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Jasper’s Top Five Tips for Ironman Canada

Ironman Canada is one of the longest running Ironman events on the planet. For many Canadians it is the big race of the season. It typically takes place at the end of August making it a perfect climax to a Canadian summer of racing. For many athletes this is the race they are peaking for.

 

We asked Ironman Champion Jasper Blake to share five tips on how to make Ironman Canada your best race of the season.

 

1- Don’t Changejasper the champ

The biggest mistake I see people making when they get close to an Ironman is the sudden urge to make significant changes to their plan. It is normal to get anxious and have small panic attacks leading up to the race but it is a mistake to suddenly think you need to change your whole game plan. It’s hard not to be influenced by others- race week everyone is walking around, talking about what they are going to do pace wise or nutritionally and it’s hard to not get sucked into different ideas. The biggest advice I can offer is to stick to your game plan. If you have practiced something in training and it has worked then stick to your plan. The time to make big changes is not race week.

 

2- Break the bike course up mentally

Ironman can always seem daunting- it is a long way and a long day- so break it up into manageable pieces. Ironman Canada is a great course to break up especially on the bike. The first leg involves a fast ride down to Osoyoos. Once you are there you are already a third of the way through the bike portion. The next piece is the climb up Richters pass and the rollers, which can be a welcome break after 60km of flat time trialing. The next piece is the out and back which can discourage people because you literally head straight back to where you came from but remember, 180km is 180km- it’s just a piece of that. The next piece is the climb up Yellow Lake- again a nice break from the flat time trial efforts. And finally you get to descend down into Penticton- 20km downhill, which is a great way to finish off the bike.

 

3- Pace yourself up Richters Pass

Richters pass is the first significant climb at Ironman Canada. It comes about 60km into the race and is often the place where people make the biggest tactical error. At 60km everyone feels good and many people go way too hard up Richters. If you overextend yourself on Richters it will haunt you going up Yellow Lake. The people who are smart on Richters are always doing the passing up Yellow Lake.

 

4- Run one mile at a time

A marathon after all that biking is not the best way to think about the run. Instead, think of it as one mile repeats. The aid stations are typically one mile apart so make it your goal to simply run from aid station to aid station. The brain prefers small chunks- everyone can run a mile so run a mile at a time.

 

5- Think Ahead

When the run starts getting tough (which it does for everyone), remember that you are not alone. Everyone is basically experiencing the same thing you are- the steps can be downright painful. A good mental trick is to simply think ahead to the end. The last mile in Penticton is along Lakeshore drive where there are literally thousands of people screaming and cheering. It will be the best mile of your life! So if you find yourself at mile 14 and you are struggling- zip ahead in your mind and get excited about what’s coming at mile 25. Sometimes this little mental boost can get you through a tough spell.


Top 7 Marathon Tips- by Jasper Blake

1- Warm up

Warming up for any event is crucial but not all warm ups are created equally.  It’s important to have several different warm strategies in place.  There are numerous factors that affect what type of warm up to do.  For example warming up for an endurance event when it’s incredibly hot requires some tempering.  There is no sense spending an hour depleting your body of water and electrolytes before the race even starts.  You still need to get your muscles and heart ready to do work but you need to factor in the cost.  For marathons a similar problem occurs.  How much time can you really spend warming up when the race itself is going to take 2.5-6+ hours depending on who you are.  Typically the shorter the race the more warm up is required and conversely the longer the race the less warm up is required.  This is in part due to the pace you are going to go (shorter is much faster) and in part due to the actual energy loss you can afford to give up.  For marathons you shouldn’t need more than about ten minutes of light jogging and some strides to really get warmed up.  Of course if you are an elite runner and aiming for a time in the low two hour mark you will likely need to get your lactic buffers fired up but if you are in the 4 hour plus crowd the first few miles will do just fine.

2- What to wear

Obviously weather is a huge component of longer races.  You cannot get away with something that is too hot or two cold when you have 3+ hours ahead of you.  It’s important to know what the conditions will be like and dress appropriately.  As a general rule you are likely to feel warmer when you are racing than when you are training probably in part due to the intensity.  Probably the number one rule when considering longer events is to make sure that you are comfortable above all else.  Wear what you feel good wearing and that includes your footwear.  Never make drastic changes on race day unless you have tried them in training and know you will be comfortable. 

