IRONMAN VR Racing: tips to maximise your performance

IRONMAN Virtual Club

Advice and guidance for Virtual Racing

The spectre of the Coronavirus has given rise to a rapid increase in the range of virtual racing options, both from IRONMAN and many other organisations and online applications. A completely new format of event gives rise to a wide range of potential new factors to consider, many of which are not a factor within the typical (real world) swim / bike / run event.

With IRONMAN VR taking off, Coach Ryan Sosna-Bowd, a founding partner of RnR Tri Camps (now RnR Sport), gives his perspective and tips on how to make the most of your e-IRONMAN race.

[Editors note – there is no doubt that the virtual communities on offer at the current time have been a huge boost to many. Be that the ability to communicate and ‘see’ your training buddies through the likes of Zoom / Skype, group rides and workouts via Zwift, Rouvy, RGT Cycling, Trainer Road (or Joe Wicks!) etc, or the ability to race and compete through online and / or virtual events, technology has been able to bring many of us together at a time when we are separated from each other for far more important reasons. All hugely motivational and providing a range of offerings to suit the health, fitness, training and competitive aspirations of many, all have and continue to play an important role in our physical and mental health. We would encourage you to take advantage of these offerings – but please ensure you do so with respect to your own fitness and health.

Maintaining your health and limiting the stress on your immune system is particularly important in the current environment, so this is not a time to be taking on distances and / or challenges that are well above your current fitness levels, particularly if you are in one of the ‘higher risk’ categories. Also, bear in mind that if you are taking part in an event such as the IRONMAN VR challenges, those (higher intensity, typically) efforts need to considered in relation to your overall training load. For many, the rest of your week can and probably should be spent in the ‘moderate’ intensity zones… rather than entering every virtual event possible, as motivational as it may well be for those who have been starved of competition!]

Be safe and stay healthy. And with that, let’s get into the world of Virtual Racing!


Well its now IRONMAN VR3 this weekend and, in our current Covid-19 world, these events and other virtual races on offer are our new multisport competitive reality. And, we should count ourselves lucky; thanks to these kinds of platforms and events we are able to continue to enjoy the sport we love and enjoy some friendly (or not so friendly), competition until an outdoor race season can return. Not to mention the rest of the safety and freedom’s that will accompany society turning the tide on these tragic diseases.

IRONMAN VR / IRONMAN VR 3

For all the cynicism that some might throw at IRONMAN and their commercial motivations for the platform in the long run, for now they have made the IRONMAN VR platform and races free, and IRONMAN and anyone else putting on e-races free of charge should be commended. These events won’t just keep the community going, they will probably help professional athletes, brands, retailers, coaches and more to continue to survive by providing exposure for pro’s, a need to continue buying performance equipment, nutrition and spares, keep athletes motivated to train with a focus and more.

The formats for these races are significantly different to the normal Swim-T1-Bike-T2-Run world and as such, some unique considerations come into play. Though a duathlon run-bike-run format on the surface, the fact that the three legs can be done in whichever order you want, over two and a bit days of time and in a mix of indoor or outdoor environments has significant implications if you are aiming for the fastest time possible.

IRONMAN VR

As such, here are some considerations for your next (and hopefully this weekend’s) IRONMAN VR race.

Before we go on it’s important to say that with respect to the cycling element, the advice and materials referenced here are aimed at Zwift users, which IRONMAN might not love me for, as they have partnered with Rouvy – but at the moment the majority rules, and for most of us Zwift is where it is at, unless you a Pro that has to race in Rouvy. In time, we will update this for Rouvy, as more and more information becomes available and the user base grows.

IRONMAN VR / Roy
Rouvy screenshot

With the fact you can complete the three legs (2 run and 1 bike) in any order you want, at any time within the window you want, you will want to consider several factors. These include;

Choosing the best order and when and where to do each leg;

  • Planning when to do each leg?: With the fact that you can complete the three legs in essence over three days, you can plan a strategy to allow you to maximise the efforts and recoveries over the period I.e.;
    • Do the first session on the Friday evening (post 6pm GMT [7pm British Summer Time] in the case of this week’s event (Ironman VR3) and then do one Saturday and one Sunday. Though ideal this might not be practical, around the rest of your life and training goals, but this would in theory be the best option. But remember for this to be the ideal;
      • You will need to properly fuel in the build-up and during each day.
      • You will need to properly warm-up and cool down – stretching and recovering effectively.
      • And lastly, you will need to plan the order of efforts and measure such that you don’t push yourself to the point that you cannot recover and suffer the effects of the dreaded DOMS the next day (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). If you are someone who suffers frequently from DOMS, you may choose to do two or even three of the sessions in one day*.

