I promised my friend Ryan (not me, I promise) I’d send him an email about how I might prepare for Ironman Lake Tahoe based on completing the event. For Ryan and the rest of you considering IMLT ‘14, here’s my advice.
I think physically I was well-prepared to handle the rigors of the course. Fortius Coaching played a big role in that. Considering I was a live hood ornament last December and couldn’t run until May, there’s only so much leg strength and run endurance I could re-acquire prior to the September race start. On the bike, I would focus on riding a Santa Monica Mountains course loop that included lots of Fernwood, Stunt, Piuma, Decker and Latigo Canyon climbs in some combination. The best combination is going to need to give you roughly 10-15 miles of climbing with a technical descent or two in the middle. (I have a specific training route devised using Strava that I can share with people who are interested.) My best advice though is to visit Lake Tahoe and preview the course itself. I’d do it as soon as possible to experience the seasonal temperatures, which I was able to do last year. Another option would be to race the June Lake Triathlon next summer and spend a few extra days in Lake Tahoe afterwards. Good elevation training combined with seeing what it’s like to race at altitude.
Of all the three disciplines this season, I focused on swimming the most. It paid off with a three-minute PR at Lake Tahoe and that was despite a lack of open-water swimming workouts this season (outside of racing). Because of how calm and quiet the lake typically is, I’d spend a lot of time in the pool and practice proper drafting technique. It will pay off on race day.
If you’re not already, I’d also incorporate strength training and possibly yoga if you have time into your existing training schedule. I watched in awe as my coach ran right by me during the IMLT marathon this year. He attributed his strong performance to strength training with Corey Enman at Fitamorphosis. I’m currently amending my training schedule to increase strength training to twice a week for the remainder of my preparation for Ironman Arizona next month. With all the climbing both on the bike and the run, not to mention the altitude, the stronger you are the better.
Finally, if you’re prone to getting cold like I am, you may want to race with a couple extra pounds on your frame. All the weight I lost for my 70.3 events this year didn’t help me in near-freezing temperatures. In hindsight, I would have heeded my coach Gerardo’s advice and put on five pounds with about six weeks prior to IMLT. But, in the moment I didn’t want to pack on the pounds as it would affect my performance at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships.
Plus, I like how I look in my tri kit now. What a vain bastard.
Oh, where to begin. How about starting the weekend before I left for Lake Tahoe? I knew it was going to be cold, but didn’t fathom it would be so bad that I’d need cycling pants. I certainly didn’t want to wear a bulky winter jacket that would flap in the wind. I was too obsessed with a quick T1. Penny wise and pound foolish. I should have packed for the coldest conditions possible just in case. I will do that for Ironman Arizona, especially since it rained and hailed the first time I raced that course. Better to have it and not use it, right?
Next, race morning. Bring shoes or slippers you don’t mind losing but can keep your feet warm prior to getting in the water. Buy a cheap fleece blanket at a CVS too. I had two pair of socks on, a thermal top and a fleece blanket. But all are gone now since I had to ditch them. I wore my neoprene swim cap not to keep me warm in the water, but to cover my ears in the chill. Definitely worth purchasing. Some people wore booties in the water but I’ve heard it can slow you down as water seeps in to them. I didn’t need the booties while swimming, but it might have helped keep my feet warmer coming out of the water. Tough call there.
In T1, find a chair. That is, if the tent is packed. Either way, I’d sit down even on the ground. As your muscles are cold, it might be wiser not to fight your body while holding an awkward standing pose as you layer up. Further, you want to be near your gear bag in that frenzied chaos. There were so many people at my feet and around my shoulders that all the same black cycling apparel blended in into one giant clothes ball. Consider being a fashion dork and using brighter cycling clothes in case your things get displaced. A friend of mine had a bright neon yellow cycling jacket…no way he was going to lose that in the scrum.
Back to the bike course. Everyone is going to talk about Martis Camp and Brockway Summit. Both are tough and feature tricky descents, especially if it’s windy. But you have to climb Dollar Hill three times if the course remains unchanged next year. The climb is nearly a mile, I believe. It’s not hard, but it’s not easy either. Don’t overlook it as if it were a dirty penny on the ground. Leave some energy after descending Brockway the second time for one more big hill climb after that.
On to the run. I’m convinced the course was changed after the initial map was sent out to everyone last year (even after the two-loop vs one-loop debate materialized). There’s more climbing than advertised, especially a nasty twisty section behind a golf resort that parallels the bike path coming out of the Olympic Village. When you do your brick workouts, I’d make sure you’re incorporating some tough hill climbs into them. Griffith Park trail runs will help. Bottom line: This isn’t the flat-ish course people anticipated. One more thing, in T2, I’d strongly consider a full wardrobe change to remain dry and warm. My tri kit top and vest were slightly damp with sweat coming off the bike, so as the afternoon turned into dusk, I was back to shivering again. Thank goodness I packed a Nike Combat fleece top and running tights in my special needs bag. Speaking of special needs, this year race officials wouldn’t return items left behind on the course. Fair enough. But I’d still make sure that doesn’t totally affect what you decide to pack in each bag. Better to be warm on a cold day — it’s hard to be fast when you are shivering. Oh, and if you see a mylar blanket dangling from a volunteer’s hand near sunset, grab it. It gets cold fast and those blankets really do work to keep you insulated. Even if you look less sexy.
That’s the best advice I can think of sharing with someone considering Ironman Lake Tahoe in 2014. I don’t think I’ll be back, mostly because I think I’m at an inherent disadvantage due to the altitude (drastically affects power to weight ratio on climbs) and because I’ve proven to myself I can handle that course in the roughest conditions. I wish you well, and leave you with one more nugget. Make sure you are 100% focused on completing this event NO MATTER WHAT. If there’s a remote shred of doubt or apathy in your brain on race day, the course will grow tentacles and reach into your soul to expose them — ripping out your still-beating heart as if it were a bizarre sacrificial ritual from an Indiana Jones movie. Ironman Lake Tahoe will require your full (training) attention and full (training) commitment for the next year. If that sounds too daunting…don’t sign up.