After watching thousands of triathlons and literally hundreds of Ironman’s over the years from every different perspective, there is one thing that has always stood out to me, from the professional ranks right down to the very last finisher on every different type of course you can imagine. Everyone goes into their long-distance races (especially Ironman) and envisions it being a fast, exciting day. What I’ve noticed is the people who do well are the ones who have truly come to grips with the reality that these races are LONG and, in terms of real speed, not that fast. They know there will be discomfort and it will be a day of management and problem solving. Athletes who are calm and can adapt to anything will do well.
“I’m doing what it takes”
“It’s not difficult, it’s what it required.”
You must have emotional control. You have let go of the things you can’t control and focus on the things you can.
I usually see the ones achieving their goals that come with what I like to call, “Their System.” We’ve all seen the extreme case of it. That athlete who is bent over from exhaustion and can no longer stand up straight but has developed a way to get to the finish. The athlete who has that funny walk/shuffle but seems to be getting there at a good pace. This is an example of a “System.” They come up with something that they can repeat step after step and get themselves to that finish as fast as THEIR bodies will allow. They’ve accepted that it’s hard, they’ve come up with a way to solve the problem at hand and are moving forward to their goal…the finish. I find that when all hell breaks loose, if you don’t have a system of your own, one good way is to count.
Here is an example:
I had an athlete in a race who, towards the end of the marathon, was seized by horrific cramps. This is a fast athlete, but they were brought to a screaming halt because of cramps. Panic and emotion set in. As a coach, when I saw they had lost the thought to quickly adapt and work a new system, I gave them one. I said, “Jog five steps, walk five steps” Count!! Five and Five and repeat!! The athlete stopped focusing on the cramps, stopped focusing on the pace and place that had slipped away and was now only thinking one thing. Walk…1…2…3…4…5! JOG…1…2…3…4…5…. Repeat. I saw this athlete carry on to the finish in a good system., even to where they moved to jog 10 and walk 5.
Ironman is full of unexpected challenges. It’s a long day. We know that when we sign up. That’s literally WHAT we sign up for. We don’t do ANYTHING else an entire day from 4 a.m. to midnight and expect for everything to go smooth. Our daily lives are filled with small challenges and problems solving situations. The difference is we don’t think anything of it. When was the last time you drove to work and hit every single green light? We wouldn't leave the house expecting that. We expect we will likely hit some red lights along the way. We plan for that. Somehow when we go into an Ironman, we now suddenly expect that EVERYTHING is going to go perfect TODAY. Guess what kids? It’s like any other day that you chose to spend doing sports outdoors. Likely you are going to need to adapt and solve problems out there at some point.
Get your system in your mind and be ready to adopt a new one on the fly on race day.