I know several athletes who are doing Wildflower Long Course tomorrow as their first Half IM distance race. WF long course is a fun event and a challenging one! Here are some random tips for first timers that can help make the difference between finishing strong and having a fun day versus adding an extra hour or so of suffering an misery. These tips are geared toward athletes looking to “finish strong” as opposed to those, e.g., targeting a podium spot or a sub 5 finish.
1. Walk Up The Boat Ramp Half Way Then Take Off Your Wetsuit. Don’t run up the boat ramp! Take your wetsuit off half way up the ramp– you’ll get a break and you won’t have to run through the long transition area in your wetsuit.
2. Bike Up Beach Hill (the first steep hill up from the lake) As Slowly As You Can Without Falling Over. Every time I do this race I hear people gasping for air and struggling up this hill which is only a couple of miles into the race! If you’re gasping for air and feeling lactate at mile 2, you’re off to a bad start.
3. Use The Rollers Out To Mile 12 As a Chance to Accumulate Coasting Time. I attended a Wildflower Training weekend with the Silicon Valley Triathlon Club a few weeks ago (other triathlon clubs were also out training on the course). I started a few minutes later than most athletes riding the course so I got the chance to ride by people as they were going through the rollers out to mile 12. 2 things impressed me: (1) people were riding WAY too hard up the hills (I heard people breathing so loudly that they were probably riding at their VO2 max intensity!) and (2) they were pedaling down the hills when they would have been faster by coasting. Of course, these people must have been from other clubs, not SVTC! In fact, if your goal is to finish the race strong (as opposed to pushing for a top finish) I’d recommend coasting as much as possible, even if it is slightly slower than pedaling at times. People often ask me– “won’t my legs tighten up if I coast?” Yes, if you are in the Tour de France and you blast up a mountain at a maximal effort then descend down the other side for 45 minutes nonstop without pedaling your legs will lock up. If you coast for a minute or two on the back side of a roller on the Wildflower course, you be fine. If you don’t want your legs to be completely shattered at the start of the run, take it much easier up the hills (staying well below your threshold), and coast as much as possible on the downhills. Coasting on the bike is the only time during the event you can get complete rest while still moving forward quickly– take advantage of it!
4. Fuel & Hydrate!!! This is obvious but it’s also something that many beginners forget in their first HIM race. I would target a bottle of fluid at each aid station (drinking the sports drink on the course is an easy way to get fluid and some calories) plus extra bars / gels. For most athletes 250 calories an hour on the bike is a good minimum target (I tend to take in 300-400). By the way, don’t stop fueling on the run course. If you are going to be out there for 2+ hours it is plenty of time to bonk! Grab a cup of sports drink at every aid station or two! I’d venture a guess that many if not most first time HIM athletes flirt with bonking at some point in the race– stay on top of your nutrition!
5. Proactively Walk During The First Half of the Run. Many first timers are going to have to walk for part of the run. It’s much better to proactively choose a run / walk strategy before the race as opposed to running as long as you can then being forced to walk due to fatigue. I’d recommend walking at least part of the way up the short uphills starting IMMEDIATELY out of transition. Keep your legs fresh enough so that you can run well down the hills and on the flatter sections. I’d also walk up the bigger hills at mile 4.5ish and the monster at mile 5. All of this walking might cost you a few minutes, but you’ll arrive at the half way point of the race (with mostly downhill ahead of you until mile 10) with fresh enough legs to make up some serious time. Athletes who pushed themselves to the limit in the first 5 miles will be force to walk, even on the abundant gradual downhill sections from mile 5.5 to mile 10.