How Marc Unger came 5th at Ironman Barcelona and shaved 26 minutes off his PB

By Dave Colley | 5 Minute Read

German Pro triathlete Marc Unger reached out in September as he was looking to refine his pre-race hydration strategy ahead of Ironman Barcelona. After some back and forth he had his preloading plan sorted and we were delighted to hear that Marc smashed his previous personal best by 26 minutes, finishing in 8th place overall in just 8 hours and 19 minutes. We had a debrief to get you some insight into how he did it...

 

So Marc, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background in triathlon?

Well, I've been doing triathlons since 2009. Before that I was a 5km runner but I needed a new challenge. During my running career I cross-trained on mountain bikes and on the road too, so I had some background on the bike. I'd always liked to discover new places on two wheels.

I would probably say that I hated swimming back then but I had two out of three so I thought I'd give triathlon a try! I could barely crawl 25m, but I've made a lot of progress since then, more than I'd thought would be possible. Nowadays I like all three disciplines equally to be honest!

 

Ok, so talk us through your race at Ironman Barcelona. You beat your PB by 26 minutes I believe?

Yes, I'm still stoked about it to be honest. I knew I was in a great shape (at least on the swim and bike) and so knew I could take some risks there but my running was a big question mark, I had shin splits for most of the summer, so I was only able to run about 1/3 of my normal mileage and did no tempo sessions at all!

I thought that on this fast course a 8 hour 25 minute race would be possible. During the swim I ended up in the second group, right where I wanted to be. Out of T1 there were 3km where overtaking was forbidden, after that I saw Joe Skipper beside me and so I tried to stay at a legal distance to his rear wheel.

 

Marc Unger pro triathlete at ironman barcelona

 

After a few more kms I was in a group of five trying to catch the front group. We worked quite well together and after 90km or so Joe and I were out on our own. Between about 150km and 160km there was a really strong headwind and this was probably the hardest part of the day, we had to work hard.

With the tailwind after the turnaround I opened up a small gap on Joe. During the whole bike leg I felt really strong. Then after a fast transition I think I was in about 10th place going into the marathon.

I started the run a little bit too fast at about 4 minute 10 second kms (I had planned on 4:20-4:25 kms) and after about 8kms I was overtaken by Joe and a Spaniard. But I didn't panic, I simply focused on my own race, took my nutrition and hydration drinks in and did everything I could not to blow up!

 

Marc Unger pro triathlete bracelona

 

Gradually I have clawed my way back up, place by place. About 5km before the finish I got a little bit tired and my quads got heavier and heavier, but I liked the run course there, with it's different terrains, so I knew the last 2.5km would get a bit easier. It was then that I realised I was coming in at a time under 8 hours 20 minutes! From there things definitely got a little bit easier!

At the finish line I celebrated like never before :-)

 

What did you do differently at Ironman Barcelona that might have helped you get a PB?

I took some risks and pushed myself but I certainly didn't overdo it. I was very focused on my own race and stayed in the moment. I also didn't overdo it from a nutritional point of view, I think I actually cut my usual calorie intake by around 25%!

But I think the cornerstone was my last training block. I was very satisfied with it, I was mentally and physically in a very good shape and was ready to put it all together on race day.


What does a typical training week look like for you mid season?

Monday: “Easy” day. Athletic session followed by a 4km-6km swim session.

Tuesday: If I can run: threshold or intervals on the run followed by aerobic or intervals on the bike.

Wednesday: Aerobic Swim; Aerobic Run; Aerobic Bike

Thursday: Bike: Intervals (Threshold, VO2max); Aerobic Run

Friday“Easy” day. Athletic session followed by a 4km-6km swim session.

Saturday: Run, "Kind of" Fartlek; Bike: Intervalls (Threshold, VO2max)

Sunday: Swim, hard, with race pace and faster; Bike: Aerobic; Run: aerobic or sometimes threshold

Marc Unger hydration plan


What’s your nutrition/hydration strategy before and during a race?

In the last three days before a race I eat a lot of carbs (kind of carb-loading, but not exactly a Saltin diet).

For breakfast I have toast, a rice and honey pot with a triple espresso and before the start a caffeine drink from Cytosport. On the bike and run I take in Cytomax from the special needs stations for some of my energy but I also use the Red Bull and gels on the course.

In terms of hydration, I sodium preload with Precision Hydration's 1500s the night before and morning of my race and then drink PH 1000 on the bike.


What made you try Precision Hydration, have you had hydration/cramp issues in past races?

I heard about PH maybe about 18 months ago, I found your approach very interesting. I'd heard about "sodium preloading" before but I've had some issues with stomach cramps in the past and so I'm very cautious about what I try. So, I signed up for your newsletter and I read it regularly for a while before eventually deciding to try the products. I tested it several times in training first of course, and it worked out really well, so I decided to implement it on race day!

 

Marc Unger triathlon

 

How do you balance training with family/social life?

I think for me this has been a little bit easier since I've turned pro. I only work part time now, so I can balance things better than when I was an age grouper, when I trained almost the same amount of time, but had a full time job too!

Normally I do all of my training in the first part of the day, then I do some work and so after that I have a decent amount of free time left to spent with my girlfriend, our dog and friends and family.

I think it's largely about good planning really.


What made you decide to go pro and, other than more training time, how has that helped you improve your performances?

I just honestly really wanted to do what I want to do, every minute of every day. And also to have a decent social life! 

But mostly I wanted to see how fast I could get if I raced with the best in the world on the same start line. 

I definitely needed more time to recover properly. I think this has made a real difference. I can train harder, more often and still have time for my body to recover.

 

 Marc Unger triathlete

 

What’s your favourite bit of kit/gear?

I love my SRAM Quarq Powermeter and from a nutrition point of view, I really like the Muscle Milk Protein Shake from Cytosport.


What do you swim in and ride on?

I swim in a Sailfish G-Range Wetsuit, or sometimes the Rebel Swimskin. I wear Zoggs Goggles.

I ride a Cube Aerium Super HPC SLT Zeroblack with Reynolds Wheels and/or a Citec Disc, Shimano Di2 with a SRAM Quarq Powermeter; Rudy Project Wingspan; and I wear a Sailfish Aerosuit.


What’s your next triathlon goal? Any bucket list races you have your eye on?

I will probably do Challenge Sardinia at the end of the month and after that it's time for a bit of a break in the off season. I will making new plans with my Coach Matthias Knossalla from Trivolution Training; there are a lot of different, interesting races out there!

There are indeed. Well, we look forward to seeing you shaving more time off that PB next season Marc! Thanks.

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