You just spent the better part of a year training for an Ironman race and talking about it with your friends and family. It’s finally here! If this is your first Ironman then you are probably a ball of nerves. I remember all of the anxiety that I had when I did my first Ironman in Louisville in 2010. I had never been to Louisville and I was by myself so I had to figure everything out alone! I made it through the weekend and thankfully Tracy and Bob Hendershot (my swim coach and her husband) came down and helped me get my bags together and rack my bike and cheered me on during the race. It ended up being a gnarly day with temps around 95 degrees. The swim was not wetsuit legal and they ran out of water on the bike course. Somehow I was able to roll with the punches; I knew these things were out of my control so they weren’t worth worrying about. I look back at this race with nostalgia. My only goal was to finish and I wanted to finish this race more than anything in the world. I had no race to compare this one to so I wasn’t trying to PR or finish at the top of my age group. Keep these things in mind as you go into your race weekend. You are here to accomplish your goal and the schlepping of gear, figuring out logistics, sizing up of competitors, making sure equipment is working, fitting in final workouts, planning meals, getting groceries, and finally thinking about the big day ahead is all totally worth it!
So how do you break down the weekend to alleviate your anxiety? I’m a list person and the act of planning ahead lessens a lot of my anxiety. Here are some things that I like to do to help manage race weekend anxiety. I have an additional blog on how to manage race day, so stay tuned for that one too.
Before you leave for your race weekend:
Prepare a Race Day Checklist. You will find that you have to keep adding items to this list. All items that you plan to take on your trip need to go on this list. You don’t want to be running around at your race location trying to find items that you left at home. It’s no big deal if this happens, most items can be purchased at the Ironman expo. It just adds something else that you have to do on race weekend.
If you are staying in a place where you can prepare your meals then have your meals planned out and have your grocery list ready. You really do not need to carbo-load, the act of the taper coupled with your normal appetite will provide your body with enough calories for the Ironman. Do not change the type of foods that you eat, you do not want to throw off your gastro intestinal (GI) system with too much fiber or too little fiber for example. Also, stick to the normal times that you eat.
If you plan to eat out then you might want to search for restaurants ahead of time and make reservation. Many of the restaurants with healthier menus may fill up.
Once you arrive at your race weekend location:
Try to stick to your normal schedule. Wake up at the same time that you normally rise and go to bed at your usual bed time. You are on a taper and are probably feeling a bit lethargic and maybe even a little depressed. You are off kilter when on a taper. Keep active. Your coach should have planned a workout or two each day. Get up at your usual time and do your workouts.
Get a good night’s sleep on Friday night. You probably won’t sleep well the night before your race. It’s okay, don’t stress out if you slept terribly the night before, it’s not going to impair you. If you have a hard time sleeping, try to just rest and think of a calming scene. Do NOT take a sleeping pill at 2AM when getting up at 4:30AM!
Try to minimize anxiety by knowing yourself and taking actions to avoid situations where you will be anxious. If being around everyone talking shop bothers you like it does me, then avoid hanging out near the expo or athlete’s village. Get what you need and get out. The city or town is probably swarming with triathletes, so do what you need to do and then find a quiet place and read a book, watch a movie or just spend time with your family.
Sometimes it helps to rehearse the race in your head. Visualize waking up, setting up transition and bags, warming up in the water, starting, swimming in the chaos, executing T1, riding the bike, your action items on the bike, executing T2, and finally running the marathon. Picture yourself calm and composed and checking off each box. This will set you up to execute your race in the same manner. If this stresses you out then don’t do it or perhaps do it in the weeks before the race.
Again, I like lists, so I suggest following a checklist for race weekend. Here is my checklist:
* Pick up your packet and visit the expo- I suggest picking up your race packet as early as possible to avoid lines. Also, visit the expo early before sizes in the cool t-shirts and kits sell out.
*Get groceries. The grocery store can get busy in a small town as well, so keep that in mind too.
*Pick convenient places for family meeting points. Come up with a meeting location near the finish line where you can meet your family. It tends to get crowded, so knowing where to meet makes it easier.
*Drive the bike course- Pay attention to road conditions, hills and sharp turns
*Ride the run course
*Do the practice swim- Pay attention to water temp, clarity and currents. Pick structures to use for sighting. Will you need a sleeved or sleeveless wetsuit?
*Attend the athlete briefing- Here they discuss any issues on the courses and things to you need to know.
*Lay out your race gear- make sure you have a flat kit and the correct tube stem length for the type of wheel that you are riding! Also, make sure you know how to use your CO2 inflator.
*Double check your nutrition plan- Add up the number of calories and mg of sodium to ensure that you have enough. Also, know what items you are eating and when. For example I eat my solid foods earlier in the bike ride and do the Clif Blocks after mile 80. Do you plan on using the course nutrition and hydration? The Athlete Guide lists the course nutrition. The less you have to carry the better. I have an additional blog on race day nutrition for more information.
*Assemble bike, run and special needs bags- You may not even need the special needs bag; I don’t use one.
*Rack your bike- This might take longer than you think. They photograph every athlete’s bike that enters transition. Let some air out of your tires. Tubes can blow if you bike is sitting in the sun all day. If you do have a mechanical problem, then take your bike to the mechanic in transition. They will be much faster and have 100% less anxiety than you.
*Know where your bags are in relation to the swim-in and bike-in area. Count rows or find some visual point of reference to help you quickly find your bag. You may consider adding bows or ribbons to your bags, but keep in mind that others are doing this, too, so be original. Volunteers help retrieve your bags during the race, but there may not be enough volunteers to help and you may be faster at retrieving your bag than they are.
*Know where your bike is racked in relation to the changing tent from which you will be coming. Often, volunteers will take your bike and rack it for you, but not always.
These steps should help minimize race weekend anxiety and save you time. Having a schedule and a plan will keep you focused and moving forward with minimal anxiety. The biggest factor is knowing yourself and your needs. You have done a lot to prepare for this event so enjoy your weekend, it is yours!