26 Oct 7 Steps to Overcoming Bad Sensations During An Ironman
By Scott DeFilippis – Profession Triathlete and Coach
So many athletes and coaches love to label races as “A” Races. I hate this method of classifying a big race as the big one, the A, the be all, end all. Yes, you can have key races you are aiming to nail but more often than not, the sometimes out of reach expectations due to the self-imposed classification of an “A” race can often times suffocate an athlete before the gun goes off.
When it comes to racing, whether it’s a swim race, a car race, a horse race, a running race, or in this case an Ironman, once the gun goes off, you’re either ready or you’re not. There is no pulling over to restart or stopping mid ride at a 7-11 to get a cold drink or ice cream. The clock is on and your competitors are moving up the road with or without you. A few weeks ago during Ironman France, even though I was feeling in the absolute best shape of my life, the gun went off, and I wasn’t ready. Mentally I was ready, I had been preparing for this race for a year, rehearsed it over and over again in mind, I had had maybe 2 or 3 bad training days all year, and was completely rested (or maybe too rested?). Either way there was no time to stop and ponder why I was on “struggle street”, pretty much from the start. I had 2 choices, push and push until I came good or step aside and quit.
Many athletes have been faced with this exact scenario. I would venture to bet that more than half of the athletes out there on race day struggle to get themselves going and out of their comfort zones. Is it mental? Was the taper too long or too steep? Or is it simply our bio-rhythms are off? All sorts of negative thoughts start to race into our heads…How could this be happening, I’ve trained for months, and this my “A” Race. (I’d need a whole other blog to discuss why I DO NOT like the term “A” Race. So what do we do when the gun goes off and it’s not going even close to how we imagined it would?
My former coach and mentor Brett Sutton used to hammer away a message to my teammates and me at team TBB…Ironman is all about improvising and overcoming. This message has stuck with me for many years and admittedly some days in the past I ignored the message. But as the years have gone on, I’ve been able to recognize what is going and how to react. So here are some tips…
#1: Take a step back and forget your pre-race expectations. Now is not the time to be chasing power numbers or time splits. It’s simply a time to come up with a plan B…
#2: Remain present! Recognize what is going on around you. No, you are not sick! No, you are not over-trained! Yes, you have gotten enough sleep! Recognize that you have a long day still in front of you and yes it can be saved!
#3: Think back to all the times in training you have overcome similar crappy feeling over the past few months. Find comfort in knowing that you’ve done it time and time again and that you can do it right now in this race, when it counts!
#4: Break the race into segments. Make deals with yourself! Get to hour 2 of the bike, then hour 3, then to the bike finish because once you get off and run, it could very well be a new day.
#5: Let fellow competitors go. Don’t force or chase. You have to ride at your limit so keep calm and carry on!
#6: Don’t forget to eat and drink! Do Not Ignore your nutritional strategy despite the fact that you might be putting out a scaled back effort due to your bad sensations. I use XRCEL as my main source of fuel.
#7: Never give up! At the end of the day if your health is not at risk, you are going to feel much better about yourself if you carry on and get to the finish then if you pull over and quit.
These were the exact steps I was taking a few weeks ago during Ironman France when for whatever reason I had the worst sensations that I’ve had all year to start my day. I never quit, I kept repeating in my head, “improvise and overcome, improvise and overcome” In the end, it took me 100 miles and 4.5 hours of riding to finally feel good. I finished the bike, put on my running shoes, and everything clicked…In the end I ran my way to 9th place running a 2:45:59 marathon and one of my proudest efforts in an Ironman of my career….