3- Blisters and Chaffing

It’s rare that we ever run a marathon in training when preparing for a marathon.  It’s important to know that chaffing and blisters can happen when the length of time increases.  You may not experience either of these things in training simply because you may not have run for that long before.  It’s better to prepare for these two things and avoid them all together. 

Blisters are obviously most common on the feet.  There are several strategies that can help you avoid blisters.  Double layer socks are a great idea.  A company called “wright sock” make very lightweight, thin socks that are perfect in any shoe.  The basic idea is that the layers of sock rub against each other opposed to your skin rubbing against the sock.  There are several great products out there in cream or powder form that can also help stave off blisters that are easily massaged into the feet or put into the shoes.  

Chaffing is a different story.  Chaffing can happen in some of the most unexpected places and it’s a good idea to prepare accordingly.  Some common places for chaffing are inner thighs, underarms and nipples.  Combine the constant rub of clothing or skin on skin mixed with a bit of moisture and salt and it can be a painful experience.  Chaffing can be avoided with the right clothing and of course some anti-friction cream.  I’ve even seen people put band-aids on their nipples, which is as effective as it is interesting.

4- Pacing

Pacing is probably the most important aspect in a marathon.  You must have a plan when it comes to pacing or chances are that you will go out too fast.  The longer the event the less chance you have to do anything different than you have been doing in training.  By the time the marathon rolls around you should be well versed in your pace and should stick too it.  There is a tendency in races to feel very good particularly in the beginning and this can lead people out of their appropriate pace very quickly.  Inevitably it will come back to haunt you in the later stages if you go too far beyond your capacity.  At larger marathons it’s common to have “pace bunnies”, people who are designated to hit a certain pace so you can run and pace off of them.  Regardless, most races are usually marked in miles or kilometers and all you need is a stopwatch to figure it out.  Stay on pace and you have a greater chance of reaching your goals.

5- Mental Resiliance

One of the best mental strategies you can have for a marathon is to break it into pieces.  The thought of 26 miles or 42km can be daunting.  However most people are comfortable with one mile.  So instead of running 26 miles run one mile, then another, then another and so on.  It’s also a good idea to be familiar with the course.  Often a route seems longer when we first do it but as you do it more and more it gets smaller in your head.  The brain likes familiarity and if the route has been studied it’s easier for the brain to manage.

6- Nutrition and Hydration

The longer the event the more important nutrition becomes.  Anything up to an hour and nutrition is almost a mute point.  The body typically has enough glycogen stores to last 60-90 minutes but beyond that it needs a steady stream of carbohydrate to keep going.  Anyone who has bonked knows what it feels like to have depleted glycogen stores.  It doesn’t matter how fit you are, if you run out of glycogen it will seriously affect your day.  It’s important to have a plan that you have tried in practice.  It’s also important to know what they have on the course and know that you can handle consuming what they provide.  Typically aid stations are every 1-3 miles so it’s also valuable to know the timeframe with which you will have access to nutrition.  If you are on the slower side it might be a good idea to bring your own.  The best strategy is to take little amounts frequently so as never to dump too much sugar into your gut at once.  As intensity goes your ability to absorb calories decreases and vice versa.

Hydration is a major factor in longer events.  Water loss happens from the blood stream, which makes the blood thicker and harder for your heart to move.  This causes an increase in your effort level.  Water loss also decreases ones ability to cool down.  We sweat so that our body can regulate its core temperature.  Sweat on the skin has a cooling effect.  If we lose too much water we decrease our bodies ability to cool down which increases core body temperature and increases perceived effort.  Hydrating during long events needs to happen at regular intervals.  Like caloric intake, we can only absorb so much water at one time.  Dumping too much fluid into the gut at once is a recipe for disaster.  Sodium loss and intake also becomes an important factor when we consider hydration.  Most sports drinks have sodium for a reason.  Sweat contains salt and the more we lose the harder it is for us to move water from the gut to the blood stream.  Bloating is one of the major side effects of sodium depletion.  When the blood is low in sodium the osmotic gradient required to move fluid across membranes no longer exists and water sits in the gut.  You can have great quantities of fluid in your gut but if it’s not in your blood stream you can still be severely dehydrated.

7- Recovery

The marathon is probably one of the hardest events to fully recover from.  It’s easy to ride your bike or swim for several hours but the repeated pounding that happens when we run really takes a toll on the body.  There is a reason why people rarely actually run a marathon in training prior to the actual event, it just takes too long to recover from.  Studies have shown that even 3-4 weeks post marathon there can be micro-tears in the muscle indicating that they are still not recovered. 

