Yo, Lance: I’m Talking To YouDear Lance: I hear you’re going to be doing Ironman. Neat. But like those women who write their hotel room numbers on their underwear and throw them at Tom Jones, there are triathlon coaches everywhere who are going to be writing their email addresses on water bottles and heaving them in your direction.
Don’t listen to any of them. Listen to me, a veteran, having watched dozens of these races from the sidelines. Don’t laugh: I see things the athletes themselves often can’t see because they’re too caught up in distractions, like trying to win or not get blown off the bike.
I can net this whole thing down to a few simple guidelines. Follow these and that finisher’s shirt will be yours for sure.
1. Learn to feed yourself: Ironman has strict rules about outside assistance. While there are aid stations every few miles along the course, nobody is going to be hanging off the side of a car careening down a mountain sticking carbo gels in your mouth.
2. Learn how to fix a flat. The last time you changed your own tire, Coolidge was still president. Even if there’s a tech wagon nearby when you go flat, if they happen to be fixing a clincher for a 62-year old kindergarten teacher from Toledo, you’re S.O.L. because the only priority is who came first. Look, there’s nothing to it. You use these little plastic thingies to pry the tire off the rim, then put a little spittle on the inner tube to find the hole. Rub some sandpaper across it, dab it with a bit of glue, slap on a rubber patch, hold it tight for about ten minutes, pump it up and you’re good to go. Might want to try practicing at home on an old tube to get the hang of it. Ask the kids in your neighborhood; they probably have one or two they can lend you. By the way, don’t get sloppy with the patch kit: Pack it back neatly in your saddlebag because you might need it again.
3. Use good technique: Going to let you in on a little secret: The reason your shoes are attached to the pedals is that you can actually get power from pulling up on the pedal as well as pushing down. With a lot of practice, you should be able to generate power throughout the entire pedal cycle. Best way to learn how to keep even pressure throughout is to use a Compu-Trainer. There are some pretty good used ones on eBay that won’t break the bank.
4. Don’t save anything for the run. Everyone else is going to tell you otherwise. Ignore them. If Michael Phelps were doing Ironman, those guys would tell him to hang back on the swim. You’re the most relentlessly competitive human being since Eleanor of Aquitaine. Telling you to take it easy on the bike would be like telling Al Capone to forgive a few debts. Hammer that sucker! It’s simple arithmetic: The better the lead you have at the end of the bike, the farther ahead you’re going to be when the run starts. D-u-u-h!
5. The swim, however, is another story. You’ve been known to train yourself to exhaustion. This works on the bike, where you can stop, puke for a while, then get back on and keep going. On the swim, this is not such a good idea. Swimming is like flying: You can’t pull over to the side and think things over. Even if you’ve got enough gas left in the tank to tread water and not drown, all those people you shot out ahead of are going to Whack-a-Mole you into a coma. However, there’s no penalty for hanging onto a surfboard for a couple of minutes, and a shot of Lance Armstrong grabbing onto a lifeguard’s ankle gasping for air while being passed by a 62-year old kindergarten teacher from Toledo is guaranteed to land you another Sports Illustrated cover.
6. Learn Hawaiian. You know those interviews you give in French at the end of every Tour stage? Very endearing, even though the French hate you anyway. At Ironman, though, they’ll love you – hearing you in the native lingo could spark a cultural revolution. Don’t sweat the learning process: The language is 100% phonetic, there are only eight consonants and, unlike French, you don’t have to twist your face into a gopher grimace to pronounce anything. If you can manage “bouilloire” and “caoutchouc,” then “humuhumunukunukuapua’a” should be a piece of cake.
7. Learn ASL, too. Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but two-way radios are not allowed on the Kona course. No one-way radios, either, so you’re going to need to use sign language so all those people you’re going to have stashed along the way can tell you where you are relative to your competitors. Example: A closed fist with one finger raised means, “Jan Ullrich sends his warmest regards and wishes you Godspeed.”
8. Start driving a Ford. Immediately. Or you won’t get any coverage on the Ironman TV show.
9. Don’t do drugs. The average Tour rider spends more on doping than the first place prize purse at the Ironman, so, really, what’s the point? Then again, you could pee distilled water and the French are going to hate you anyway. The good news is that, unlike the Tour, Ironman’s banned list doesn’t include milk, bananas, yogurt, vegetables, meat, nuts or fish, so the odds are pretty good that you can find something to eat during the race that isn’t going to make the front page of Le Monde.
10. Enter the Lottery. No shame here. The Lottery is intended to give people who might otherwise not be able to qualify a shot at the dream. Go for it.
11. Be nice to the volunteers. You might occasionally see somebody at an aid station giving water or a cookie to another athlete. Don’t get upset. These people are not actually on your payroll. They’re supplied by the race and they’re allowed to give stuff to other competitors.
12. Don’t draft. If some guy in a striped shirt on a motorcycle pulls up alongside you, don’t hold out your hand expecting a Gatorade bottle or a ham sandwich. That’s not why he’s there. Cooperate, and if you do decide to curse him out, do it in French. Or, better yet, Hawaiian.
13. Know the rules. If someone tries to pass you on the bike, you have to let her. Do not panic! Relax and stick to your plan and there’s a good chance you can catch her later.
Warmest regards and Godspeed!