(* That said, remember that at the moment, in the UK and many other places you are only allowed to do one physical activity a day outside. The best you might be able to do is pack two runs into one outdoor session as two different legs. Say the 1.5km run followed by a recovery walk and then straight into the 5km run this weekend.)

  • What order to do it in?: How quickly you recover from running versus cycling when pushing maximum efforts will really dictate this. Depending on your physiology and current training regime, you may find you recover faster from running or cycling, and as such for you keeping to the run-bike-run format might not be best to enable you to push the maximum effort in all three legs. Thins to consider in deciding the order are in relation to this but also other factors;
    • Recovery time by discipline: If you are doing a lot more of one discipline than the other in training at the moment, or are a natural runner or cyclist, choose the order that is best suited to you and your recovery. At my prime, I would have done both runs first and then the bike leg post, as my run recovery was much faster. For now I am going to be keeping to the run-bike-run order, as the difference in recovery time if I manage my efforts is relatively neutral.
    • Environmental conditions: If you are going to be riding or running outside, check the weather and plan when it is going to be safest and also the best conditions, when things like rain, strong winds or hot temperatures will have less of an adverse impact on your performances. If there is a day that is going to be particularly windy and you find that this has less of impact on your riding than running, than plan to do your run that day.
  • Indoor or Outdoor Run and Cycling?: Beyond the fact, that we should be aiming to spend as much time indoors, protecting each other and the medical community and essential workers, choosing whether to run or bike indoors and outdoors can have a huge impact on your race result. For some there will be a practical reality, without a smart trainer or a treadmill that outdoors is the only option. If, however, you are lucky enough to have the choice, chances are indoor is your fastest option in the current world of social distancing.
    • In both the case of cycling and running, indoor mitigates any negative outdoor environmental conditions, but it can produce its own negatives such as overheating if you don’t control the temperature and conditions in your workout space. As such using a fan to create an airflow to assist with wicking moisture from your body to facilitate your body’s natural cooling or using air-conditioning can really assist your performance. You might want to wear clear lens glasses if wind or air condition cause dry eyes and irritation which can affect some people.
    • Running Indoors or Outdoors: If you are lucky enough to have a treadmill and are able to upload your run data with accuracy via Zwift or another platform, then there is a significant chance that running on the treadmill will give you a faster result, as you run expending less energy. This is because the rotation of the treadmill’s belt, aids and speeds leg turnover, helping the runner to run faster.

 Though this might not be fair, at the moment, this is just a reality of e-racing and one could say outdoors, people could gain a similar advantage by running a course with a net elevation loss or running the timed segment of a race leg with a tailwind. All strategies that come into play in this new format. The real-world equivalent of Zwift draft boost on the bike!

IRONMAN VR - Treadmill / Mirinda Carfrae

Also remember that running indoors, can often lead to an injury if the belt speed is set too fast and you cannot maintain a safe form. As a coach I am not a big fan of hard runs over 5-10km on a treadmill. If you encounter distances like in VR1 with a 21km run, make sure you are continually evaluating your form and ensuring your impact point is below or behind your body weight and that you are able to turn your legs over in time with the belt speed.

If, however, you have to run outdoors (which the majority of us will have to do, myself included), aim to plan as flat as possible routes where you will be able to run efficiently and safely. Try to choose routes or laps where you mimise the need to cross over roads or if possible, where you have wide paths so as to not endanger yourself or others by contravening social distancing recommendations. Remember, at the end of the day this is for fun, and there is no point in being the d**k that runs right beside other people or makes them jump out of the way. If you can’t safely pass someone wait until you can.

  • Cycling: As you will read below, as with running, indoor does provide numerous advantages over outdoor in terms of performance. At the moment, when we should be riding indoors ideally if possible, in order to effectively social distance and minimise the chance of us becoming a burden on the health care system through an injury.
    • Minimise effects of environmental conditions
    • Maximise performance thanks to advantages you can gain through course, equipment, and draft effect on Zwift, etc.
  • That said if you do have to ride outdoors, choose as flat as possible a route and take advantage where possible of environmental conditions and good road surface. Try to choose routes with minimal traffic and lights which will cause you to stop or slow down. Do ensure that you follow all traffic laws and ride safe, and remember (again!), this is all for fun.