There are several strategies you can use to recover quicker from a marathon. 

  • Stick to low or no impact sports for at least two weeks
  • Limit the time on your feet to walking for a couple of weeks
  • If you must run try water running- a low impact alternative
  • Focus on great nutrition and lean protein to help muscles rebuild
  • Contrast as in hot/cold treatment work wonders
  • Massage or any physical contact that promotes blood flow to muscle groups is a very good idea
  • Replace sodium and fluid that has been lost
  • Sleep- nothing is as restorative as sleep


Tips for Running in Winter- Jasper Blake

“Crap it’s cold”

We are a tough breed up here in Canada!  We spend almost half the year dealing with the wrath of winter.  Icy roads, fierce winds and abominable snowmen are a few of the challenges we face.

Running poses an interesting dilemma; stay inside or venture out.  This decision is quite obvious with the other two sports.  Swim in a heated indoor pool, not a lake.  Bike on a turbo-trainer or a set of rollers and get your head around some hours pedaling hard and not actually going anywhere.  When it comes to running you can spend time on the treadmill, but after having gone nowhere on your bike it is great to get a change of scenery.
So, as my dear mom would say, out the door you go young lad and jolly well enjoy the day that is provided for you.  Good advice, but keep these simple guidelines in mind.
DO:
Dress for the weather conditions.  You need to keep your muscles warm – particularly if you are on the flip side of being a kid which is probably most of you.  Consider wearing tights under track pants or the combination of short tights and compression socks to keep warm.
DO:
Warm up properly.  In the winter make sure that you warm up and cool down more slowly than in the summer.  Cold muscles equal tight muscles and tight muscles can lead to minor pulls or tears.  Ease into runs, especially harder workouts.
DO NOT:
Run if it drops below minus twenty; consider the treadmill or an indoor running track.  Winter can stress your immune system.  Suddenly exposing your lungs to forced inhalations of crystallized, frosty air is like throwing gas onto a tire fire.
DO:
Wear three socks if you are of the male variety.  I am quite serious about this, there is nothing worse than running 30 minutes with a tail wind, getting all warm and sweaty only to turn around and face the wrath of the winter gods on your nether regions.  Many a time have I been caught out on runs where a headwind greeted me on the way back and a third sock was all I needed to maintain sanity.
DO:
Get inside immediately after runs so you don’t get chilled.  If it is particularly cold, consider starting and finishing your runs inside.  If you are running with a group that stretches or does some core exercises after the run, find a gymnasium or a living room so you don’t get chilled.
DO:
Remember to keep drinking.  Cold weather can be deceiving.  It may seem as if you’re not losing fluids during a workout but trust me, you are.  Remember to stay hydrated; it’s just as important in the winter as it is in the summer.
DO:
Invest in proper footwear.  Obviously stick to the shoes that are best for your foot and running gait but look into something with additional tread or grip particularly for snowy and icy roads.  I often run in a cross country shoe through the winter months as it offers more traction than a normal shoe.
DO NOT:
Run on busy roads.  Road shoulders become smaller in the winter and visibility can be extremely bad at times.  Pick routes that have cleared sidewalks so you can avoid the road all together.  Remember that roads are icy and cars can be less predictable.  If you have to run on a busy shoulder I strongly recommend running towards oncoming traffic so you can pay attention to what the cars are doing and do a navy-seal dive into the snow bank if required.
DO:
Invest in some reflective running gear.  Winter days are short and darkness comes on quickly.  If you want to be safe, be seen.
DO:
Wear layers.  Yes, you’ve heard this before but tail winds can feel warm and headwinds can feel very cold especially when you start sweating.  Layers allow you to adjust your clothing choices if need be.
DO:
Experiment with alternative forms of winter activities.  Winter is one of the best aspects of Canada if you take advantage of it.  There are dozens of aerobic sports that take place in the winter months and many will translate fitness very well to running and biking.  Skate skiing is said to compliment cycling very well.  Cross country skiing (the classic version), and snowshoeing can compliment running.  Both of these activities present the opportunity to get out into the woods.  Keep in mind that where aerobic fitness is concerned, your heart and lungs don’t know the difference between activities so the cross over between sports can be very effective.  Not to mention the mental break from the other sports.  It is also another chance for you spandex lovers to wear some tight clothing in the off season.