For many people, the Half Iron distance is the first big step into the long distance triathlon world. It makes sense. 70.3 is a whole lot shorter than 140.6. Most people can only handle one Ironman in a year, and the jump from Olympic to Half Iron isn’t as insurmountable as the jump up to Full Iron. The biggest hurdle comes in the form of planning. Pacing, nutrition, gear… it all changes in the jump to long course!
Pacing is the first place to look when planning for a 70.3. If you compare your distances across all three sports, you can see when it gets a little confusing. Your swim is only gaining a few hundred yards, where’re you bike and run are more than doubling in distance. Playing it conservative is the key.
For the swim you should set a steady but strong pace that you are comfortable with. There’s not much to add on the swim other than… swim straight! You don’t want to add any extra distance to an already long day.
On the bike you should look to do 2 things. 1- Stay between 80-85% of you FTP 2- negative split the bike leg. The negative split will help you come into the run ready to race to the finish. If you do that by holding back on the first half of the course then you will have plenty of steam coming into T2!
The run is another animal. By the time you exit T2 you will have been on the course for anywhere from 2 1/2 to 4 hours depending on your speed. And then you still have to run a half marathon! You want to negative split this leg as well, but I like to follow the 5/5/5 plan. I forget where I got this, but you run the first 5 miles in zone 2. The second 5 miles in zone 3, and the final 5k at your 5k pace. Normal half marathon pace is in that Zone 3 or Tempo range, so here you clearly hold back for a negative split and a fast finish. This assures that you don’t go out too hard, and you are able to run down those athletes who are fading in the final 3 miles of the race.
Here is the mystery for most people. I honestly have just started to figure it out myself. Nutrition is so individual that all you can do is try tings out in training and see what works for you.
In general, you need to drink electrolytes. Lots of them. And eat eat eat. The bike leg is where you can get the most calories in since you are jostling your stomach around. I tend to start with some more solid food and switch over to gels near the end of the bike. On the run you can just go for whatever they have on course. It’s just plain easier that way. Most races will have water and gatoraid at all aid stations and gels at every other station. I like to take whatever they have, so I take a gel at every opportunity, especially early on in the race. It takes some time for them to absorb into your body, so the first 2 or 3 stations are the most important while the last 2 are going to have minimal affect on your race. Besides, if you are running the last 5k at 5k pace, you won’t be able to take much in a nay way.
Gear for a 70.3 also plays a big role. First, aero is everything. If you are not on a tri bike or at least have clip on aero bars, this is the time to get it! While you are at it, get an aero helmet too. The time saved by gaining efficiency is amazing! I’d be doing a disservice to fail to mention that you should get a bike fit too. Make sure you are comfortable on your bike for those 56 miles!
On the bike nutrition is something to think through as well. You need some way to hold your water bottles (3+) and those bars and gels we talked about. Between the arm bottles, behind the seat bottles, or even on the frame are all valid options. Grab a simple bento box to strap on there too for that food you’ll eat.
Other things like a wetsuit are all fine and dandy, but the bike is where you’ll really want to focus your attention. That is where you’ll spend half your time anyway. Once you get that set you can check out all the other fancy things I’m sure the marketers want to sell you.
So there you have it. The things you need to think thought and plan for your jump into the Half Iron Distance. Be it an Ironman branded race or not, you’ll have loads of fun going long!
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