Having discussed considerations you need to take into account with regards to what order, when and where to complete each legs let’s discuss approaches for each of the bike and run legs.

Bike Leg

Starting with the bike, here are some key considerations (primarily aimed at indoor Zwift riding).

  • Before the completing the bike leg:
    • Choose the best combination of real-world bike/position and virtual-world bike. The legend that is Dan Empfield from Slowtwitch.com wrote a great piece on this recently (https://bit.ly/3acN9Tn), but in short summary;
      • In the real-world you will want the bike that affords you the best position to generate power consistently and comfortably (and as such your trusty TT might not be it, especially if you find that indoors you are riding sitting up versus in your aero bars – i.e. the position designed to be most efficient on a TT bike). Additionally, you want to set up your screen so that it is best aligned to be clearly visible in your chosen position.
      • In Virtual-world – You want the bike with best performance feature for the type of riding you are doing. I.e. if you are riding alone, you will want a TT bike but if you are riding on a course with a lot of people where you will end up in a group at some point (which is pretty much every ride in Zwift at the moment, aside from TT races), you will get a superior draft effect in Zwift on a performance road bike. Here is a great article explaining how this principle works – https://zwiftinsider.com/zwift-drafting/ and;
        • Details of the best frames if you are below level 30 can be found HERE and
        • Overall the fastest frames can be found HERE
        • and wheelset performance HERE
  • Fuelled for success: Have a gel 15 minutes before and a full bottle of fluids (or bottles depending on distance), and if relevant additional gels/bars. For this weekend’s 20km effort, I would just do a gel before and fluids during.
  • Warm-up: For this weekend’s VR3, do a 2-3km warm up as a separate session and then close Zwift and reopen progressively building from 50% of your FTP to just above. (105-110%)*

(*ideally having done an FTP test recently, so that you are working from relevant data.)

  • Choose a flat course: I would use ‘Tempus Fugit‘ in Watopia on Zwift, as it is the flattest and fastest around.
  • Know your target effort: Have in mind, the effort level you feel you can push for the distance. For this weekend’s 20km race, I would aim for 105-110% of your FTP depending on your strength as a rider, if you feel great after 10-15km you can always push even harder to the finish.

During the bike leg:

  • Straight into the race: Once the new session starts you want to go straight into your hard effort (20km maximum effort), as such if you can be pedalling on your bike before you hit start. This means your legs will be up to speed as the timer start. Also, I suggest you put on some music with an intense beat 135bpm -180bpm plus to help you keep up a high intensity and RPM. There is a huge amount of science backing the effects of listening to music and achieving a better performance, you can find a list of some songs with a high BPM HERE  and HERE. Personally, it might not be a classic piece of music… but Cotton Eye Joe by Rednex is about right for me, as I tend to push a really big gear at a slightly slower cadence during my TT’s, so its 130bpm works really well.
  • Fuel throughout: Remember to fuel throughout, it’s easy to forget to hydrate and fuel when you are stationary but become systematic. Personally, I take a small drink every 3km out of a bottle of drink mixed up with OTE Hydro tabs and an OTE caffeine gel every 30-40 minutes.
  • Keep cool: If you have a fan or air conditioning, get it on to help keep your core temperature down and allow you to perform at your best and systematically towel off if you become saturated on clothing and skin, as this will imped your body’s ability to cool.
  • Get your draft on: Depending on whether or not you have chosen to ride in a group or alone, you will want to consider using the draft. At the moment it is within the rules (see Dan Empfield article above) and as such you’re missing out on free speed.

IRONMAN VR / Smart Trainer / Technogym / Lauren Brandon

For the triathlon purest this may sound blasphemous, but e-racing is a different kind of racing and using the advantages of each platform within the rules is part of racing. Therefore, when a group travelling slightly faster than you comes put in an effort and get on. If you find you end up at the front of that group and are staying there, then when the next group comes by put in another effort.

  • Stop the Clock: As soon as you hit the distance for your leg. Stop your recording device and save the session so it uploads to Ironman VR.

