This week is race week. Last week was somewhat of a taper week. The week before that was a recovery week. Let’s just say that I prefer monster training weeks or high-intensity weeks. More than it is what I prefer, those that have to live with me prefer it, too. Well, at least they prefer the first two weeks of the build. I’m like an addict without my drugs!
Anxiety Free Racing
Ok, it’s really not that bad. I actually don’t get pre-race jitters much anymore. I definitely say that I get a little excited for a race, but I don’t get nervous or anxious. I’m pretty relaxed. I’m just full of energy and ready to burst. Yes, that’s a bit contradictory. A few years ago, I would have begun bouncing off the walls at this point, I would have had a very short fuse. Maybe I have mellowed a bit as I have gotten older, but I really think that it has more to do with experience and training. There are a few key elements to arriving at race day with as little anxiety as possible. While I am not a professional, I believe that history has proven that I have become somewhat of an expert at this.
Have a plan
Waking up on race day morning, rested and ready to go, begins months before. The plan is not just a one-day plan. No, you need to identify your goals for the event early on, knowing that you may have to tweak them as you go through the training process. If you have a coach, have some good discussions about how each of you define success, and make sure you are on the same page. This is important. Your coach needs a solid understanding of you define a good day to lay out the best training plan. Again, this could evolve during the train-up based on fitness and life events. After you have agreed on the plan, stick with it. For example, limit the number of extra events you add to the plan. If you are training for a long-course event, it really screws things up when the athlete throws in a 5K or a criterium race with the expectation of setting a PB or some other lofty goal. Likewise, blowing off the training early on in the plan is a good way to get injured trying to “cram” for your event. If you have a good plan and stick to it as best as possible, you should wake up on race day ready. Trust your training. In a good plan, you will have completed key or milestone events that will boost your confidence. Have faith in what you have already done and that your plan is solid. Otherwise, why did you agree to the plan? Moreover, you need to think about how you will act when things don’t go to plan. If you have a mechanical on the bike, do you push hard to make up for lost time, or do you stick to the race plan once you get going. If your goggles get water in them, do you just deal with it or stop and fix it? Those answers may be set in stone or situation dependent. If you are hanging on the feet of a group of fast swimmers, you may want to just deal with water in your goggles. Likewise, you may not worry yourself with lost time due to a mechanical on the bike if you feel that you can make it up on the run. You won’t be able to anticipate every situation, but the more problems you can sort out in your head prior to arriving at the race, the more likely you will be to handle the situation in a calm state. Once you know that you have planned for pretty much anything that the race throws at you, you will feel a lot less anxiety.
Practice, practice, practice
Training for a triathlon involves more than just swimming, biking, and running. No, you have other tasks. During train-up, you need to practice everything. Seriously, I mean everything. If you suck at changing a flat or putting a dropped chain back on, take some time to practice it. You will feel a lot better knowing that a flat tire or dropped chain won’t cost you 30 minutes. Nutrition is something else you need to practice. As you progress into the main build portion of your training, you need to have your nutrition plan pretty well set. That way, you can practice it during the hardest and longest training sessions. One of the worst things that an athlete can do on race day is ingest items or amounts that have not been practiced. Speaking from experience, it is very difficult to run with an extremely bloated stomach due to drinking more than my body could process. I should have practiced that. One time, I lose a bottle for my nutrition that I had never used in training. That didn’t work so well. I couldn’t actually get my drink through the top because it was too thick. That was followed by major stomach problems after drinking the on-course drink, which I had not consumed in training. Let’s just say that some port-a-potties paid the price that day, and it was a loooooong run.
Transition is something everybody knows that we have to practice. But, there is more to it than just practicing T1 and T2. No, practice for transition doesn’t end until you get into the transition area on race day or the day before. Once you get into transition, find the swim exit, the bike exit, the bike entry, and the run exit. Practice going from the swim exit to your bike. Identify any landmarks that will clue you in to the location of your rack. Practice the movement from your rack to the bike exit. Identify any congestion points or items that could hurt your feet or cause a trip. next, go to the bike entry and practice moving to your rack position. Again, identify anything that will clue you in to your rack. Lastly, practice moving to the run exit. Look to see if there is an aid station right out of T2. Find the port-a-potties in case of an emergency. Once you are comfortable that you can make all of the movements while moving at race pace and under stress, call it good. Don’t overthink it. Once you are set, you are set.
Make travel arrangements early
I have seen many a good training preparation go to crap because of poor travel planning. Waiting until the last minute to book flights or lodging is a good way to needlessly make your life really difficult. All big races tend to fill up to at least near capacity. Many of them are in places with limited flights or limited lodging available. Once you make the decision and sign up, start booking your travel. I know that it is not always possible, but the earlier the better. The last thing you need is to feel overly stressed during the last build cycle due to the ever-increasing costs of booking flights and accommodations when you are at your most fatigued.
