Race day is almost here! You’ve put in the hours, trained your heart out, made countless sacrifices and are hopefully feeling fit, strong and confident. If this is your first triathlon or Ironman event and you are like me you are feeling a bit excited and slightly nervous.
While proper training and preparation is key to getting you to the starting line, your ability to stay calm and focused on race day will ultimately define your outcome. Here are my 5 best tips to help you finish your first triathlon strong and confident.
Visualize Your Success
Just as logging the miles and putting in the training efforts is key to competing in any triathlon race, you also need to train your brain for the ride. Find some time to go to your quiet place and “meditate” about the event. Visualize the entire race from start to finish walking yourself through the swim, bike, run and each transition in between. Focus on each discipline in your mind and picture what it will feel like on race morning.
When I was part of a talented swim team in high school, our highly decorated coach taught me the importance of visualization practice. We had a meditative “relaxation” practice with the workout before every big swim meet. We would lie down in a quiet dark room and visualize our next race. It may sound strange to some, but it really helped to picture myself strong and successful as I was racing.
It is important to also mentally prepare for what could go wrong. Preparing for potential pitfalls (like loosing your goggles or getting a flat tire) and how to deal with them before they happen, will be key to keeping your cool if an error occurs. Quickly managing challenges throughout your race can play a key role in your success. Developing a strategy to overcome obstacles can be a very important tool in your bag of tricks.
Doubt Your Doubts
Everyone’s going to have highs and lows when they race. If you start feeling a little fatigued during your race, try and reduce your speed until you feel good again. In those moments, tell yourself to just keep going. You’ve trained hard, you’ve put the effort in and it will pay off. Do not get down on yourself if you need to slow your effort for a moment to see the big picture—finishing the race. Practice a positive state of mind and don’t let the doubts affect you physically.
Roll With The Punches
You could be perfectly prepared and trained and something could go wrong the week of the race, the day before, or even right before the start. What if the weather is extreme? What if there is a delay at the start? What if you get sick or injured?
In the case of my first Ironman 70.3, I came down with strep throat and a sinus infection two days before the race. I was devastated. I had never trained harder for anything in my life and as fate would have it, I was sick and frustrated with little recovery time until race day. I made a doctors appointment and got an antibiotic shot to help ward off the infection that was taking over my body. I discussed the situation with my doctor and she told me to rest, drink plenty of liquids and if I felt good enough to compete on race morning that it was up to me to go for it. Although I was still pretty sick the morning of the race I knew I would be kicking myself if I didn’t at least try to go accomplish the goal I had worked so hard for.
The weather was also fairly extreme on race day with a cold swim and a hot run with temperatures close to 90°F at the finish line. It was tricky to keep calm while timing my nutrition with the medicine prescribed by my doctor. I needed to remember that I didn’t feel well enough to push my limits as I normally would when I race, but I knew I could deal with how I felt each moment and take it one hour at a time, one mile at a time, or even one minute at a time. My preparation and positive attitude helped me finish with a respectable time despite the challenges at hand. My family and I were grateful that my body held up with all it had to deal with.
Remember To Smile! (And It’s Ok To Cry)
As I was approaching the last 6 miles of the run that day, I was really feeling it. The fatigue was setting in, the sun was blazing hot, and the course was brutal and hilly. I was sick and as much as I love running, I was ready to stop. Then I saw my family standing by the next aid station. My husband, my 3 little kids (7, 3 and 9 months) and my mom all there cheering me on. A huge smile came across my face. Then the tears set in. I was so fatigued and sick I just wanted to stop. I ran to them and stopped for a brief moment to hug my 3-year-old son who repeatedly cheered, “Go mommy!” I told them how sick and tired I was. They kept cheering and smiling and reassured me that I could finish and that I was almost done.
I cried a few more tears, and then told myself to “SMILE”, “buck it up” and “keep moving forward”, three of my mantras. From that point on I continued to smile as much as I could. The last 6 miles were very hard but also some of the most rewarding and most memorable miles of the entire race for me. My mood lightened, I remembered why I was out there and the smile from my children stayed on my face as I crossed the finish line.
That brings me to my last tip, find a reason to be happy and use it to your advantage. For me, during those last 6 miles, it was my children. Find your own “happy place”. Make no mistake, triathlons are tough and not every moment will leave you with a smile. But remember why you’re doing it and stick with it! This especially applies to race day. However hard you push it, remember it will be all over soon and to savor the experience
by Heather Jenson
Faith. Family. Fun. Fitness.