After the bike leg:

  • Refuel and Recover:
    • Cool-down: After the bike leg is done, spend a few minutes on the bike to spin-out and cool-down. This will help gradually bring your core body temperature down, give you some extra time to hydrate with focus post effort and loosen tight muscles.
    • As soon as you are done, get refuelled. This weekend with 20km on the bike, this might not entail anything more than your normal eating but with the 90km or 40km legs of the longer VR1 and VR2 events it is worth looking at a recovery shake and planning your meal times to coincide with optimal recovery.
    • Recover with a good stretch to help ensure that your muscle and joints are able to perform to their maximum ability when you do your next effort. Here is a video with a good post bike stretch from the team at RnR.

Run Legs

 For both your run disciplines, here are some additional thoughts and considerations building on those above:

Before the completing the run leg:

  • Fuelled for success: Have a gel 15 minutes before and a full bottle of fluids (or bottles depending on distance) and if relevant additional gels or chews prepared. For this weekend’s 1.5km, I would probably not take any addition fuel prior but focus on good hydration pre and post. For the 5km effort, I would still have a gel 15 minutes before, as much for the placebo effects as physiological. For longer efforts of 10km upwards, I would look at a gel 15minutes in and then every 30 minutes thereafter and drink regularly. This might require you to have create a looped course where you can safely leave a bottle to access for a quick drink if you don’t like running with one in hand or in belt/pack.
  • Warm-up: For this weekend’s VR3, do a short warm up (500 meters-750 meters) pre each run with a dynamic stretch to ensure you are fully mobilised before your run. Here is a head to toe dynamic stretch routine you can do:

  • Chose a fast route: For those running outside, choose a fast route, ideally a looped or out-and-back route, which is flat and has minimal chances for your to be stopped by traffic lights and crossings and has wide paths or few other users.
  • Make sure your GPS signal/connection is established: If running outdoors, make sure your recording device (watch or phone) has its GPS connection established and you are ready to go.~
  • Know your pace: Have a plan with regards to each run leg and the pace you are aiming to run. For this weekend’s Ironman VR3 I would recommend the following plan to both maximise performance and minimise fatigue.
    • 1.5km leg: Start running the first 500m slightly above your stand-alone 5km race pace/effort and then at 501m-1000m push harder, maybe 10-15 seconds a km faster and then in the last 500M push even harder. This last 500m will feel anaerobic near a full sprint at the end.
    • 5km leg: Start slightly slower than your stand-alone 5km race pace/effort for the first two kilometres (5-10 seconds a KM above), then push the pace through the 3-4 km at 5-10 seconds below your normal pace and then in the last kilometre aim to raise the pace every couple hundred meters, crossing the line ideally with the tank feeling empty. The goal here is to run a negative split and if this is your last leg of weekend, leave nothing in the tank. If it isn’t and you still have the bike to go, plan accordingly.

During the run leg:

  • Start Fast: Instead of starting your GPS recording device and then start running, get yourself up to speed (like you would be exiting transition), and then press start.
  • Run your pace: Run the paces you planned above but being self-reflective. If it feels to easy, you can push the pace but at the same time if you are struggling to either maintain form or feel uncomfortable, consider easing off as it is not worth getting injured or ill.
  • Fuel for success: as with comments above, fuel throughout hydrating and feeding to maintain your optimal results. This weekend’s run probably won’t require much during, but 10km and 21km efforts will require greater attention. For me, I would drink every couple of KM’s and feed as discussed above.
  • Stop the Clock: As soon as you hit the distance for your leg. Stop your recording device and save the session so it uploads to Ironman VR

Post the run leg:

  • Refuel and Recover: As with the bike leg it will be essential that after each leg, you refuel fluids and nutrients and recover with a proper cool down and stretch.

And at the end of each leg and the VR challenge as a whole….Enjoy it!: Most importantly enjoy it, unless you are professional, you are doing this fun. So make sure you allow yourself to enjoy the session and smile. Otherwise, why are you doing it?!

Hopefully these tips and thoughts for consideration will help you get the most out of your Ironman VR racing and be as virtually competitive as possible. As this is just the start of all of our VR racing journey the team at TRI247.com and RnR Sport would love to hear your thoughts and tips for racing.

Keep tri’ing in these trying times. Stay Inside as much as you can and be safe and keep our medical and key workers safe. See you at a race on the flip-side.