An open letter to my friends competing in their first long course races this weekend (and also to those whom it isn’t their first, but they need reminding just how awesome they are).
Firstly congratulations, 99% of the population wouldn’t have done what you did, committing to signing up for such an incredible event. I bet a few months or years ago you never would have even imagined yourself contemplating it, let alone registering. But here you are, one week out from race day… Ready to take on one of the biggest (and in my opinion best) undertakings of your life so far.
All of the hard work is done, no doubt about it, there’s not much you can do from here on in that will change race day. After such a long time training it might feel weird to dial it back down, but it’s true that there’s no use in over training at this stage, the last minute cramming for an exam doesn’t really work for an Ironman or 70.3… You’re better off being 10% underdone than 1% overdone… But you don’t need to worry about that anyway because you have done the work. You’ve ticked all of the boxes, training-wise your body is ready, these last few days continue to follow the coaches orders and your body will be primed and ready to race. But what about your mind? If there’s one thing I can’t stress enough then it’s to please try and relax.
If I could be there to give you a huge hug and assure you that it will actually be ok, then I would. You are so ready for this, if you believed in yourself as much as everyone else believed in you then there would be no doubt about it. I am not perfect, I have self doubts just as much as the second person, I wrote about it just days before Ironman Malaysia, I was having serious doubts about my competency to even finish the race. You know more than anyone the rollercoaster of emotions that endurance training puts you through. But now isn’t the time to doubt yourself, now is the time to reflect, admire and believe.
I know it’s really hard to give yourself credit, but if you have a diary, Strava, Training Peaks or even Instagram take a moment to look back on the last few months. Think about all of those sessions, the early morning swim sets where you braved the elements and sacrificed sleep to slog it out in the pool. The long rides, hilly rides, intense rides and (god forbid) wind trainer sets, every session was a deposit in the bank. Then what about your runs? I bet you have run more in that last few months then you ever thought possible, you ran further, faster and forever (well it seemed like that anyway). All of these sessions have been banked, stored and you will draw on them come race day.
I know you have questions, so many what if’s… What if I don’t go hard enough, what if I go too hard, what if I stuff up my nutrition, what if I get a flat, what if I cramp, what if I don’t finish, what if I let people down? Don’t worry, if you have got through this much Ironman training, then you can handle anything race day has to throw at you. If you’re in a situation on the day where you find yourself getting worked up, take three deep breaths, tell yourself “I’ve got this” and sort it out. Never, ever, ever give up.
You probably have a race goal time in your head, even people that say “I just want to finish” usually have a goal time in their head. Up until now that’s been great, everyone needs goals, thats how we get through the daily grind when things are tough. But come race day don’t let it control you, if things aren’t going to plan don’t stress out. It’s your first race, it’s a PB no matter what, your husband/wife/partner/child or dog are still going to love you when you get home, whether you finished in your goal time or not at all. Going into Ironman Cairns last year with a broken elbow my Mum didn’t want me to compete but on race day eve said one thing to me, “You have my blessing to race on one condition: You have to be happy and proud of yourself no matter what time you finish in, or even if not at all.” She anticipated the personal disappointment I would feel if I was unable to finish, and didn’t want that for me. So many things can go wrong in an Ironman, from mechanical failure, to injury to nutrition issues. If for whatever reason you are unable to finish, it is not the be all and end all. I know you well enough to know that you signed up for this because you love a challenge, you have enjoyed the training and process to get where you are now. I hope with all of my heart that you have a great race, but if you don’t, well there is ALWAYS another race.
My final parting words are to stick to your race plan where you can, but above all just enjoy the race. I love the training almost more than racing so you know I sometimes I find it hard to say this, but really truly race day is the reward for all the hard work. You will have thousands of people lining the streets cheering for you, the majority of whom don’t know you, but a special few that do. They have shared the journey and are so incredibly proud of the commitment you have put into preparing for this day. You will also have many people refreshing www.ironman.com tracking you from home, waiting in baited breath for you to cross another tracking marker so they know you are still going. Every time you pass a timing chip or marker think of the people at home tracking you, I guarantee it will put a smile on your face and make you push a little bit harder to get to the next marker that tiny bit quicker. The people at home probably don’t actually care about your pace, they are just eager and proud to know you are progressing along the course.
And as you approach the finishers chute, take a second to adjust your trisuit, forget about the pain, high five the spectators and soak up every last bit of the wonderful atmosphere. As your name gets called and you cross that finish line, forget about pausing your Garmin and just smile for the camera, after all “You Are an Ironman.”
So until next time, as your training winds down and your nerves wind up, all I can say is: Everything you need is already inside… Oh and practice getting some air… Because pain is temporary but finish line photos last forever!