Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What, me worry?

Preparing to go 140.6 miles in under 17 hours gives one many things to worry about. Can I swim 2.4 miles in open water? What if the waves are too high? What if the current's going the wrong way? Will my goggles work? Will I have a flat tire? How high are those hills? Will there be a headwind? How in the world am I going to run a marathon after biking 112 miles? Will I look good while doing it?

So many worries, and so many miles and hours to dwell on them. Paying attention to the details, big and small, is one of the keys to getting through the day. But stressing over details you can't control wastes mental energy, at best, and can sabotage your swim, bike, and run if you let the wrong details take control.

What not to worry about

On the swim. No Ironman takes place in an indoor swimming pool, so there are probably going to be waves. You're going to swim right through those waves, and you'll find they're much less of a problem than you thought. Remember: you float. At Providence 70.3 in 2009, the swim was in a semi-protected bay, but with the trailing end of an overnight thunderstorm still overhead at start time, the waves were around 18 inches. Consider that the pro's still came out of the water in about 21 minutes, and my own swim time is still my fastest 70.3 swim at 41:22.

On the bike. Popular theory is that somewhere around 1492 this guy from Spain proved once and for all that the Earth is not flat. More recently, this other guy from Spain proved that mountains are no obstacle, especially in France. Oh yeah, you're going to find some climbs, even (relatively speaking) at Ironman Florida. They aren't going anywhere, and they are not getting any smaller, so take 'em as they come, get to the top, and keep on going. Nearly every climb has a corresponding descent, so get ready to enjoy that free speed on the way back down. And that headwind thing? Somewhere along the 112 mile course, you're gonna find it. It can be incredibly frustrating cranking along into a good headwind, but what can you do? Keep on cranking, stay in your zone, and remember that every headwind can also become a tailwind at some point.

On the run. Whether you're running a stand-alone marathon or tacking it on at the end of Ironman, it's still 26.2 miles. It's no farther after going 112 on the bike than when you run a marathon by itself. One foot in front of the other. One mile at a time.

What to worry about

Equipment. Check and double check and triple check every piece of equipment in the weeks and days and hours before the race. Make sure all your clothing fits perfectly, is adjusted right, and works like you need it to when you're actually using it. Don't just pull on your wetsuit in the bedroom - take it to your pool or open water swim area and make sure you can get it on & off, the zipper works, no tears, etc. Take your ride to your local bike shop for a good look-over at a minimum. As Chris McCormmack can attest (2008), the worst kind of DNF comes when you're having a great day, everything's gelling, and then a derailleur cable snaps and your day is over.

On the other hand, remember Chrissie Wellington's flat in Kona, in 2008? She kept her head, stayed calm, got back on the bike, and won!

Nutrition/Hydration. Practiced, and hopefully perfected during training, sticking with your nutrition plan can be the make-it or break-it element over which you have the most control. Knowing what you learned about your needs during long rides and runs, take in exactly what you know you need. Take in less, and you may end up slowing down from lack of fuel rather than mere fatigue, or in the med tent. Take in more, and you risk bloating and a really uncomfortable rest of the day.

Attitude. Even if everything goes perfectly on race day, there really is only one thing that will get you to the end: your unwavering commitment that you will keep going until you cross the finish line. If you give in to the voice that keeps whispering, "I can't do this," you're going to fight it all the way, and it just might win. You'll probably hear that voice plenty through the day, and every time you'll remind it about all your training, all your planning, how much you want this, and that you are NOT going to stop until you hear Mike Reilly's booming voice, proclaiming to the world, "You Are An Ironman!"

Monday, May 23, 2011

Your first Ironman? Here's what you'll do wrong.

Your first Ironman. Congratulations! All your training, all the miles, all the hours, all the sunburns and flat tires and aches and pains and early mornings and early nights and bricks and lap after lap after lap after lap following the mind-numbing black line and the chlorine...they're all about to pay off at the big show: Ironman.

You may not think it now, and you will probably be near panic-mode when you see the water, race morning, but once you get into your rhythm on the swim, you'll get to a point where you know you'll be fine on the swim. You'll move through T1, ready to continue that friendship with your bike that you've forged over many miles and many hours in the saddle. You'll settle into the bike, and by the end (or maybe well before then) you'll be so ready to get off the bike... T2 you may be a little less chatty than T1, but you'll be ready for the run, and you'll pump out of T2 onto the run with the energy of the crowd. You'll take the run as it comes, sometimes feeling like you're in stride and on pace, and sometimes just hoping you make it to the end. But you'll make it. And sometime before midnight, you will hear Mike Reilly shout to the world, "You Are An Ironman!"

That's all true, and you WILL be an Ironman. But here are the mistakes you'll make during the day. Believe me, because many of us have made the same mistakes. Some of us, more than once.

1. You'll do too much when you arrive at the race city/venue. When you get on site, you'll see people riding in full kit, running all over the place, and swimming like there's no tomorrow. You'll think you need to do that, too. Don't be fooled. Some of them live there and are riding, running, and swimming because they know they'll LOOK like they're here for the race. They don't have to go 140.6 on Sunday! You go like them Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and you'll be able to go as far as them, Sunday = not 140.6! Take a couple of short rides to make sure your bike is dialed in. Do a short run or two to keep the capillaries open, but if you do the underwear run, don't think you have to win it.

1.1 You'll do too little when you arrive at the race city/venue. Sure, you've done all the training, you tapered perfectly, and nothing you do in the last few days will make you faster or fitter. But doing too little can dull your edge. You need to keep the capillaries in place, and you need to burn off some of that nervous energy.

1.2 Swim: You won't do any of the training swims on the race course because you're still intimidated by the swim. If you're still feeling intimidated, the best thing you can do is take a couple of short swims on the course. (This is also a great place to run into some Pro's when they're more relaxed and just checking out things like the rest of us.)

2. You'll go to bed too early the night before the race. Yes, you need a good night's sleep before the race. But let's get real. You don't go to bed at 8:00, ever, so don't go to bed at 8:00 the night before Ironman! You won't be able to go to sleep, and you'll just stress yourself out. "I must to go sleep!" "I can't go to sleep!" "I MUST go to sleep!" Instead of trying to force yourself to go to sleep un-naturally early, plan to have a relaxing evening. Eat supper/dinner early. Watch a movie. Relax while chatting with your friend/partner/spouse/family. If making whoopie helps you sleep, just DO it! If a glass of wine helps you relax, drink it. (NOT the whole bottle!) Get a good night's sleep each night of the week before race day, and take some naps the days before, and you'll be OK after not sleeping as much the night before the race.

3. Race morning: you'll wake up many times during the night. Do NOT get out of bed before your planned wake-up time. Even if you're awake at 1:30, 2:17, and 4:03 a.m., stay in bed until your pre-determined "wake-up" time. If you're awake, OK, you're awake. Just relax and enjoy this quiet time before your big day.

4. Your bike: you'll load way too much on your bike, and you'll carry way too much weight on your bike.

4.1 Gels: you can load five-six-seven hours of gels on your bike, with electrical tape on your top tube, or in your Bento box, or in your shorts. If you need your special gel mix to survive, then by all means do it. But if you can do just as well with PowerBar gels (or whatever the race is using this time around), then you'll get one every ten miles, and you won't have to carry ANY with you. Maybe one extra on hand just in case.

4.2 Hydration: considering that a full 20 oz. water bottle weighs roughly 1.6 pounds, how much weight do you really want to haul around? Aid stations come along every 10 miles. That means cold water and a fresh load of PowerBar Perform (at least until WTC inks a deal with some other hydration company) every ten miles. If you really need your special drink mix, then use what you need. But if you can handle whatever they're serving, you really don't need more than two or three (really, two) bottles.

4.3 Food: you could feed a lot of people with all the PBJs and bananas that get dumped along the bike route. If you really need solid food on the bike, take it. It seems like a lot of people at every race never tested the theory during training, and end up wasting energy carrying around food they end up tossing on the road.

5. Run: the noise of the crowd and your adrenaline might have you rocketing out of T2. Just don't let it last too long before finding your pace and settling in for the marathon.

5.1 Hydration: don't drink a full cup of hydro at every aid station! Do you drink that much every mile in training? You want to stay hydrated, but your gut's only going to absorb so much liquid each mile: the extra liquid sloshing around isn't going to feel good.

6. Finish: there are no mistakes at the finish line. You Are An Ironman!