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Crafting a Pre-Race Plan: Make Your Pre-Race Plan Your Race-Day Reality

By David Glover

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
- Dwight D. Eisenhower, American President and General

My client, LtCol Tom Impellitteri, USMC, recently competed in his first Ironman. I’ve been working with Tom since January this year in his quest to hear the magic words from Mike Reilly, "You are an Ironman!"

One of the most useful “tricks of the trade” that I’ve picked up over the years is to write a “pre-race plan” of what you want to happen on race day. The intent is to write up your plan as if it’s already happened and everything goes the way you want it to go. The idea behind it is that by thinking about it and putting it down on paper, you can make it happen. Be as detailed or as high level as you want. This should be an iterative process as you put stuff down, think about it some more, and make changes to ultimately come up with a clear picture of what you want on race day.

Tom put together one of the most organized, realistic and well thought out pre-race plans that I’ve seen, which is a useful example for anyone preparing for any race at any distance. I like that Tom has conservative goals for his first Ironman, yet is willing to through out what he wants to happen in a dream day.

Here’s Tom’s plan:


  1. Finish the race: Anything under 13:00:00 would be great. Conservative estimates are (1:30/6:30/5:00)
    *Dream day 11:15 (1:15/5:45/4:15)
  2. Top 1/3 Bike Split


  • Bike pacing (conservative first lap, assess, harder effort for second loop if available)
  • Nutrition plan – must watch caloric intake and not over-consume
  • Run mentality (series of 25 individual races to each aide station –just focus on getting to next aide station and not on how much I have completed or how much I have left)
  • Swim pacing (don’t blow yourself up in the swim, just get through it)
  • Race your own race


- Do final inspection
- Pick up bike from Bonzai
- Pack car
- Go to therapy sessions
- Be in bed by 2100

- On the road by 0530
- Arrive before 1700
- Check into hotel
- Unpack and relax
- Tempo Run
- Eat a nice meal
- Be in bed by 2100

- Swim one loop of the course
- Drive the bike course
- Practice descents followed by easy 17 mile ride
- Relax
- Eat healthy
- Be in bed by 2100

- Easy 13 mile bike
- Pick up packet
- Walk around expo
- Do something fun and different with your wife
- Eat healthy
- Nap / stay off feet as much as possible
- Be in bed by 2100

- Swim for 30 minutes
- 20 min tempo run
- Walk around the expo
- Do something fun and different with your wife
- Go to a movie
- Take a nap
- Stay off your feet when you can
- Go to pre-race dinner
- Go to mandatory pre-race meeting

- Sleep in
- Put all bags together / don’t forget Garmin computers
- Lay out all other articles for race day
- Put nutrition together
- Drop off bags and bike at Transition area
- Eat healthy (limited fiber and caffeine)
- Stay off your feet as much as possible
- Be in bed by 2100 if not earlier and try to sleep

Sunday / Race Morning
- Wake up at 0500
- 0505 drink traditional race day diet coke and eat English muffin with peanut butter and Nutella followed by a banana
- Drink big glass of water
- 0515 Stretch
- 0530 Bathroom
- 0540 Depart
- 0550 Arrive Transition Area
- Drop off special needs bags
- Get body marked
- Pump tires
- Final check of bike and place bottles in carriers
- Get bike ready with bottles and computer
- Link up with wife and walk to Mirror Lake
- Put on wet suit (tri-slide and body glide / goggles and swim cap)
- Get in the water and do some easy drills
- 0655 – Race Ready


Swim: Goal 1:30 minutes (approx 2:05/100m)
* 1:15 (approx 1:55/100m)

Keys to success:
- Don’t get run over
- Don’t panic
- Breath
- Focus on stroke technique and hip rotation
- Remember you aren’t the greatest swimmer in the world and while you can’t “win” the race on the swim you can certainly “lose” it

T1: Wetsuit / goggles off, get bag, hit changing tent and put on cycling attire. Put nutrition in pockets, grab glasses, helmet, bike computer, put shoes on, trot with bike to mount area

Bike: Goal 6:30 hrs (17.2 mph avg)
* 5:45 (19.5 mph /avg)

Keys to success:
- Don’t blow yourself up
- Keep HR in Zone 2/3
- Be conservative on the first lap
- Stay aero
- Climb intelligently
- Nutrition, Nutrition, Nutrition

  • 300 Calories per hour
  • 1 Bottle of liquid fuel per lap
  • 1 Gel Flask per lap
  • 1 Energy bar per lap
  • Stop taking in calories 30 mins from finish
  • Drink 24-32 oz’s of fluids per hour

T2: Take off helmet and shoes, grab bag, head to changing tent and put on running attire, put on Garmin forerunner, drop bag back off, grab a gel pack or two, visor, exit transition

Run: Goal 5:00 hrs (11:26 / mile pace) Yes this is ridiculously slow but remember this is your first Ironman and you are trying to be conservative/realistic
* 4:15 (9:43 / mile pace)

Keys to success:
- Don’t chug large amounts of fluids, sip some water as you exit transition
- Maintain a steady pace
- Start slow
- Just focus on the first lap
- Remember two laps of 25 individual races to each aide station
- Don’t drink coke (unless absolutely necessary) until after the first lap
- Don’t even think about increasing pace till mile 16-18
- Walk if you need to walk
- Think about running technique
- Try not to drag feet
- Easy strides
- Finish strong

Things to remember:

- This is your first Ironman
- You are not in competition with anyone except yourself
- You have done all the necessary preparation
- You are ready for this race
- Eat healthy and watch caffeine intake
- Watch fiber intake
- Make sure you explore all of the courses
- Swim at 0700 at least once that week
- Don’t forget to charge all your electronic gear
- Don’t forget your nutrition plan it will get you through, you need to trust it
- Try not to stress
- Don’t worry about what other athletes are doing
- It’s mind of matter, if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter
- This is a good plan but remember Murphy’s first Law of Combat – no plan survives contact in tacked

Things to do following the race:

- First and foremost thank your wife because without her support over the last six months this never would have been possible
- Thank God for giving you the mental and physical ability to finish
- Thank your coach because without him you never would have had the knowledge, technique, or endurance to finish. He taught you how to train right
- Write down all your lessons learned for your next Ironman

Good luck, Tom! As they say in the Navy, Fair winds and following seas…”

Author of Full Time & Sub-Nine: Fitting Iron Distance Training into Every Day Life, David Glover dabbles extensively in triathlon and other endurance sports as an athlete, coach, writer and race director. David and partner Krista Schultz recently launched She Does Tri camps in 2009 to focus on the specific needs of women when training and racing triathlon. For more information about David, please visit: