SAN DIEGO — Do shaved legs really help athletes swim and cycle faster?
Should I wear eyeglasses or contact lenses or go blind on the bike course?
What do triathletes do with their sunglasses in the middle of the marathon when it gets dark?
These are just a few of the questions I had not considered until recently while logging hundreds of miles preparing for the Ironman World Triathlon Championship. Now that the race is only five days away, I realize that the Ironman is much more than an ultra-endurance event.
It's a logistics nightmare.
The never-ending list of chores to be tackled before the race include finding a safe way to transport an expensive bicycle to Hawaii, planning to arrive early to get acclimated to the searing heat and making sure the right foods are available on race day. Packing swim, bike and run gear and making all of the necessary arrangements to get to Hawaii require nearly as much planning and perseverance as the race itself.
Lots of Conflicting Advice
For guidance, I purchased several how-to books and reviewed back issues of magazines devoted to triathlons. I learned that if you read enough material on how to prepare for a long-distance triathlon, you get thoroughly confused by all of the conflicting advice.
For example, defending Ironman champion Dave Scott recommends in his book that you eat a light meal on the morning of the race--three pieces of toast and three bananas with no fruit juices of any kind. In "The High Performance Triathlete," authors Katherine Vaz and Barclay Kruse say to consume 500 calories by eating oatmeal, toast, pancakes, fruit and juice.
The best advice I've heard yet is to eat the same foods and follow the same routine that has worked well during the many hours of training. With that in my mind, I have spent the last couple of weeks plotting last-minute preparations and race strategy.
My goal remains to simply complete the race. If everything goes smoothly, I think I can finish in 13 hours. That time does not allow for two likely events--dehydrating in the Hawaiian heat during the 112-mile bike leg and occasionally walking during the marathon.
I arrived on the Kona Coast last week to get accustomed to the 90-degree heat and 90% humidity and to preview the course. If all goes well, I plan to swim the 2.4-mile route and cover the entire 112-mile bike leg and most of the 26.2-mile run course in portions before the race.
During the week before the race, most professional triathletes say, it is important to conduct short, easy workouts. They say it is far better to taper off too much than not enough. I intend to strictly follow this advice by planning two easy workouts a day, alternating swim-bike and bike-run routines. I'll also drink at least 10 glasses of water per day and begin carbohydrate loading three days before the race. Since the workouts will take only two or three hours a day, I brought several books along and plan to do some snorkeling to keep from going crazy this week.
On Thursday--two days before the race--I will do a light swim and bike before turning in my gear to race officials. In the evening I will attend the Ironman carbo-loading dinner and go to bed early to get a good night's sleep. I doubt that I'll sleep much the night before the race, so I figure I'll need all the rest I can get. I plan to take Friday off.
Many professional triathletes spend some time on the day before the race shaving their legs. They contend that taking off hair and dead skin cuts time off the swim and bike legs because of the lower resistance of legs moving through water and air. If that is the case, I can't imagine the time difference amounting to much of a savings.
But I'm considering shaving anyway for the psychological advantage. After all, this is a once-in-a-lifetime event. And the ocean water is supposed to have a tingling, invigorating effect on freshly shaven legs.
On race day, I plan to get up at 3 a.m.--four hours before the start of the race. It sounds awful early, but I keep telling myself it's not so bad because it will really be 7 a.m. California time. If I stick to my plans, I'll take a hot shower to warm up muscles, eat a breakfast of oatmeal, bananas, raisins, walnuts, toast and water, and relax with a book or the morning paper. By 5 a.m., I'll be out the door ready to catch a shuttle bus to the starting line.
Plans Plenty of Stretching
At the Kona pier, I'll do plenty of stretching and take a light swim to loosen up and get used to the water. Last month's short-distance triathlon in Solana Beach taught me a valuable lesson--start the Ironman at the tail end behind the rest of the 1,300 entrants. That is how I started my two previous triathlons, but in Solana Beach I decided to seed myself in the middle of the pack. After swimming seven miles per week for several months, I figured I was ready to compete with the big boys.