Why your emotions may be sabotaging your race performance.
One of the most common mistakes I’ve seen (not to mention been guilty of committing) in Ironman is letting outside events control your race. What happens to you during your race and more importantly how you react to it can have a bigger impact on your result than all of the training you’ve done in the lead up to it. When I’m racing I love to see people loose control in a race. Especially stronger or potentially faster athletes. As a coach I try to teach people how to retain control regardless of what happens to them. Loosing control doesn’t only mean throwing a wobbler and flinging your bike across a ditch. It also and more commonly means starting too fast or racing others too early in the day.
It’s crucial that you have a plan that you think you can execute then stick to it regardless of who passes you in the first ten minutes of the bike or how much time you think you have to make up after a slow swim split.
In ’13 I raced IMUK in Bolton and in the first kilometre out of T1 I had a puncture. I was in the best shape of my life. I had come with the aim of not just qualifying for Kona but I thought I had a real chance of fighting for a podium finish in my age group. But less than 10 minutes into the bike I was at the side of the road taking off my rear wheel. I whipped off the tyre and tube and took out a spare. I had it half way on before realising that the tyre had also split. I took it off again and repaired that too. I reckon I lost close to 10 minutes and a couple of hundred places stood at the side of the road. It’s important to add that I’m a relatively weak swimmer so I would already have been well down in relation to where I needed to be at the start of the bike, now I was hundreds of places further back.
I tried not to panic and just restarted like nothing had happened. I wouldn’t allow myself start racing to make up time although it was almost impossible to suppress the panic and have the self control to hold back at that stage. I forced myself to focus on the process and not the target or outcome. This allowed me settle into the task at hand and not worry about places or podiums.
I gradually worked my way back up through the field eventually getting off the bike in 6th place in the age group. At the start of the run I knew by the amount of bikes in transition that I was further back than I had planed on being but again I focused on following my race plan and not starting the run too hard. Despite careful pacing I guess I had still allowed myself to push a little too hard and at some stage between 20-25k I started to fall apart. I held on to as much hurt as I could but dropped to 12th by about 30k before I managed to recover somewhat and start to try to regain the lost places. I was at least 5 places away from qualifying with only 6-7k to go and I was in more pain than I’d ever been in in any race. All I could think of was not letting Ais down. She had sacrificed so much to help me get here that I couldn’t face admitting to her that I’d backed off because it got too hard. I told myself I could push for just one minute. So I did. Then I tried to hold on to it for one more minute and I managed that. Then I passed a guy in my age group and buoyed by that I pushed again and again and kept on just asking for one more minute and when I got to the turn around point at almost 5k to go I still thought I needed one more place.
I pushed and hurt myself more than I ever have in a race and kept on looking for the last qualifying place, looking to make the last pass. I was back into town and almost resigned to my finishing position. With only a couple of hundred meters I wouldn’t catch anyone now, I thought. Turning into the finishing square I saw a guy with the three armbands meaning he was finishing to. I couldn’t believe I was going to have to sprint after over 10 hours of racing. I was in so much pain I almost didn’t try but then I was pushing and sprinting and caught him at the entrance to the finish chute and held on to finish just ahead of him.
It was only later looking at the results that I learned that he was in my age group and I passed him for the last qualifying slot for Kona. As well as that at 5k to go he had almost a 5 minute lead on me. If I had known that’s what I had to do I never would have believed it was possible. The biggest lesson for me was to never give up until it’s finished no matter what happens. Particularly when you’re having problems in a race, it’s important to remember no one has a perfect day in Ironman. We all have nutrition, mechanical or other issues. We at some stage hurt and often have a point when it looks like it’s beyond our reach. It’s critical to remember that everyone else is also having issues and problems. It’s whoever deals with them best will succeed.
Kona athletes know that controling themselves regardless of what’s going on around them is often the difference between qualifying or not. It’s a theme that came up again and again in the report on how five athletes qualified for Kona an incredible 29 times. You can access it free here.
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