Many people pick Florida as their first full Ironman distance or as a Personal Best attempt due to the relatively flat bike and run course. While this may be true, the Ironman Florida course is not without it’s difficulties.
The swim always starts with the question of whether it will be wetsuit legal. Be prepared either way, but even if it is not, the salt water makes for a relatively buoyant swim. The water conditions can be varied with significant chop, waves, currents and sea life on one day and perfectly calm seas the next. It is very easy to get swim practice for Florida and getting out for a couple of days helps to address the possible variations as well as answer the questions of whether the salt water or waves will make you ill. The two loop swim with a beach run in between can be a benefit for those that need to break things up a bit, but dont forget, the clock is ticking! Sighting on the way back to the beach is very easy since the beach front hotels make for excellent landmarks.
***The main takeaway is not to wait for race day to find out how well you can swim in the ocean. If you can’t practice locally, give yourself a day or two out at the race to see how you fair. Don’t overdo it but see what you’ll be dealing with on race day.
The bike course is pretty flat with only a couple of small hills to break things up. The main challenge for the bike is the wind. There can be significant portions where you are riding into steady headwinds or crosswinds and must maintain the aero position for extended periods. Being able to do so requires a proper bike fit and practice so give yourself time to develop things. Being able to maintain a steady effort during these sections can also be tricky since the bike speed will fluctuate greatly depending on course direction. Riding with power or heart- rate can help smooth things out and prevent overexertion or chasing time when the going is slow. Since there isn’t much to break up the bike, it is very easy to ride too hard early on when the wind is with you. There will be a heavy price to pay on the way back in, especially the last few miles coming into transition where there is routinely a strong headwind.
***The main takeaway here is be sure to have your aero position dialed in to something that is sustainable for long durations and be able to apply an even effort for the entire ride.
The run is a a two loop modified out and back course. It is very flat with only a few very short inclines to worry about throughout the run with no climbing of any significance. Usually the biggest challenge for this run is that the entire course is runnable so those using terrain to break things up with walk breaks may find themselves running more miles than intended. Using the multiple aid stations helps. There are multiple turns at various parts of the course and those can make the run feel a little longer but after working through them the first time, it makes it easier to break up the second half of the run. There is plenty of sun exposure on the course, but there are points of shade as well. Here the wind is your friend and helps keep things a little cooler. The run course can be a very social affair since much of it you have oncoming traffic to engage with along the way.
***The main takeaway here is to stick to any run/ walk strategy early. For faster runners, use the first loop to settle into the pace and save enough to work the back half. It can be pretty quick running on the way back in if you have the legs for it.
A compact transition setup makes for a pretty fast in and out, both before the race for bag drop offs as well as on race day. While this is great for an efficient T1 and T2 while racing, race day morning can be a little crowded with everyone milling about in one spot. Give yourself plenty of time to get things sorted before making your way down tot the swim start.
***The main takeaway here is to get in and out quickly since the smaller transition setup can save some time. On race day morning, allow plenty of time to move through the masses.
With so many places to stay very near the race site, it is easy to park the car at the hotel and never need it until you leave. This is a good thing as parking can be a little tricky with seemingly many places to park that are not actually open parking and the city will enforce no parking zones aggressively.
***The main takeaway here is to stay near the beach and be within a 5 minute walk to the race site. Makes for a very easy start and finish to race day and packet pickup.
Varying temperatures makes for a bit of a guessing game. It usually is cooler rather than super hot, but there can be a good amount of sunshine with some humidity that can make it uncomfortable for people coming down from areas with cooler Fall temperatures. A note for those finishing in the dark, the temperate variation can be pretty extreme with it getting pretty chilly in the evening. Planning to have warm clothes at the finish or as part of the run special needs can be a lifesaver.
Written by Coach Ben Drezek. Ben is the founder and head coach of KMF Performance, holding certifications with USA Triathlon and US Masters Swimming as well as certifications in Retül and FIST Bike Fitting. In 2014, Ben was named the 2014 USOC National Coach of the Year in Triathlon.