By Selwyn Parker
With all your training, preparation, ups and downs and logistics, here you are—perhaps just weeks out from an IRONMAN race, albeit a virtual one. It could be your first or your fifth, but nevertheless, it's a big day. Suddenly, everything you've read, heard, and learned disappears in a wave of anxiety. You need a refresher.
Here are some nuggets of wisdom from some of the best age groupers in the sport—all who’ve competed at the IRONMAN World Championship over the years. Kona, where the hype is huge, the complications many, the weather hot, and the crowds large. Oh, and the expectations high.
No matter what event you've got up next, they're here to offer advice to help you achieve your best possible day.
Before the gun
Get lazy. It’s not in the nature of triathletes to do nothing, especially after many months of solid training, but this is the time to break a good habit. Bring a big book and get the load off your feet as often as you can. Exercise specialists say that walking slowly around town is one of the most tiring things a fit person can do.
Know why you're there. As American Melissa Mantak, professional triathlon coach and chapter author of The Women’s Guide to Triathlon tells her newbies: "Be clear on what your goals are for the race. Are you doing this to perform or participate?" Mantak, a former ITU World Cup series overall champion, explains that this is crucial to energy management in the days leading up to the race. For her, energy management comes in two forms: "It’s physical and mental, with the one influencing the other." As she has observed over the years, many athletes [do a race] to participate in the first year, learn the ropes and have fun. Next time they will focus on their performance.
No time for self-doubt. You might be seeing what New Zealand athlete Fiona Macdougall calls "ten-hour bodies" posted on social media. Just remind yourself you’ve done the work and you deserve to be doing this, too.
Feet first. "Happy feet are important," says American Dexter Yeats, a former teamster from the San Francisco Bay area who avoided potentially race-wrecking blisters when she competed for the fifth time in Kona. "Keep your feet dry," she advises. "I put powder in my shoes and socks for the bike and run. In 2013 I forgot, and the blisters were so bad it ruined my run."
Don't fixate on your time. "You shouldn’t race against the clock in an IRONMAN," a former ITU star advises, speaking from his own experience. "It’s a race against your body." In a bitter disappointment he had to pull out half-way through Kona.
Stay calm. "I recommend you should not be too nervous or too happy," adds Yamauchi, echoing the views of sports psychologists who counsel the importance of controlling the inner mind.
See it, do it. Visualization of the important moments of the race will help you execute them correctly. Once again, sports psychologists recommend that athletes create a picture in their mind of the situations they expect to face so that, in one sense, they have been there before. Visualization is better than reciting a set of instructions to yourself because it’s more real.
Tried and true. Don’t wear anything you’ve not thoroughly tested before, and especially not running shoes. My wife Margaret, who had completed nearly 30 marathons in good times, had to walk all the way from the Kona Energy Lab when her hips seized up. Although she’d worn her racing flats several times before, she had never run a marathon in them.
After the gun
Stay cool in mind and body. In the excitement of exiting the water, it’s easy to forget you’re already dehydrated. A doctor friend of mine hammered the bike so hard in the first 40 km that he never once drank. He was soon in such dire straits that he was pulled out of the race for two hours until deemed safe enough to continue, albeit cautiously.
Don't be a horse out of the gate. Pacing is everything, especially if you haven’t prepared as well as you would have liked through illness, the pressure of work or other factors. The universal advice is to start out easy and slowly build into the race.
Enjoy the day. Even though you won’t have roaring crowds, find the joy within you as you race this year. Dexter Yeats, who competes in the 70-74 age group, has her own mantra—"a smile every mile." As she explains, "it keeps you feeling upbeat."
Selwyn Parker is a journalist, author and triathlete representing Britain. He placed third in his age group in the 2017 ITU World Championship in Rotterdam.