Pick your travel companions wisely
The second part of the traveling equation is picking good travel partners. This includes racers and non-racers alike. Traveling with others can be great…or a nightmare. I have done it overseas, in an RV, and meeting up at the race site. For the most part, it has been a blast. However, there are some things to consider. You may have a training partner who is your best friend, but man they suck as race travel companions. During race week, your routines could be so different that it causes conflict. Or, someone who just bugs the ever-loving crap out of you on a daily basis could be your perfect race travel companion. Unfortunately, there is no way to test this out until you do it. Just make sure that you book accommodations that will provide you with ample space if you need to have your own space. Personally, I am one of those, lie on the couch types either reading or watching a movie, once I have my stuff ready. One of my best friends likes to isolate himself, for the most part, for the day or two leading up to the race. It’s nothing against anyone, but he likes to visualize his rest and work through his own thoughts. On race day morning, though, he is back to his normal, jovial self. Still another friend obsessively checks and re-checks his stuff, seeks out people with whom he can speak, and asks inane questions that drive everyone insane. Really, that’s no change to his normal day-to-day self. However and with whomever you chose to travel, just remember to respect the desires of the other racers. Likewise, if you are support crew, give the racers space if that’s what they need. The racers appreciate the support crew members and family that travel with them, but the night before the race is probably not the best time to get into a long discussion about your relationship status or meeting each other’s needs. For the racers, you can relieve the stress of keeping the crew or family entertained by researching things for them to do prior to your arrival.
Make a packing list
Having an attack plan to packing for the trip and your race day bags is one of the most overlooked ways to reduce race anxiety. I actually have a fairly standard packing list that I begin to tweak for each race or trip about two weeks before I depart. No, I am not OCD. It helps me make sure that I have the appropriate amount of nutrition products, ensure that I have all of my gear, and start eliminating unnecessary items while thinking clearly and not in the midst of bag-packing battle. This has dropped my packing time for a race to about four hours, including complete disassembly of my bicycle and packing it up. This leads to another point about packing. Know how you plan to get your bike to the race and reassemble it if necessary. Most races have a bike shop on site to help, or you can use one of the services like TriBike Transport. I used them for IM Cozumel and have nothing but good things to say (Pro tip: Pay the $50 for the VIP service. It’s so nice to have TBT pick up your bike and your bags from transition, especially if you don’t feel too great after the race.) If you don’t have access to those services, do your research on local bike shops or learn to do it yourself. Just make sure you mark your positions to ensure that you set your bike back to the fitted position. On a subsequent post, I will pass along my packing list. It’s pretty detailed and probably a bit of overpacking, but I am pretty self-sufficient.
Stick to you routine
Everybody has a different approach to race day and the days leading up to it. You have to find what works for you and stick with it. Personally, I never go to the pre-race dinners. I have had some issues with the food in the past, quality and quantity, so I do my own thing. I order pizza topped with chicken. Seriously, that is what I eat the night before the race. After I finish stuffing my face, I pack my bag up for the race and lay out my clothes for the next morning. I pack the bag with my list. Thus, it is a checklist. Once everything is checked off, I forget about it. I do not unpack and repack multiple times. That’s why I have a checklist. One and done. That’s what I do. Then, I get ready for bed and try to get some sleep. Other people have a different system. If it works for you, then stick with it. Do not make changes at your A race, and do not make changes to accommodate your travel companions, unless your system involves you being a jerk. Then, change or risk being punched out. When you get to the race venue, have a process. The point is not to be super anal. The point is to reduce the number of decisions you have to make and the amount of thinking you must do. Remember, this is race day. You should be experiencing some degree of elevated stress. Stress isn’t bad, you just need to manage it. That’s why we try to automate as much as possible. Finish setting up your gear in a methodical process to ensure that nothing is missed (nutrition, air pressure in the tires, etc.). Then, go through the transition entry and exit points to and from your rack space one more time, as it will look a little different with all of the bikes. After you have completed that, check your space one more time to ensure that nobody has messed with it. Once you are done, grab your swim gear and leave the transition area.
Just before the race
Find your friends and make your way to the swim start. Most importantly, this is the time to relax. You are at the start. There is nothing more you can do. If you are a visualizer, go through your process. If not, just try to relax and expend no energy. Continue to hydrate and/or eat as needed. Give yourself plenty of time to make your way to the start line, find your group, and make some new friends. After all, you’re going to be smacking each other in the water a few minutes after meeting each other. You might as well know whom you are hitting!
Once you get done with your race and celebrate with friends and family, take a minute and reflect on your process. Did you arrive relaxed and ready? If not, see where you can tweak the system to improve your ability to be calm and relaxed. It will save you energy, and it will keep the others around you nice and calm. That’s it for now. I’ll let you know how my system worked out next week.