Leadman & Ironman: Part 4 – The 125 Simulation

This is a bit of a continuation of Part 3, in that the reason that the Leadman is such a great “simulation” event for an Ironman is that the recovery is so much less. While this is true of the 250, which was the main focus of the first three parts, this article is centered more along the shorter 125 event, which makes for an even better training event for an upcoming Ironman. With the swim and bike being ~2/3 of the Ironman distance, it’s a great opportunity to test race day nutrition and pacing even more than in a 70.3 but with a run that’s even less taxing than a 70.3 run. While I certainly think you can use the 250 as a more full-on simulation, that’s not really the focus here; that’s more my suggestion if you’ve really been struggling with Ironman nutrition/pacing,  because Leadman races are currently both easier and cheaper to get into as well as taking less of a toll on your body, so you can use the 250 as a way to try something different and still have confidence that you can finish well, as opposed to staring a full marathon in the face at the end. 
But this article is more on how to use a 125 to set yourself up for a good race at an Ironman in reasonably close proximity. Say, for example, if you were to do the Leadman Las Vegas 125 (without any flat tires, I hope) and then do Ironman Texas. That would be a good pairing. Or, for folks this year, perhaps using the Bend race as a last race before Ironman Florida or Ironman Arizona or Ironman Cozumel. I think it’s possible to do it before Kona, but most Kona athletes are veteran athletes who probably need a “tune up” before a big race less than some folks who might be less experienced. However, even for veteran athletes, the 125 race can serve as a last solid – and fully supported nutritionally – workout, though I think that sort of decision is much more at the athletes discretion. Some folks do well with that, and others don’t, so I’m going to avoid taking a stand on that here. You clearly did something right to get yourself to Kona, so just keep doing your thing.
But the question of “when should I race and what race should I do before an Ironman?” comes up a lot. I’ve run the gamut with my own racing – doing the Vancouver half 7 weeks before Ironman Canada in 2009, nothing for 11 weeks in between Ironman Canada and Arizona in 2009, 70.3 Calgary four weeks before Ironman Canada in 2011, and Wildflower two weeks before Ironman Texas in 2012. And I’ll be doing Portland Rev3 five weeks before Ironman NYC this year. So… I think the most that I can say is that I normally prefer to do a half somewhere before an Ironman, unless it’s the end of the year where I think you can rely a bit more on the racing you’ve already got under your belt to be “race ready.” But the Leadman opens up a bit more opportunity for racing because the run is so much shorter, which means much less muscle damage and also much less of a chance to get a blister, which I think gets short shrift as a potential downside of racing. In talking with the ITU guys for a recent article for LAVA, it’s amazing how much they care get about blisters, because blisters can keep you from training at 100%. So blisters are a very real concern. That’s really more of advice to get your shoes sorted out if you struggle with blisters a lot after races than anything else, but hopefully still relevant.
In general, I think for most folks, I’d advise against racing closer than three weeks before an Ironman. This because I think for most folks, three weeks is about right for an Ironman taper. I do a two week taper, but I also have the luxury of being able to fully focus on recovery/rest/taper when I start to taper, something that’s not an option for folks for whom triathlon is not their job. The less experienced you are, the more I’d push that last race out. Eight weeks is really a very “safe” window, and I think anyone can recover fully from a half (or Leadman 125) in eight weeks. While we’re on the topic, let me just say that I think there is probably no worse idea in triathlon than doing an Ironman as your very first triathlon. I’m shocked – probably less than I should be now – at how at every Ironman I’ve ever been at, there are always a bunch of people who are doing their first Ironman that’s also their first triathlon. While I generally try to be respectful of people’s various reasons for doing things, doing an Ironman as your first triathlon is stupid. It just is. There’s way too much that you need to sort out at your first race and way too much at your first Ironman to have them be the same race. A sprint is really the sensible first race. Get comfortable at sprint, then comfortable at Olympic, then comfortable at half-ish, then Ironman. But I digress…
The 125 is also a nice way to break into long course racing, because for most folks, as long as you follow the general rule of “eating and drinking something” during an Olympic or Sprint, you’ll be fine, especially if you follow the cardinal rule of nutrition – eat a good breakfast. But with long course racing, you need to be concerned with nutrition during the race itself. That’s a change. And for some people it’s a big change. It’s actually more of an issue for folks that are fast, because slower folks may already have had to confront nutrition for Olympic distance races. If you’re a <2:30 Olympic distance racer, a half is a much more different race – in my opinion – than it is for someone who's a 3:00+ Olympic distance athlete. That's not any sort of value judgement; it's just an observation that right around 3hrs is when nutrition starts to become a factor and also that "fast" folks can tend to race an Olympic, whereas I think you need to be really fast to truly race a half. At the pro level, a half is – nowadays anyway – really a race; it's more like a long Olympic distance race, which you can see by the pedigree of folks that dominate half-Ironman racing. At 5hrs (in Las Vegas anyway) the 125 is starting to shift towards being a true ultra event (which I believe really breaks at around 6hrs at the pro level) – meaning that pacing – rather than just racing – becomes a big factor as well. For most age groupers, the 125 is an ideal test of pacing and nutrition, both concepts that are critical to really nail Ironman.
So if you’re looking for an event as a final tune-up, the 125 offers a great workout – remember, racing IS training. If you’re looking for an event to test out your pacing and nutrition plan for Ironman, the longer swim and bike of the 125 also offer a great opportunity on that front as well. Hope I might see some of you – regardless of what brings you to the starting line – out there. 
Remember, you can register for either the Epic 250 (what I’ll be doing) or the 125 in Bend, OR on Sept. 22 for only $125.00 (that’s only $0.50/km for the 250!) using the code LEADMANRAPP here: http://www.leadmantri.com/

Feel free to fire off any questions using the form at the right or using the comments section of this post.

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