Thoughts on Pacing
Your First Ironman

My buddy, Ian Brownlee, was kind enough to add some MOP thoughts. These are in italics. The normal print is my own ideas.

These thoughts are intended to help first timers with their pacing over the distance.

Every one is different and somebody elseís plan may not work for you. My comments are for those who just want to finish, and are not real athletes like Gordo.


[1] Hydrate heavily with a mix of sports drink and water in the two days before the race. It is important to hydrate with sports drink to avoid flushing all the electrolytes out of your system. NOTE (May 2001): These days I would probably say that it is best to hydrate normally.

[2] Use a lot of salt in your diet for the two days in advance of the race. Soup is great.

Race Day

Start the day with pancakes and syrup as they are really easy to eat. Gordo would disagree on the syrup as it is full of simple sugars. He would recommend something such as a bagel and a banana. NOTE: See below. I have had good results with Oatmeal recently. Best to try your pre-race meal a few times before an AM Masters session. See how it sits.

[3] Drink a bike bottle of sport drink five to fifteen minutes before the swim start. I assume that you don't get seasick. If there is a chance that you will get sick then I would be cautious on this one. Make sure that you drink concentration is correct. I mixed mine too strong at IMC99 and suffered. Better to err on the side of weakness.

Weak sports drink mix is the key at all times or you will throw it up


[4] Go easy on the swim. In all my IM races, I think that I am going very easy on the swim. Well... I am way wrong. In Hawaii, my swim leg had my highest average HR! I was clearly "hammering" the swim but it felt effortless. Go "easy" and you will surprise yourself. I shudder to think what my HR data was for IMC99, I could barely stand at the end of that swim.

The start can be crazy with so many people so close. IMAus they have a grading system based on speed with slowest at the back and it works. IMNZ was all mixed up, and after 300 meters I had blown up, heart rate over the top and gasping for breath thinking my whole day was gone in the first five minutes. Backstroke for a while, controlled freestyle away from aggressive swimmers and then concentrating on picking up a good draft of someone faster helps. I got a good draft for about 3ks and was five minutes faster than expected. Take it real easy and enjoy floating in the wetsuit as itís the best part of the day.


[5] At the start of your bike, obey your heartrate monitor like it is God. Coming out of the water in both races my heart was racing. In Hawaii, I felt fantastic and could have easily pushed (with no HRM at IMC this is what I did). It will be tough to let everyone blow by you but you must let your system settle and start to take in what you lost on the swim. You will see those hotshots later!

[6] I drank as much Gatorade as I could stomach (about 1.5 bottles per aid station). I was very well hydrated and therefore didn't need the water. I used one Succeed! Electrolyte cap every hour for the whole race. On the bike, water only went on my head and clothes. In a hot race, it is important to keep your clothing wet on the bike to stay cool. On the run, I tried to get one glass of Gatorade and one glass of water at every aid station. You probably won't be able to achieve this but it is a good goal. If I am feeling bloated and peeing then I reduce my hydration. If I am feeling bloated and not peeing then I slow down.

[7] I ate four PowerBars, 10 GUs, probably about six banana halves and three mini-PR bars. I also drank three bottles of Revenge sports drink at the start of the ride. I like the flavour better than Gatorade. I had a bottle of Endurox R4 at the Bike Special needs but couldn't handle the taste and dumped it. I was gunning for 5-600 calories an hour on the bike. Your needs may vary but it is probably best to err on the side of too many calories early in the bike. In both races, my appetite weakened during the day. I have modifed some of my thoughts on nutrition. See Ironman Nutrition.

6.15 to 6.30 on the bike is a long day, especially if it is raining and cold. Take more clothes than you think you need if it looks like rain. In NZ I didnít and was really cold for the last hour. In Aussie I wore every thing I had Ėtwo tops, arm warmers, gloves, leggings, sox Ė and never sweated. If its hot wear sun screen and UV protective clothing in NZ/AUS as the sun is so fierce. Wiktor was in a hailstorm in NZ in 1998.

