It's race week...
Emotions running high. Questions of doubt. Feeling every ache and pain. The list goes on...
There is so much that goes on in an athlete's head on race week...especially those that are embarking on the journey of completing an Ironman. I'm writing this now as I'm officially entering the exciting/dreaded/scary week of Ironman not only for myself, but for a crew of 8 others. Tomorrow we hit the road to Lake Placid and will have almost an entire week to soak up the mountain air and beautiful views of Mirror Lake.
So before getting to the race scene, I wanted to give a 'heads up' especially to my first time Ironman athletes. Nerves can sky rocket and feelings of "am I prepared enough?" come into major play. The task of completing a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and finish with a 26.2 mile run is daunting and actually being in the race atmosphere can exacerbate the nervousness that comes along with it.
First off- the question / comment I get all of the time- "Did I do enough? My friend (or competitor) did 'x' amount of hours more of training each week, rode 120 milers every weekend, and says he/she isn't ready!" Ahh, the beauty of Strava and other social media.
DO NOT COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHERS! This is one of the benefits of having a coach that is working with you. They are there to make sure you are prepared. Yes, the situation for every athlete is going to be different. Having a coach that is making plans specific to YOUR needs (and not just another generic plan) is what will make you the better and smarter athlete. Every athlete is going to have different strengths/weaknesses, time commitments with families/jobs, injuries or imbalances, workout intensities, etc.. This list can go on and on. So remember- next time you log onto Strava or FaceBook and see that your friend (or maybe competitor) just did a 20 mile long run and yours was 'only' 10, you are doing 10 because every workout of yours should be done for a specific reason. Trust me, after completing now 7 full Ironmans, I have had the same exact feelings. I check the various social media and panic for a second when I see another athlete doing quite a lot more than me...and the questions of doubt creep in. Kick those thoughts aside! If you did your training and your coach is paying attention, you did specific work tailored to YOU. Stick to your gut and trust in YOUR training. Having that faith and trust in yourself and your coach will get you a long way.
Next- the TAPER! Again, every athlete is different. Some may taper for 3 weeks, some 2, some maybe even 1. There are times when a taper isn't even in place (usually not for Ironman though!). Once arriving at the race site, it is very easy to get caught up in the moment. You see athletes working out all day long (especially in Kona). Stick with your plan- so if you have a 30 minute easy ride, do not over ride it. Make it easy- stay light on the pedals and enjoy the taper. If you have an off day- kick those feet up and REST! Many times athletes will start to feel the 'itch' to do a little more because they are used to it. Or they see another athlete that is doing a 2 hour ride instead of their planned 45 so they decide to add a little extra on. Don't be that athlete that does too much or pushes over the top during the taper. You will just end up more fatigued and can possibly put a damper on all the work that you put in. Focus on your goals and your plan!
Keep in mind that during the taper, it is normal to still feel bouts of tiredness and/or fatigue. Sure there are times in a taper that the body and mind will feel amazing, but is not always the case. Make sure that your workouts are less intense and volume is dialed back. Your body will respond and the energy will increase. Do not let the feelings of 'did I do enough?' drive your workouts. Know that you did the training that was set up for you and it will drive you to the end goal.
Next- enjoy the experience...but do not get caught up in the hype. Race week for Ironman has a lot going on. Simple advice- make a schedule and stick to it! If you plan on visiting the expo while picking up packets and race gear, allow yourself a certain amount of time to spend there, and then get out. Stick to the schedule or there are times you can end up spending hours on your feet walking around. That is not ideal. I still recall my first Ironman World Championship experience in Kona. I was exciting and soaked up as much as I could. Little did I realized, but day after day, I was on my feet constantly. I wanted to be everywhere---at the farmers market, checking out the latest and greatest at the expo, meeting up with friends and chatting, attending pre race festivities, etc.. Each night I went to bed exhausted. My best Ironman to date was at the 2015 Ironman World Championships. I had signed up for a Training Peaks University class which was the Thursday and Friday before Saturday's race. I was forced to sit and be in class most of the day on Thursday and Friday. SIT. RELAX. Not rushing around seeing what else I could do. The class was the biggest blessing as it forced me to rest the body and legs. Yes, sitting all day isn't the best, but I was able to get up to stretch and walk around when needed. It was much better than walking around all day in the sun. So I advise to come up with plan / schedule to stick to. If there isn't one in place, you might find yourself jumping into more activities than what would be beneficial to a successful race day.
Last- control your emotions on race day. You did the training and are ready. But on race day, anything can happen. In Ironman, there may be times of 'wow, this is easy and I feel great!' and then the next second of, 'wow, everything hurts. There is no way I can even move forward. Why am I doing this?' Most everyone will cycle through the emotions of lowest of lows and highest of highs. Learn to control those emotions at the high end and low end. When feeling great, kept your effort in check. Its often very easy to get caught up in and push a little harder than you should. When feeling miserable, maintain a positive attitude and do what you can in oder to keep moving forward. Be prepared mentally with how you will deal with the emotions.
I recently read, "In the heat of competition, it is easy to get stuck on what is not going well, which causes you to lose sight of how lucky you are to be able to race." Remember, you are doing this because you enjoy it. Have fun and be grateful that you are doing something many could only dream of doing.
Good luck to all of my Iron-distance racing friends- especially those first timers. Looking forward to sharing stories of the adventure when it is all said and done!