day plan so that it's second nature to you...and then relax about it and be willing to improvise. Last year my long rides almost always saw me hovering around 16.5mph over the course of 100+ miles. So, that's what I planned for. The day came - and it's constant rain. That meant no full-speed descents, it meant riding the brakes, and generally a slower day. Fine. Whatever. If you live by your plan, you can die by your plan. I say keep it as a firm guideline, but if you get a flat tire, don't suddenly try to get back 10 minutes after you're back on the road.
Anyway, so now you're packed up and ready to roll. Great! When are you getting here? If you can do Thursday AM registration, you'll be ahead of the game. Registration is a 2-part affair, where first you get one piece of your packet, then you go around and get the rest of your essential gear. It involves winding lines down stairways and into small rooms, walking seemingly every floor of the the Monona Terrace, and navigating your way through the bowels of the place. By Friday afternoon, everybody has arrived and those lines, while moving along, get really long. The longer you're in line, the more you're on your feet. So, do what you can. If Friday afternoon is your plan, wear comfortable shoes and maybe sip a water bottle while you're in line.
Regardless of when you arrive, bring quarters. The Terrace has a relatively small parking ramp, so you'll likely be parking somewhere at a meter downtown and walking in.
One of the coolest experiences all week is when you finally sit down with a race volunteer and they put your Ironman wrist-band on you. Everything is suddenly very real, and you are among The Chosen. Wear that band with pride. Try and slow time down if you can, and remember the sensation of being there. It's a memory I promise you'll take with you.
You'll find throughout the weekend, and especially as you're in line, that everybody is talking about their race-day strategies. They'll be talking about the drink they have on-board, or why they hate Gatorade (the on-course drink), or the splits they're aiming for, or what they're wearing and why, and it goes on and on and on. You'll see rocketships everywhere. $600 wetsuits. Go into Ironman week with resolve that your training works for you, your gear works for you, and you'll race accordingly. It's impossible not to overhear these guys and think, "what? what's a compact crankset? should I have put one on my bike? Oh crap!" - just relax. It can be intimidating to be surrounded by these elite athletes, and suddenly you're second-guessing yourself. Remember - you ARE one of those elite athletes. Let them stick to their plans - whatever they are - and you stick to yours. Don't worry about what anybody else is saying or doing or thinking. Stay with your gameplan, the one you devised over months and months of training, the one that got you there.
As you finally leave registration, you'll conveniently come out right next to the Ironman store! If you're like me, you'll buy one of everything. Because I'm obnoxious like that. It's fun to walk around if nothing else, and if you need some essentials - Bodyglide, tubes, goggles, whatever - they'll be there, as well as oodles of IM apparel. If it matters to you, keep in mind that by Monday morning a lot of it will be gone, so if you see something you really love, I say don't hesitate. Also, for what its worth, my personal philsophy was that nothing with the M-Dot was allowed on my person until race week. I hadn't earned it. I even hated that my aerobars had the Ironman logo on them (as you know, I'm obsessive). Anyway, race week, it was fun to get into the spirit of it all with an M-Dot hat or t-shirt or whatever. And, it was satisfying and motivating to me to wait. Whatever that means for you. For some it's just a brand logo, like the Nike swoosh. For me, it was and is a symbol. I waited and wore it with pride.
Ironman Village, outside the terrace, has vendors galore, and lots of stimuli to cater to your inner ADHD. The usual expo faire is there, but my rule is never to indulge in some yogurt drink or energy bar I've never tried before, just because it's there and free at asome table. You do what you like. There are opportunities there for you or your family to write on placards that will be posted on the run course, and to jot a note to athletes that will flash on a huge digital board on the run. I can tell you as an athlete that these messages meant the world to me, 120 some miles into the race. I can also tell you that I wrote a note for myself for the digital board, which is maybe really lame, I don't know, but who cares. "Esse Quam Videri", which means "To Be, and Not Just To Appear To Be". It was and is my Ironman mantra. It gave me a boost of kickass when I saw it late in the game - that I wasn't going to just content myself with doing "enough" - I was going to do my very best.
Anyway, enjoy the village, but take care - you don't want to waste energy walking around for hours and hours. For me, I decided my schedule and alotted time, and that was what I stuck to. Your priorties race week should be to rest, and to hydrate. Everything else should fall into place around those things.
You'll read about the Gatorade swim in the days preceding the race, and how there are reps there with goodies and to watch your stuff while you swim. I went on Friday afternoon for a quick swim, and nary a Gatorade person was to be found. I don't know what that means, but if having your stuff watched and getting free stuff is high on your radar, maybe plan for earlier-is-better in the AM on Thursday or Friday for that. I had friends with me, so it was no big deal. I do suggest you go swimming if you can, if for nothing else than to get a little familiar with how the ramp looks and works, and where the swim start/finish is in relationship to the Terrace, where you'll be running up to head into T1.
Speaking of friends with you, if you can hit the village with one of your race-day supporters, I think it'll be that much more fun. The scope and importance of the thing will become really important to them, and it'll be an experience I think you'll be glad you shared.
If you can, get some solid sleep the nights before Saturday. I didn't sleep a wink Saturday night, and it's possible you won't sleep well either, with race-day nerves and excitement. If you can get as much rest the nights before, you'll be better for it.
The night before the race there's a "mandatory" meeting, right after the huge spaghetti dinner. A few thoughts on that. First...whatever your before-race-dinner normally is, stick to it. Don't bust into the spaghetti just because that's what IM has. Also...it takes 12-18 hours for digestion and passing. Like I said, stick to your plan, but keep in mind that in the minds of many athlete-nutritionists (and myself), the time to "carbo-load" is 2 nights before the race, not the night before. The night before should be a carbohydrate dense, but calorie-sensible meal. Anyway, I don't want to tread on your plans with that, but keep it in mind, and maybe google best strategies for carbo-loading if you have more thoughts to explore. (I did, by the way, have spaghetti the night before the race, but a sensible portion. I did my major loading Friday night). As far as the meeting, last year Pharmie and I went, and I left it a little early - only because the doctor got up there and, as is his job, started going through every possible medical scenario you might face and what it might mean for you. After awhile, it was common sense stuff...and I didn't want to hear it. For me, I didn't need to introduce scary new unknowns into my head the night before the race. The "mandatory" meeting doesn't really cover anything crucial, and lots of athletes don't attend it. I did, but I intended to thoroughly immese myself in all the weekend had to offer (I did not, though, attend the dinner beforehand). Just keep that in mind if you plan to go the meeting.
Most of all, soak it all in. Just enjoy the being of it. Have fun looking around, embrace your athlete-status, let them make you feel special, which is what the IM staff sets out to do. I really calibrated my attitide in the days before the race - all that excitement and nervousness, I found, boiled down to fun, and pride, and enjoyment. I took that with me into the water Sunday morning.
Next time: The swim!