There are so many factors that go into a great race day performance that I won’t pretend I can cover them all. First, of course, is the preparation. We all know how important it is to do your homework. On race day, there are things you know you’re going to need:
- a solid swim/bike/run
- quick, simple transitions
- nailing your nutrition
- tuned-up, functional equipment.
The longer the race, the more you need just one more thing. No, not salt, or a porta-potty, though both come in handy sometimes. The final key is adaptation. Something is going to go wrong. And you’re going to have two choices: adapt and move on, or get flustered and blow your race.
In a recent ten-hour race, I launched two bike bottles, 100% of my nutrition for the next 2.5 hours, on a very steep descent. The next aid wasn’t for another 12 miles up the road, and all they were handing out anyway was a sport drink that makes me puke. I didn’t have water or calories. It was 90+ degrees out. This was not the race day situation I had planned for! Everything was supposed to go perfectly. I had ridden and run the course in practice multiple times. I had nailed the swim! This was going to be the year I performed at the level I really knew I had in me! And then, I had no calories, and everything changed.
I had a decision to make. I could struggle back up the hill into a crowd of triathletes, famous for our disastrous bike-handling skills, racing at me at 40+ mph to search for my long-lost bottles. Or I could mope about my crap luck, decide today was not my day, and start thinking about what a stupid sport triathlon is and how I should take up bikram yoga. Or I could shake my head and laugh, pedal harder to get there sooner, and ask a fellow competitors along the way for any calories they might have to spare. I have to admit, my first instinct was to mope/get grumpy. Then I told myself to shut up, shook my head, laughed, and started bumming calories off the guys around me. I not only PR’d that course that day, I also discovered I could stomach all kinds of food on race day and still manage a solid run off the bike.
My coach told me once that if you get grumpy, and start to think you can’t do something, it’s time to eat something. He meant in racing, but I’ve noticed that it works in real life, too. My race day mottos now, once all the homework is done, the equipment is ready, and I’m prepared, are suck it up, sister and eat something.