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Sunday, 14 September 2014

Travelling to a Race. Logistics

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT BEFORE RACE DAY: You are required to be at an Ironman race two days prior to race day. 2 days prior you register for the race, this means you go to a pavilion of some kind and wait in line. A long line depending on what time you arrive. At the start they will have you sign away your life and provide contact info for you and your loved ones. Then you'll usually get a shoe bag with your bib numbers, your stickers, your transition bags, a race poster, some flyers for some local businesses and often some other goodies. Then you'll get the all-important wrist band. Don't screw this up. Your wrist band is your VIP ticket to everything. The dinner, transition and most importantly the start line! After getting your wrist band you'll go over and get your timing chip which they'll scan to make sure it says your name on the screen and then you're off...... straight into the merchandise tent.

If this is your first time at Ironman take a deep breath before walking into the merchandise tent. You are going to want to buy everything, and rightly so. It is just too cool and man have you worked hard to be here. But just wait, most of the things you see on the shelves will take on a new form on the day after the race. Because the day after the race the jackets, shirts, hats, towels, trailer hitch covers, water bottles and assorted voodoo dolls will all have the word "finisher" added to them. THAT is what you want to buy.

After registration it will usually be around noon or so and you'll want to have something to do to kill some time before that evening's dinner. This is a great opportunity to see what the town has to offer. In Mexico I hung out on the beach, in Coeur d'Alene I caught a movie and in Penticton Canada we took the kids cherry picking. Your mission should be to find something that is low activity and that will take your mind off of the big event. If you let it, it can consume you and make you a wreck. The beach and the orchard were fun but in my opinion a movie is the perfect way to kill time before a race. You get to sit in a quiet, air conditioned room and let a movie take your mind somewhere away from the craziness of racing.

Kelland and Calliah cherry picking in Penticton

Two nights out there is a welcome dinner. This dinner can be in any of a few locations. I've had it in a convention hall, a huge tent, but the most amazing one was on the beach in Los Cabos. Typically they serve salads, buns, pasta and chicken breast. It's usually decent but nothing to write home about. Los Cabos was amazing. The food was beautifully seasoned and presented, the ambiance was spectacular and the setting was stunning. As we were getting our dinner the sun set over the Pacific, pretty cool.

Los Cabos welcome dinner. Not too shabby.


The day before the race you are required to check in your bike and turn in your two transition bags. This is necessary as doing it on race day would be an absolute nightmare. Imagine 2000+ people trying to rack their bikes, put their bags in numerical order, put on their wetsuits and get in the water all before 7am. NOT A CHANCE!!! Make sure that you read your instructions carefully. You bags will all be a different colour and will be place accordingly. So if you put your cycling shoes and helmet in the wrong bag you may come out of the water and grab a bag with running shoes and a hat. Not cool, my buddy Taylor Byars made this mistake in Mexico but luckily caught it race morning.

Bike check-in with Calliah at Ironman Canada 2012
Once you check in your bike and bags, take a practice trip from the swim exit to where your bag will be and then to your bike so you are familiar with the route.
Just some of the bike racks at Ironman Canada. Yikes!


THINGS TO THINK ABOUT ON RACE DAY:  On race day you're probably going to be up early. Wear warm clothes to the race but I would pick some that if they went missing you wouldn't be hearbroken. There are a couple thousand people racing and they all have bags of stuff. Also, after the race when the adrenaline wears off it's not uncommon to be cold and get the shakes so if you've got warm clothes you can put them back on.

You will also have two other bags to bring on race day morning. These are your special needs bags. You can put whatever you want in these bags and will have access to one of them at the half way point of the run and the other at the half way point of the bike.  For the bike some people will put extra CO2 and tubes in the bag, other people will put the gels or bars that they like if they're not the ones being offered by the race. I don't use a bike bag at all but may in the future. For the run I put a pair of dry socks in the bag and if my family's with me my wife usually puts a note in it for me to read. Fortunately my stomach does well with pretty much any fuel but if you're particular about your nutrition you may also want to put some bars and gels in the run bag too. Right after you've turned in your bags go immediately to your bike and check the tires. If something has happened to them over night you've got plenty of time now to get them fixed and filled. There will be a LONG line for the pumps so you'll want to take care of this first.

Bring a decent sized backpack. This is especially important if you're travelling alone. It's so handy after the race to be able to pack the bulk of your things into a backpack and get your bike back to your hotel or vehicle on your back rather than in the four or five bags that Ironman will give you. If you're lucky enough to have people with you, Ironsherpas, they are so great at getting your things back to the hotel and I hope everyone that's helped me at a race knows just how much I appreciate it.

If you are lucky enough to have family or friends with you at an Ironman race they need to know that they will have limited access to you in the finish area and they may have to wait a while for you. My wife has never actually gotten close enough to the finish line at an Ironman race to actually see me finish.  She says the seats at the finish line fill up early!  You'll be able to go out and see them once you're done, but only athletes and race staff are allowed in the finish area. This is because there just isn't enough room for people to bring guests.

My nephew Aiden outside the security fence.
After the race they take amazing care of you. Once you cross the finish line you get your medal, your finisher's shirt and usually a hat. You also get a very nice volunteer. They're going to stay with you and hold your things while you get a picture taken. They get you food and water and whatever else you'd like. They'll take you to the medical tent if you need it or to the massage tent if that suits you. It is absolutely the coolest thing to be treated this way. However, this entire time your loved ones are waiting outside for you. I would suggest that you go out and give them a quick minute of your time if you can physically do it, let most of them get on their way, and then return to the finish area to eat and rehydrate a bit.  My wife tries to speed up this process by bringing me the bottle of whatever alcohol I've packed and a GIANT box of Chinese food.  Not the best for hydration but tasty!

Enjoying my champagne that I brought back from France just for this moment. Ironman Canada 2010.
 Otherwise, it could be an hour or more before you finally make your way out of the finish area. At this point you're going to need to retrieve your bike and your transition bags. You prove these things are yours with your athlete's wristband that has your number on it that corresponds to your bags and your bike. If you are incapable of getting your things, don't worry, they give you a claim ticket so that someone you trust, or a kind-hearted stranger if you're alone, can get your things for you. After this you can finally make your way back to your hotel or vehicle.

THE DAYS AFTER: The sleep after an Ironman should be one of the deepest, greatest sleeps of your life. It typically isn't. Your body is in shock, your muscles are angry and the general discomfort makes it tough at best. That's ok! Time to go and buy that finisher's gear! Get a good breakfast in you and try and get down to the merchandise area early. It will usually open at 7am and there is going to be a line when you get there. If you're like me, you'll be in luck. Most finishers aren't combing the racks looking for XXL stuff. Whatever you do, grab the stuff you think you might want and don't set it down until you've decided for sure you're putting it back. Certain items, like jackets, go quickly and after the race people will be online begging for one. Get yourself something nice, you've earned it.

Now, if you're travelling by air, remember that you're going to need to break down your bike and pack everything you brought with you (don't forget to give away the CO2 you just bought). You probably won't want to schedule an early morning, or even noon flight, unless you're planning on being a fairly fast finisher and getting your stuff packed the night before. I wouldn't plan on doing much else the day after. Take time to eat, relax and relive your race story to anyone that will listen. To many people you've just become a hero, take a week and bask in that.

I hope this has provided any Ironvirgins a look at what their prep will look like for their first journey into long distance tri. 

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