Donít over do the bike. If you donít rely on a heart-rate monitor (I never get into zone) then trust your legs. Least effort cycling sees you use all the gears up the hills and on the flat at one gear easier than you need. Donít actually feel that you are pushing the bike. Down hill coast and stretch if your speed is around 40kph.

Drink and eat constantly, stop and pee at least twice. Ian has had trouble with gels as your stomach may say enough like mine did and you will throw up all around the run. Take something you like such as soft buns, bagels, donuts. Wiktor saw a guy with a Big Mac in his special needs bag. Your stomach will love some real food in the last three hours.

In the last 10km of the bike, Ian eats and drinks very little as my stomach is better without it when the run starts. First time in Australia, I had gels and drink before the end of the bike and threw it all up within 2km.

[8] Obey your HRM, don't hammer. The race will feel very easy for the first 3-4 hours. Don't be fooled. It will get tough later. By conserving on the bike, you will put yourself in a position to run an amazing marathon. The mental benefit of passing people on the run far outweighs the 10-15 minutes that you will save by pushing on the bike. NOTE: if you are trying to qualify then it may make sense to push a bit on the bike. However, it is a very risky strategy for your first IM. In our tri-group's experience, hammering the bike has resulted in ironvirgin problems more than 90% of the time.

[9] Obey your HRM, don't slack. About four hours into the bike on both races I started to feel very tired. Use your HR to tell you to push it up a bit. No need to crank but be sure that you are close to your target HR. It is a race after all, and you don't want to spend any time at the bottom of your aerobic zone.

Not true! I agree with being tired at 4-5 hours, but I relax for a while, eat a bit, drink a bit, stop, pee and stretch. Stuff the HR zone as I probably haven't got into it anyway, do what your legs tell you and donít pretend that you haven't got the marathon to go.

[10] If you do not pee by the three hour mark of the race then slow down and focus only on hydration. That strategy salvaged my IMC. Even with this plan, I didn't pee until T2. If it had been a hot day then I would have been toast!


[11] Not sure what to say about the marathon. Probably best to stick with your pre-race strategy. If you are feeling good in the first 20Ks then try to avoid going too hard. NOTE: If you are trying to qualify then it may make sense to take a bit of a chance.

The rest of the day was easy! My first and last hours are usually great Ė itís the bit in the middle when trouble happens. Take your own drink mixed to your strength if there is any doubt about whether you can handle the supplied drink. I seem to need two toilet stops, and by then my stomach is not working right anyway, so they are a challenge in themselves. Eat real food Ė biscuits, bananas, bars but donít eat acidic oranges and donít rely on gels alone.

Run it in 2km pieces if it gets hard, with the next aid station being the objective and walk through it eating and drinking. Drink Coke in the last 20k as the sugar really helps.

Wear clothing that will see you through the heat of the late afternoon and keep you warm in the evening. I took my own drink in a Camelback last year as I couldnít drink Maxim, plus a light jacket, and used them. Cold is a problem in Australia and New Zealand.

John Brewer on the run, "The fact is that your first IM isn't a race - it's a test of how much patience you're prepared to exercise so that you don't expire or explode before the second half of the marathon - which is where the real ironman just begins. After pacing yourself on the bike, divide the marathon into 26 separate carefully-paced jogs from one mile marker to the next. Getting from the 16th to the 19th will be tough but after that point you'll be cruising."

Mental Toughness

[12] Final word of advice, sometime during the day you will feel really, really bad. Expect this. This is normal. Things will get better if persevere. Finish at all costs, you will thank yourself later.

Sometime you will feel terrible, even on a good day something goes wrong. Even if the last race was good, the next one could be really bad. Start with a series of objectives in mind and if one is not achievable drop down to the next. But donít worry as the ultimate objective is to finish, and you have heaps of time. Even if you throw up during the marathon as I did, and thing you have to drop out, donít. Just sit down for half an hour, eat real food and drink electrolyte and coke until you feel better.

Just keep moving. There is enough time to finish by walking the marathon Ė but thatís not really a race is it?

[13] As Dave Scott says, "Pain is temporary, Pride is forever."

Good luck!