British athlete Bex Rimmington, 35, won her age group in 2018 UK Ironman in July and went on to compete in the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii as one of the four selected Zwift Specialized Academy team members. She told me about her tips for success in an Ironman.
Bex is a high-achieving athlete. She has successfully competed in cycling, as well as triathlon. In 2009, she piloted Lora Turnham to a bronze medal at the Tandem Road Race at the 2009 UCI World Para-cycling Road Cup in Italy. In 2018, she was selected as one of just four athletes around the world for the 2018 Specialized Zwift Academy Triathlon Team. She currently works for top UK cycling gear retailer Merlin Cycles.
Having finished the Kona Ironman, a race that many can only dream of even entering, Bex now has a wealth of advice to share with other athletes. She told me her top tips for completing an Ironman triathlon.
1. Strike a balance
Taking on the Ironman is very much a family affair. When you begin, you should share your goals with your friends and family. They’ll be your support network, which means they’ll have to tolerate you when you get tired and grumpy – and this will happen!
But they’ll also be the ones that will relive the moments with you once you complete the event. They’ll recall the tales about the one time they had to come and rescue you when you ran out of inner tubes for your bike or had to be rescued from a petrol station because you ran out of energy.
Having that support network can be the difference between you crossing that finish line and not even getting to the start line.”
2. Train with others
The road to the Ironman is a long one, so make the journey as fun as possible by training with others. A good training partnership means you’ll motivate one another when things get tough. Don’t think that you need to do it all on your own.
For swimming, I advise you join a local swim club or masters group to get involved in a community of athletes. If you need to work on your swimming technique, enrol in a course at the local swimming pool. There’s a lot of knowledge out there and lots of people more than willing to help.
For cycling and running, there are loads of clubs and groups available to you. There are also vibrant online communities, such as Zwift, which allow you to take part in group workouts or arrange to ride or run with friends. Or you could join the local triathlon group as there will be lots of people able to help with knowledge and advice.
3. Get the right kit and equipment
It’s important to make sure that the kit and equipment you buy will help you in the race. Do plenty of research to find out which products will really make you faster.
A good example would be wheels for your bike. For example, deep section wheels are great for aerodynamics and flat courses but they are heavy, so if you are on a hillier course you might want to consider something a little bit lighter.
Likewise, if the event you have entered has a wetsuit swim, take the opportunity to try some wetsuits before you buy or hire for the day. Wetsuits can have varying neoprene thicknesses which can help with buoyancy and flexibility. Also remember that the thicker the wetsuit, the more buoyancy you’ll have. Find one that strikes the balance for you.
4. Pace yourself
Nailing your pacing is vital for a successful Ironman race. With spectators cheering you along on race day, it’s very easy to get carried away with emotions, which can make you use up too much energy early on and struggle at later stages.
Instead of listening to the crowd, listen to your body. The rule of thumb is: “If it feels like you’re going too hard, you’re going too hard.” Ironman is a long day out and you can always increase the pace later on if you’ve started a little bit too conservatively, whereas if you tip over the edge things can get pretty messy.
Incorporate pacing into your training to ensure you strike the perfect balance on the big day. Use technology like power meters and heart rate monitors as your guide, tweaking your energy exertion as you go until you hit that sweet spot.
5. Eat right, race well
Food for today is fuel for tomorrow. When training for an Ironman, you need to ensure you’re getting the right fuel, which means planning out your meals for the week ahead.
If you’re working out early in the morning, consider making an overnight oat recipe so that you can eat as soon as you’ve finished and can get straight to work without spending time making your breakfast.
If you have a long ride at the weekend make sure you plan how much you are going to eat, when and where. Fuelling properly before, during and after sessions will ensure that you can complete the required workouts that you need to do each week.
Practice what you plan to eat during training; if you are racing abroad, try to buy the bars and energy drink that they have at the feed station before the event so you know that your stomach can tolerate them. Practice what you will eat and drink before the race in training as well; make a note with what works well and what doesn’t, using an online training app like TrainingPeaks to monitor how your diet affects your training.
Finally, plan how you’ll stay fully hydrated. Hydration depends a great deal on the conditions in which you’ll be racing. Hot climates may require more fluid to attain the same level of hydration as in cooler climates, so you should use your training to test how much to drink and how often.
6. Set process goals
The Ironman is as much a psychological challenge as it is a physical one – and it starts even before the race begins.
When planning how you’ll train, break the race down into manageable bitesize chunks. Use training to experiment and find out what works well for you when times are tough. Does using key phrases help? Does a favourite treat make a good pick-me-up? Figure out what motivates you and find ways to bring it with you to the race.
You should also plan a “what-if?” scenario and practice these during training: What if I puncture? What happens if my goggles get knocked off during the swim? What happens if I drop my nutrition bar during the race?
Having a contingency for these obstacles means you can keep a cool and methodical head to keep you on track for achieving your goals.
7. Know the course
If you’re doing a local race, then you may have the opportunity to run or ride the route as part of your preparation. However, you probably won’t have that luxury if you are travelling further afield, so it’s important to research what you may be about to encounter.
The good news is that there are plenty of files now on Strava of any climbs on even less well-known courses. If the course has been run by a Strava user before, you can look at the profile and see what times people typically complete it in. YouTube is also a great tool: Go Pro vids and aerial overviews let you see what you might encounter.
With these tools at your disposal, you can tailor your training plan accordingly. If you know you have a flat race, for example, it’s important that you include bike rides where you will be pedalling non-stop for quite a few hours. Likewise, if the run course is hilly, practice running hills when you are already fatigued so your body isn’t shocked on race day by the new stimulus.
8. Practise your transitions
If you’re not used to transitioning, it can add vital minutes to your race time, so take the opportunity in training to work on your transition routine. The more realistic your transition simulation is, the faster you will be on race day. Practise how quickly you can get out of your wetsuit and rehearse what you would have in your transition bag.
Including transition practising on your longer brick sessions will also emphasise any extra items that you might need for comfort, such as applying body glide to prevent blisters or determining whether you need to run with an extra bottle to stay hydrated.
9. Use technology to your advantage
We use technology to help us in all sorts of activities but while technology is important to structure training and find out where your limits are, don’t be a slave to numbers.It’s just as important to listen to your body.
There are times when you need to push on when you’re tired, but it is also vital to listen to any niggles or aches and pains so you can prevent injury. That way, you stay on track with the bigger picture, even if you do have to finish a session earlier than you would like.”
10. Enjoy the moment
You’ve trained for months – maybe even years – for the Ironman, so enjoy it! There are loads of entertaining signs and t-shirts on race day and occasionally you will spot one that makes you chuckle. My favourite that I spotted this year was: “Smile, you’ve paid to do this!” which is completely right. Enjoy every moment of the journey ahead.