Welcome to the Ironman!

When it comes to surviving the Ironman, getting your fuelling right on race day is essential. But when your plan fails and you don’t have a Plan B to fall back on, it’s more than annoying – as Ironman winner Andy Raelert found out early on in his career:

My first Ironman was in November 2008 in Arizona. I was totally inexperienced at the time and absolutely clueless, especially about fuelling on long distances. I approached my first long-distance race with a sense of complete awe. Up to that point, I had really only covered Olympic distances; I was comfortable with two-hour runs, no more. In that kind of race, you don’t even have the time to think about nutrition; it’s a completely different setup. But for a long haul like the Ironman, I realised I would need more than usual, especially because it was going to get hot while I was out on the road. So I thought up a strategy and got everything ready. 

On race day, after the swim, I swung onto my bike feeling full of beans. I had some energy bars with me to stave off the first pangs of hunger – but who would ever conceive of losing the supplies you’d attached to your bike beforehand right at the start of the race? It’s so annoying when something like that happens – and it’s even more infuriating when you don’t have a Plan B to fall back on.

Cocky and naïve as I was, I thought to myself, “Oh well, I’ll manage somehow” and just carried on, pushing, pushing, pushing the whole time. I had two energy gels left that sent me sailing through the bike race. But ultimately not even they helped – because at kilometre 120, my decision came back to haunt me. The whole thing cost me ten minutes over the last 60 kilometres – which I was really bitter about – and I took the frustration of all with me into the first marathon of my sporting career. Welcome to the Ironman! 

Somehow or other I managed to get through, and, from what I hear, I didn’t even look all that bad. But I was so unsure the whole time whether I’d make it at all. The outcome had a positive side, though: my very first Ironman taught me a major lesson about the importance of fuelling on long distances. But the idea of “positive” sounds so innocuous compared with the way I was feeling at the time…!