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“Smart execution is more difficult than just racing hard and has a bigger impact on your result. To add to the complexity of this idea, the more fit you get, the harder it is to execute smartly. I’m always reminding my athletes to stay focused on execution, especially the speedy ones.”
-- Mg

Execution Day

by Mitch Gold

May 23, 2012

2012 HonuCamp Reports   

It takes more than just solid training to have a successful day at Ironman. Take a look through your collection of Ironman videos and you can see world-class athlete reduced to walking, crawling, sitting on the side of the road…even quitting. And guess what folks, if it can happen to athletes at that level, you better believe it can happen to any of us.

There are four main ingredients that go into making a successful Ironman: training, nutrition, psychology and race execution. It obviously takes training to get physically prepared to race Ironman distance, but that’s just one piece of the puzzle. Ask anyone that’s had a bad day at the races and they will probably tell you it was either nutrition related, a psychological meltdown, or most likely, how they executed the race. This article will discuss the importance of proper race execution.

Effort & Capabilities:

From the time the gun goes off in the morning to when you cross the finish line, you should be monitoring and regulating your effort. Your proven capabilities, not your desires, should dictate your effort (heart rate monitors and power meters are great tools to help you along the way). Nothing is more important on the swim, bike or run, than settling into your sustainable effort. That’s the effort you know you can sustain; not hope, wish or want to sustain. There’s an expression that says “Ironman is not about who goes the fastest, it’s about who slows down the least” I disagree. Ironman is about settling into a sustainable effort so you don’t have to slow down. Once your settled into your sustainable effort, stay there! There’s no need to risk increasing your effort over the last 10k of the marathon. What can you really gain? 10 to 20 seconds faster per mile over the last 10k will get you one or two minutes? Think about how much time it will cost you if that increase in effort forces you to walk the last mile. Your best Ironman will leave you feeling like you could have gone a little faster.

Race Tactics:

Unless your name is Peter, Tim or Cameron, Ironman is not a tactical race. As we just discussed, focusing on your effort and your capabilities will produce your best Ironman. Beating someone out of the water or trying to keep up with someone who may be a stronger cyclist than you are tactics that will get you into trouble. Staying with someone on the run is another tactic that often ends up ugly. I know, the first 10k “felt so easy” (can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that one) Guess what? The first 10k should feel easy. Remember, your sustainable effort and don’t entrust someone else to establish it for you. Run your own race and avoid running someone else’s race.


It takes tremendous focus to avoid getting caught up in the excitement of Ironman. Trust me, I’ve been there. It takes a lot of focus (and confidence in your plan) to let all those people ride by you during the first 30 miles of the bike. But don’t worry, if you stay focused you’ll see all of them again at about 90 miles and they won’t look so good. It will also probably make the difference between walking and running a solid marathon. Limit your focus to things you can control like your effort, form, technique and nutrition/hydration. Focusing on these types of things contribute to a successful performance. Avoid focusing on thing you can’t control; the course, the wind, the heat. There’s nothing to be gain by focusing on things you can’t control.


Nothing magical is going to happen on race day (sorry). I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t set challenging goals for yourself, but by race day you should have a pretty good idea of whether your going to break nine hours or finish with a glow stick so set your expectations accordingly. If you haven’t been able to do it in training, you’re probably not going to be able to do it on race day just because you’ve got your fancy race wheels pumped up to 180lbs. If you want to race faster then prepare for it in training, but don’t ruin your race with expectations that are clearly out of reach. My goal going into an Ironman is always to finish, anything beyond that is a bonus.

Hope this helps, Mitch Gold


Mitch Gold

Mitch has 10 years of coaching experience and has worked with over 100 triathletes to build the outstanding reputation of Counterpart Coaching. Mitch is a 13x Kona Qualifier, 2x Top-100 Kona finisher and 2x Hawaii Ironman Armed Forces Champion with a personal best of 4:07 for the 1/2 IM and 9:33 for IM. He has been named All American by both Inside Triathlon magazine and USA Triathlon. Mitch has a unique teaching style of coaching that keeps his athletes learning, progressing and achieving their goals.

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