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It’s just another race….

The countdown has begun.

It’s now…

  • 31 days to the Half Ironman World Championships in Chattanooga
  • 36 days weeks to the Triathlon World Championships in Rotterdam
  • 66 days to the Ironman World Championships in Kona

If you have already qualified for one of these events I’ve no doubt your heart is now beating slightly faster after reading this.

But the purpose of this blog is not to whip you up into a frenzy of nervous excitement; that would be too easy. Think of it as more a warning to help you keep your feet on the ground so you avoid many of the pitfalls I see athletes making every year.

If there’s one thing a European or World championship label brings it’s a whole load of hype. It will come in bucket loads from the moment you claim your slot and this will only build exponentially as you get closer to your race date.

It never ceases to amaze me the crazy things I see athletes doing from year to year when they claim their slots. There seems to be a massive rush of blood to head that usually results in them making big changes to their training approach. They then start tinkering with tried and tested methods that have worked so well previously. It’s almost as if they have forgotten what got them their in the first place. This results in many of them arriving on race day over-hyped, over-trained and on a one way ticket to disappointment.

So now it’s time for a reality check.

A ‘World Championship’ race is purely a label. When you break it down into its most basic elements it’s just a swim, bike, then a run with a few thousands other triathletes. It’s no different to any other race you have ever done in that context. What makes it different is the level of expectation and hype that surrounds these events. It can become as big in your mind as you want to make it.

As much as you will feel a big internal pressure to perform it’s often the external pressure that can have the greatest impact. The frenzy starts with the race organisers, they will do a fine job of building the hype right through to race day. Teammates, family and friends will then compound this.

Pretty much every Tom, Dick and Harry will want to know how you’re training is going and what your expectations are. Many will also try to offer you advice, because as we know everyone who has done a triathlon is a coach. The problem with this is that many athletes just want to be left alone in their own little world with just their team around them. This is where they feel most safe and secure.

In my experience this can cause the highest level of anxiety and frustration in athletes. Some will be happy to talk about it but many just want to be left alone. Unfortunately this is something that is difficult to avoid. It’s a double-edged sword because at the end of the day people are trying to show you they care. They just don’t realise the negative impact it can have or the fact that you are being asked this many times a day. It’s understandable that it gets a little wearing for the athlete after a while. What is clear is that some athletes draw great strength from giving very little away.

If you are an athlete that struggles with this external pressure it’s important you find your own way of reacting when this happens. If you expect it you can just brush it all off as part of the process with a knowing smile. A positive reaction is far better than a negative one to help keep your mind in check. Have a short, polite response that you can repeat and fall back on, this will help prevent you for getting drawn into long conversations that you really don’t want to be having.

It’s also important during this period that your ‘core team’ becomes the comfort blanket around you. This team will consist of your coach, close family, friends and loved ones. These are the people you will draw positive energy from, they will also help you keep a level head through this period.

Next comes your training focus.

You don’t suddenly need to start adding more as this is the number one mistake athletes make. Remember most of the work is already done at this stage and you will only be adding the icing to the cake. What is important is that you are preparing for the specific demands of your race; this will be based on the course design and the potential climate you will be racing in.

Be cautious in your approach, you need to train smarter than ever before you want to be in peak condition on race day. It’s better to be slightly undertrained and over rested than it is to be over trained and burnt out. Your approach to high quality rest and recovery during this period is crucial; it really could be the magic bullet you are looking for to ensure race day success.

Key elements you need to consider during this period are what equipment you will be using and what your nutrition approach will be. You need to have confidence in both. Unfortunately this is the one area that athletes seem to avoid addressing until the very last minute. All of these things should be tested in the weeks leading into these races so you have total confidence in both when you arrive on race day. If there is something you are unsure of or unconfident with it needs to be addressed now. The longer you leave it the bigger that worry will become.

It’s also not the end of the world if you pick up an injury or an illness during this period (as discussed in great detail in earlier blogs – Dealing with injuryDealing with illness). What you do need to be able to do is to respond sensibly, because the need to recover will far outweigh the need to train. Caution is needed. The enforced rest can play huge dividends on race day because most athletes over train during this period anyway. If you can get your body to the start line in a reasonably healthy condition then anything will be possible. Don’t make any silly decisions that could jeopardize this as the race gets closer.

It’s also important to know what to expect when you get out to these races because many will have last minute wobbles. The physiques and posturing on show can be quite intimidating. Many of these A-type personalities will be jogging around in their underpants, with a sign saying ‘Look at me’ attached to their backsides. They will also have all the latest stealth like kit that looks like it has just come out of the space age. Just remember looks can be very deceiving, a great six pack and the latest kit doesn’t guarantee anything on race day.

I will never forget receiving two phone calls from 2 of my athletes who were competing at Kona for the first time. Both were along similar lines:

  • “I feel completely out of my depth”
  • “It’s so intimidating here”
  • “They all look so much younger and fitter”
  • “What on earth am I doing here?”

I had told both of them to expect this, so after a good talking to from coach they calmed down and just focussed on the plan we had outlined for race week. It was all based on blocking out all of the other ‘noise’ so they could just focus on what they needed to do. I take great pride in telling you both these ladies ending up finishing on the podium in their age groups finishing in 2nd and 3rd position.

When you get out there you need to focus on you and only you. Ignore what others are doing, no matter how good they appear to be. Triathletes love to talk and tell you about ‘their’ races (usually a good sign of their own anxieties). Don’t let these conversations create any doubt in your mind about what you plan on doing. This is so easily done, particularly if you are inexperienced at racing at this level. The more you can stay in your own world the better, if there is any doubt then refer back to your coach.

During race week it’s important to establish a routine, this will help keep you calm, centered and focussed. This could be the same routine you’ve successfully used for other races. Take time to think about your own ideal preparation week, this will help you create the ideal state of mind to race well. The worst thing you can do is just leave it all to race week and expect it all to come together. Start the process of organisation and mental preparation now. Then race week becomes an enjoyable part of the process, not a hectic last minute stress.

The important message here is that just because it’s a World Championship race you don’t need to get carried away. It really is just another race, the more you play it down in your mind the better. Focus on keeping a cool, calm head, when others around you are losing theirs and you will be well on your way to race day success.

If it’s your first attempt at racing at this level the absolute priority is to enjoy yourself and have fun. It’s not a time to be setting outrageous race goals; it should be a time to celebrate many years of hard work and commitment. So go out there with big wide eyes and soak it all in. Relish the challenge of racing with the best in the world and do it with a big smile on your face.

The funny thing about all of the above is it doesn’t just apply to athletes racing at the World Championships; it also applies to every athlete at any other race. The more organised and sensible you can be the higher the chances are of you executing a performance on race day that you can be proud of.